On Dec. 17, 2006, the Jets came into the Metrodome and left with a 26-13 win after 339 yards passing from Chad Pennington. On Aug. 17, 2007, the Vikings came into the Meadowlands and left with a 37-20 win after harassing Pennington into throwing two touchdowns to defenders.
So what did the Jets or Vikings do differently? It would seem execution was the only difference.
Pennington started this year's game by throwing an interception for a touchdown, but he started last year's game by fumbling away his first possession when he was sacked. In fact, last year the Jets used a similar approach to the one they took Friday night.
Pennington's first four snaps Friday night were designed to be passes – he completed three of them and scrambled for another first down before a running play, followed Pennington's first fateful interception.
He still started his next possession by passing three of the first four snaps, and the Jets even mimicked their no-huddle offense that was so effective against the Vikings last year. While his first possession last year was short-lived, his second possession was a synopsis of what went wrong for the Vikings in the second half of the 2006 season. On New York's second drive of that game, 9 of the first 11 snaps Pennington took were designed to be pass plays, largely from the no-huddle offense. The result was seven completions and one scramble on his way to a touchdown drive.
By halftime of that December game, the Vikings were trailing 23-7 and Pennington had completed 22 of 28 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown for a 115 rating.
This year, Pennington was 7 of 10, but he threw two interceptions and ended with a 37.5 passer rating.
Sure, it's just preseason, but the Vikings' pass defense handled itself better.
On a side note, the Jets started their preseason opener last week with 16 consecutive running plays.
While two interception returns for touchdowns by the Vikings defense was impressive, safety Darren Sharper kept it in perspective.
"It's still the preseason so you don't want to read too much into it," Sharper said. "We have to get ready for the regular season and our attitude is to create turnovers and score with the football. If we can continue to improve in that area, it will bode well for us during the season."
Sharper said his experience in the league allowed him to jump a route on his way to a 40-yard return for a touchdown to start the game.
"Our front four was just pinning their ears back and getting good pressure. With the formation they came out in, after playing 11 years I can predict what they were doing," he said. "They had two guys close together with one guy crossing my face and the other guy over the top. … I read Chad Pennington's eyes and he threw it right to me."
Said Pennington: "The only good thing that came out of tonight is that it didn't count."
ROBISON'S BIG EFFORTS
The second-team defense had to wait until the second half to get in the game, but that didn't stop it from making game-turning plays.
Defensive end Brian Robison had huge back-to-back plays. On the Jets' first possession of the second half, Robison beat tackle Adrian Jones to the outside and, from behind the quarterback extended both hands forward and chopped down to cause a fumble for Clemens. Backup center Pete Kendall recovered the loose ball, but Kendall was responsible for the next loose ball on the ensuing snap.
Kendall launched a snap over the outstretched hands of Clemens and the race was on in the backfield between Clemens, Robison and Jayme Mitchell. Clemens got to the ball first, but as he was ready to scoop it up Robison pushed him away, grabbed it himself and dove into the end zone for the Vikings' third defensive touchdown.
Two possessions later, Robison was back at it. With the Jets going for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 7, Kendall struck again. This time, the snap was low and Robison was the first to meet third-string quarterback Brad Smith. While Robison didn't get the sack, Smith didn't have time to escape the second wave brought by Spencer Johnson.
Finally, it shouldn't go without mention that Robison made the tackle on the Vikings' next punt.
Robison's final line for the night: Four tackles, one sack for five yards, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered and one special teams tackle. Welcome, rookie.
Linebacker Heath Farwell was fined $7,500 for his hit on Rams quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the preseason opener. On the play, Fitzpatrick scrambled to his right and was releasing the ball when Farwell charged and delivered a violent hit with the crown of his helmet to Fitzpatrick's chest.
Fitzpatrick's head snapped back, and Farwell was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
"I think they got me leading with the crown of my helmet," Farwell said after that game. "You know, I'm just out there playing hard. I'm obviously not trying to hurt anybody. I'm just playing hard and I'm going to continue to play hard and I'm not going to take that away from my game."
The Vikings were looking for footage of the play from different angles this past week and hoping to get clarification on the call.
The disgruntled Kendall didn't mince words after the game.
"I made mention that I didn't feel entirely comfortable after two or three days of practice (at center). You know, I don't control where I play. I don't control when I play. I don't control who I play for. So they told me to go out there and do it. I did the best I could and the shotgun snaps were awful. There's no other way to put it. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. I probably cost the team a touchdown …" he said.
"I would hope to be evaluated as a guard. I believe the determination has been made that I was a guard. That's how I view myself. But again, I don't control where I play. I don't know if it's tackle next week or punter or whatever. I will do the best I can. I expressed that I don't feel comfortable at center and I prefer to play guard. It is what it is. They asked me to go play center. They were well within in their rights to do that. I did the best I could. It wasn't good enough. I don't control the evaluation process. We will see where it goes from here."