Now the Jets are 3-11, but I have a reason to pay close attention again: Chad's back. I was utterly bored to distraction watching the Jets after the season's midway point, even though I had thought the move to Kellen Clemens at QB would offer a spark, a glimpse into an exciting future.
Clemens' cannon arm so many begged to see is powerful. Unfortunately, faster passes didn't result in more points for New York's underachieving offense with the exception of the road tilt against the Dolphins, an imitation football team. The young signal caller couldn't overcome the Jets many offensive shortcomings.
The second-year man out of Oregon threw 10 interceptions, two of which were taken back the other way for TDs. A short out is a short out is a short out. If the defensive back knows it's coming (see: Pennington against the Giants and Bengals), or if the quarterback stares down his target as Clemens did against Dallas' Terence Newman, it doesn't matter how fast the ball gets there. It's a "Pick Six."
Let's return to the New England game Dec. 9. Fierce winds and rain. Tom Brady, the great Tom Brady (season-low 140 yards passing), saw his passes get thrown around by that wind when the Patriots had the ball in the 1st and 3rd quarters. The Pats opted to hand the ball off play after play to the hard-charging Lawrence Maroney.
The second-year running back picked up 104 tough yards on a career-high 26 carries (the Patriots totaled 131 yards on the ground, 3.5 yard average), taking the burden off his quarterback until the Patriots could align themselves with the wind. In the 4th quarter Brady, the wind to his back, stuck in the dagger, nailing Randy Moss on a 46-yard bomb over Kerry Rhodes.
Until that decisive play, the Patriots passing attack had been neutralized. But there was another unforeseen reason the game wound up being close. Chad Pennington took over at QB for the banged-up Clemens after the Jets fell into a 7-0 hole.
Unfortunately for Chad, he had no running game to help him. After Leon Washington's 49-yard, 1st quarter sprint on what was essentially a trick play, the Jets ground game went nowhere all afternoon. Pennington (25-38, 184 yards) had to do it by himself.
Coles left the game early. Justin McCareins had trouble catching the football. The usually reliable Chris Baker fumbled in the red zone. Mike Nugent missed a critical field goal. The pass protection was shaky. Abram Elam made a huge mistake, failing to block his man on the punt team. Mangini got carried away with his Brad Smith-option offense, leaving Pennington to watch Smith, a glove on his throwing hand, lob a terrible incompletion on a big 4th down attempt.
The end result for the Jets offense was four trips into the red zone and no touchdowns. Despite the conditions, the Jets had chances to win on a day the Patriots offense couldn't claim sole responsibility for any touchdowns either. Maroney's TD dive followed a blocked punt deep in Jets territory.
Even in defeat, we were reminded why Pennington led the franchise to the playoffs three times. His pocket presence, proficiency reading defenses, ability to pick up second, third, or fourth receivers, accuracy and poise are winning ingredients.
Let's return to the John Elway comparison. John Elway, the great John Elway, could make throws Pennington can only dream about. Yet John Elway's career, despite all its glories, was unfulfilled before 1997. He had led the Broncos, leaders of the mediocre AFC, to three Super Bowls only to be obliterated by superior NFC opponents.
Then the story took an important turn. Elway no longer had to do it all himself anymore. Enter Terrell Davis. Davis became the best back in football and the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls.
The moral of the story? Pennington is not Elway, the great John Elway, but even the great John Elway needed some help.
Unless the Jets find a quarterback who is clearly better, Pennington should remain the starter. Such a player is not on the team now. Chad can't win games by himself, but aren't there other quarterbacks for whom the same can be said wearing Super Bowl rings?
We all want the Jets to find a great quarterback to pick up the torch left by their only great quarterback, Joe Namath. In the abstract it sounds wonderful. But the NFL in 2007 is notable for its dearth of good quarterbacks, let alone great ones.
The Jets have a good QB, a very good QB. His name is Pennington. And he will be a winning QB again when the rest of the team improves. Let's start with this Sunday against Tennessee.