Consistency. Precision. Accuracy.
These three words have best described Chad Pennington's football forte throughout his eight-year career with the New York Jets. On Sunday afternoon in western New York, Pennington proved he can still snipe with the best of them, completing 32 of 39 pass attempts (82.1 percent accuracy) despite losing to the Buffalo Bills, 17-14.
The cerebral quarterback took advantage of the Buffalo secondary's deep-threat containment, chipping away at the Bills defense with short completions.
"They're a bend-but-don't-break defense. That's their mentality," Pennington said. "They were trying to stay on top of all our deep vertical routes and make us check it down and gain our yards the hard way."
"Buffalo doesn't believe in giving up the deep ball," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "They played their secondary back far. At times they sat on a lot of routes, and we were able to get open in most cases."
With the Bills secondary playing cautious, Pennington got himself into a groove and picked apart the defensive backs with quick and effective completions.
At one point in Buffalo's deafening Ralph Wilson Stadium, Pennington completed a career-best 15 passes in a row. In that streak, which lasted from 3:59 in the second quarter to 10:08 in the fourth quarter, Pennington hit six different teammates, from tight end Joe Kowalewski for his first career reception to eighth-year veteran receiver Laveranues Coles for his 530th catch.
"At that point everyone was feeling it. You're not aware of it at the point in time but you feel the groove," said Cotchery, who had 106 receiving yards on eight receptions. "It's one of those points in time in the game where you want to keep that groove going."
Cotchery was Pennington's favorite target during this stretch. Chad tagged the fourth-year receiver from North Carolina State six times, twice for 28-yard completions, Pennington's longest of the season.
"He threw one pass to me over the middle and it was the perfect spot," Cotchery recalled Monday of his second 28-yard reception. "It's been two weeks in a row where he hit that perfect spot where the defender was checking me and he still threw it where the defender couldn't get to it."
The most important aspect of that stretch came when Pennington connected with Laveranues Coles in the right corner of the end zone from 5 yards out, tying the game at seven apiece.
"Looking at the stats at the end of the game, I was like, 'Wow, I didn't know he put up those numbers,' " Cotchery said. "He does a great job behind the center."
Unfortunately for the Jets, two of Pennington's misses proved costly. His first interception of the game — as well as the season — came in the Jets' first possession of the fourth quarter, when they were trailing the Bills, 10-7. A pass intended for Coles was snared by defensive back Jabari Greer at the Jets 25, setting the Bills up for the eventual game-winning touchdown.
"[Greer] did a good job of reading the footwork that I had and he set down and I was just trying to push it outside and he ended up going outside," Pennington explained after the game.
The second interception was the last nail in the Jets' coffin. Down by three with 1:43 remaining, Pennington marched the Green & White from his 26 to the Buffalo 39. On first-and-10 and needing just a few extra yards for kicker Mike Nugent to come in and attempt a game-tying field goal, Pennington's pass was picked off by Terrence McGee along the right sideline at the Bills 32 with six seconds left.
"We were looking for a quick 5 yards, no penalty, and obviously not a negative play," head coach Eric Mangini explained. "He tried to sail it out of bounds and I think it just got away from him a little bit."
"I tried to throw it away but the ball came out weird," Pennington said.
Pennington's 32 completions surpassed his previous best of 31, which also came against Buffalo. On Oct. 10, 2004, he connected on 31 of 42 passes for 304 yards en route to a 16-14 victory at the Meadowlands.
"His accuracy, it's shocking each and every day. I don't know how he does it," said Cotchery, who leads the team in receptions with 26, receiving yards with 382 and first downs with 19 through the first four games.
The Knoxville, Tenn., native trails the Arizona Cardinals' Kurt Warner as the NFL's all-time most accurate passer by mere decimals. Pennington now has a completion percentage of 65.65 percent (1,143 of 1,741), one one-hundredth of a percentage point less than Warner's 65.66 percent (1,660 of 2,528).
"It's just amazing how he does it," Cotchery said. "But that's just Chad Pennington."