For all of those who were in doubt of Chad Pennington and the success of his return to the gridiron Sunday, a dazzling first half paired with determined command of late game heroics was more than enough to prove them wrong.
Pennington completed 24 of 33 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets' 23-16 win over the Titans. But his most impressive play came in the final minutes of the contest when the deadlocked game was on the line in a hostile enemy environment.
With just under six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Marshall alum led a 57-yard scoring drive to break a 16-16 tie. The highlight of the march was a 38-yard connection to Laveranues Coles all the way to the Tennessee six-yard line. Two plays and one false start later, Pennington hit tight end Chris Baker for a 12-yard score to secure head coach Eric Mangini's first victory as a head coach and the Jets' first opening day win on the road since 2002.
"I just think back to training camp, all the hard days and all the different situations that we practiced," said Pennington following the win. "In the NFL, it comes down to that every week. It doesn't matter what a team's record is, what their past has been, it comes down to one drive and one team making more plays than the other."
The seven-year vet spread the field, hitting a total of seven different receivers. Coles was his favorite target, grabbing eight balls for a game-high 153 yards. Their longest connection came late in the third quarter, when Pennington's twice repaired right shoulder unleashed a 41-yard bomb from the right hash mark across the field to the left sideline.
Due to a strong first half on both sides of the ball, the Jets were able to establish complete control. Pennington led the offense with 189 yards through the air, completing 16 of 22 pass attempts. Additionally, the Jets were two for two in the red zone and they picked up 14 first downs in the first half alone.
"It's a credit to our coaching staff, a credit Brian Schottenheimer for preparing me and really making me focus on details," Pennington said. "We really stuck with the details and he's (Schottenheimer) really taught me a lot about the quarterback position. It's been a group effort."
Pennington's first touchdown pass of the game went to Jerricho Cotchery, giving the Green and White a 13-0 lead. Following Andre Dyson's second interception of the game, Pennington strung together a 13-yard pass to Brad Smith and an 11-yard pass to Baker to reach the Tennessee eight before Cotchery's first career touchdown catch. Cotchery earned the starting wideout spot alongside Coles following a breakout preseason. The third-year receiver, a North Carolina State product who started for just the second time in his career, totaled six catches for 65 yards.