“It just went by way too fast. You’re in such a grind and you’re so focused on the next game, the next practice that you don’t really get a chance to take it all in and enjoy it,” he told me last weekend in Nashville, TN. “It went by so fast and I have no idea where those eight years went because they just flew by.”
After sitting behind Vinny Testaverde for a couple of seasons, Pennington relieved the veteran gunslinger in a 2002 Week 4 blowout loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Magic followed as Pennington went 8-4 as a starter, completing 68.9% of his passes for 3,120 yards with 22 TDs and just 6 INTs.
“The even years of my career were always kind to us with playoff berths and playoff victories. But that year was special because our whole team and our fans were really involved in the season,” he said. “The one moment I remember from 2002 was the Green Bay game and the fans sitting on the edge of their seats for the 1 o’clock game with Miami and New England. And once New England beats Miami in overtime, the whole crowd erupts and from then on, the Packers had no chance. We ended up routing them , 42-17, and it was just a really great feeling.”
Fighting through injury in 2004, Pennington led the Jets back to the divisional round of the playoffs. He was spectacular in a 20-17 OT win in San Diego on wild card weekend while completing 23 of 33 for 279 yards with 2 TDs, but the Jets were denied a week later in Pittsburgh as they lost a heartbreaker in overtime.
“That was a special year too, but that was a very challenging year. Trying to play seven games and lead your team into the playoffs with a torn rotator cuff — it was really difficult,” he said. “We didn’t want to talk about it. We didn’t want to share that information with other teams so I wouldn’t become a target. I learned a lot that season — how to deal with an injury, how to deal with the media when it comes to having an injury and just try to be humble and stay focused and steadfast on your job at hand. The San Diego playoff game was definitely gratifying.”