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Dustin Keller learning that life has its ups and downs

Dustin Keller of the Jets is chased down

Dustin Keller of the Jets is chased down by Kevin Burnett of the Dolphins. (Oct. 28, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

Dustin Keller compiled baby names in preparation for the big day.

The Jets tight end -- the middle child of five boys -- had always wanted to be a father. And he was certain he and his wife, Erin, would be adding another boy to the Keller brood.

"I was 100 percent sure," Keller said Friday. "And I told everybody. All I had were boys' names. And of course, I jinxed it.

"But, man, I'm so grateful for her."

Cruz Elizabeth Keller, a 7-pound, 14-ounce baby girl with jet-black hair, was born at 8:22 p.m. on Sept. 29.

If this season has taught Keller anything, it's that life doesn't go according to plan.

This was supposed to be his breakout year, the season that provided him leverage at the negotiating table with the Jets. Instead, Keller, who is in the final year of his rookie deal, missed four games because of a nagging hamstring injury. And now he and the Jets (3-6), who face the Rams Sunday in St. Louis, are on the verge of another collapse.

"It's been kind of crazy," Keller said. "Having a new baby, finally getting my chance to get back on the field and show that I can make a difference out there. And now the losing streak right now. It's just a tough, tough thing."

Although he never got the long-term contract he was seeking this past offseason, Keller said he was excited for the offense to start over under new coordinator Tony Sparano. His breakout game this season came in Foxboro on Oct. 21, when he caught seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in a 29-26 overtime loss to the Patriots.

But Keller has only 12 catches for 127 yards in his four other games.

"He tries not to show it, but he's going through a lot," said quarterback Mark Sanchez, Keller's close friend. "Coming off an injury, being away from an offense that you're just learning. It makes it tough to jump back in. So he's still finding his stride, getting back into it. But he's had a lot of catches for us, a lot of big catches for us."

Keller's inconsistency is an offshoot of the Jets' offensive dry spell. The team, which has lost three straight, has only one offensive touchdown in its past two games. But the fifth-year receiver believes the Jets can save their season -- and that he can be the one to make it happen.

Keller called last week's 28-7 loss to Seattle the worst game of his career. He had two costly penalties (one of which came on third-and-1 at the Seahawks' 1, one play before Sanchez threw an interception) and a critical drop on third down.

Nevertheless, Keller said he "would love for the light to be on me, for me to get that chance. With things going bad, and being a big part of the passing game, I need to step my game up."

Keller is making $3.052 million, but the Jets could franchise him at $5.55 million in 2013 to avoid a long-term deal.

"He's in a contract year so he wants to play well for himself, to either come back here or go play somewhere," Sanchez said. "It's setting up his future and Cruz's future."

But Keller insists he's not worrying about his financial security. "Just do your best and all the pieces will fall into place," he said. "You'll get what you're looking for and whatever is deserved."

Keller said fatherhood hasn't shifted his focus from football, either. He credited Erin for taking care of the baby during the day so he can focus on work. His teammates, though, have tried to scare him with fatherhood "horror stories" -- often warning him: "Wait 'til the offseason. You're going to have to do everything."

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie -- a father of 10 -- also offered advice. "Cro said, 'Man, you should just breastfeed and keep her full all the time so she'll sleep,' " Keller said.

After growing up with four brothers, Keller says it's "still a little weird" saying "my daughter." It's been seven weeks, but he's still in awe of their tiny "miracle."

"She just fits in your arm like a football, she's so little," Keller said.

Luckily for him, Erin wisely kept a list of both boys' and girls' names. "Cruz" was her choice.

"Cruz Keller," he said, with a dramatic pause. "She might have to be a movie star or something 'cause that's a good name."

So what was the boys' name he was banking on?

"I'm not allowed to tell you 'cause there's going to be a boy coming sooner or later," Keller said. "And I don't want anybody to steal my name."


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