Pennington, the third-year veteran from Marshall in his first year as a starter for the Jets, threw four touchdown passes as the Jets throttled the Lions 31-14 at Ford Field. The win by the Jets moved them one game out of first place in the AFC East, while the Lions fell to 3-7.
"He's fueling us," said Curtis Martin of Pennington as he ran off the field to chants of "J.E.T.S.-- JETS, JETS, JETS," from the visiting Jets fans. "I think he's only going to get better," said Martin, who added 112 yards rushing to Pennington's passing attack.
Luther Elliss said the Jets did what they wanted to against the Lions. "When a team gets you off-balance, like these last two weeks [Green Bay and New York], when they can run, throw. They've got you off kilter. I mean they got us off balance and we didn't know what they were doing. They were dictating the game to us instead of us dictating the game to them. That's what happens."
Pennington was laser-like in his accuracy, threading the needle between defenders and hitting receivers all over the field. The difference between he and Lions rookie starter Joey Harrington was like night and day. Harrington struggled for the fourth consecutive game. The rookie completed just 50% of his throws (15-of-30 for 171 yards, 2 TDs and 1 int). Contrast that with Pennington's 21-of-26 for 229 yards, 4TDs and 1 pick.
"Chad Pennington made some great throws and we just couldn't get the ball out [of the receivers hands]," said Lions corner Chris Cash who was vicitimized for two touchdown passes. "They made some great catches. Sometimes you have those kinds of days."
Making matters worse, on just the fourth play from scrimmage, Az-Zahir Hakim, Detroit's leading receiver suffered a fractured hip and had to be carted off the field. Hakim will be placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
Detroit also suffered less serious injuries to Robert Porcher (knee sprain) who will have an MRI on his injured right knee, and Luther Elliss, who suffered an ankle injury. Their status for Sunday's game against Chicago in Champagne, IL will not be known until later in the week.
Harrington's woes started on Detroit's first offensive series. With the Lions on the march inside the Jets redzone following a James Stewart 39-yard run, Harrington tried to squeeze the ball past linebacker Marvin Jones to tight end Mikhael Ricks. It didn't work. Jones intercepted the throw in the endzone and a nice opening drive was stopped.
Harrington could have easily had two more picks as Jets defenders dropped passes thrown into coverage. Harrington tried to be optimistic in the post-game press conference saying "Hey, I expected this, I expected to struggle. That's going to make this so much sweeter when we get this thing turned around."
But Lions fans weren't buying it. Many stayed until the final moments to express their displeasure as boos cascaded down from the Ford Field stands. It was clear these were two teams going in opposite directions.
Pennington led the Jets on an 11-play drive, hitting Santana Moss from 10 yard out to give the Jets a 7-0 lead. After the Lions went three-and-out, Martin rambled 25 yards for a first down and Pennington hit Lavernaeus Coles for 14 more.
The Jets then went to their bag of tricks, Lamont Jordan took the direct snap from center, as Pennington lined up as a wide out. Jordan took the snap and ran for 13 yards to the Lions 20 to end the quarter.
Pennington hit Chrebet who beat Chris Cash from 15 yards out and it was 13-0 Jets after James Hall blocked the conversion attempt. It was the first time the Lions had blocked a conversion since Chris Oldham did it in 1981.
The Lions got on the board when Joey Harrington found Bill Schroeder streaking across the middle. Schroeder made a nice over the head catch in stride and took it in for the touchdown to a standing ovation from the fans.
On the Jets next series, Santana Moss juggled a ball from Pennington and Todd Lyght made a tightrope interception at the Lions 36, but Detroit couldn't capitalize on the mistake and the half ended at 13-6.
Detroit started the half driving, but it looked as if the drive was dead when Harrington's pass for Schroeder was intercepted by Sam Garnes. The play was called back the Jets were flagged for roughing the passer. Harrington made good on the second chance, hitting Schroder again from 7 yards out and the Lions has a short-lived 14-13 lead.
The Jets dominated the game from that point forward. Scoring 18 unanswered points, including a successful two-point conversion when Detroit had just 10 men on he field, New York was able to salt away the final two minutes.
"Yeah, we were a man short, a lack of communication," said Chris Claiborne. "The game isn't that hard. We're making it hard."
Lions defensive tackle Luther Elliss said he didn't know what had hit him. "It's hard right now because you don't know what happened out there. They were pretty much doing what they wanted out there and that's frustrating. I want to see what happened [on tape]. Why were they able to do what they were doing."
The only silver lining in the season continues to be the fine play of running back James Stewart who carried the ball 16 times for 93 yards to pace the Lions running attack.
Stewart said, like all running backs, he'd like to get the ball more for the good of the team, but he wouldn't go to the coaching staff with that request. Instead he would continue to execute the game plan. "Coach has his scheme of things, the way he wants to do them. I have to just go along with that and try to play hard and try to make things happen when I do get the chance."
Detroit now will try to get ready to take on NFC North opponent Chicago in Champagne, IL next Sunday.