In an exhilarating season opening game, Chad Pennington led the New York Jets to a 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. The Titans forced a fourth quarter deadlock with 16 straight points, but Pennington threw a 12-yard strike to tight end Chris Baker for the deciding score with just 2:10 remaining. Pennington had one of his better days as a pro, completing 24 of 33 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns.
"In the NFL, it comes down to one drive and one team making more plays than the other," Pennington said. "Luckily, we were able to do that."
The victory was the first in Eric Mangini's head coaching career. On Saturday night, Mangini had his team view tape of one of the best lightweight boxing fights of all-time featuring Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Corrales, who got knocked down twice in the 10th round and fought with both of his eyes nearly shut, got up off the mat twice and eventually stopped Castillo.
"To me that is how the whole season is going to go," Mangini said after his team didn't get rattled late. "We are going to be in fights similar to that and we are going to have to punch early, we are going to have to punch often. We are going to get knocked down and the question is how often are we going to get back up. We are going to get back up."
The Titans forced the Jets to get up after tying the game at 16, and the Green & White answered the bell. Justin Miller gave the Jets good field position with a 43-yard kickoff return. After four running plays, Pennington hooked up with Laveranues Coles for a 38-yard connection. Then Penny went for the knockout, tossing a beauty to Baker.
"Chad did a good job executing the hurry-up or the two-minute offense," Mangini said. "That is something he has worked on. The mechanics were excellent and the tempo was excellent. I am proud of his poise. He came back and he dealt with some difficulty during the game and gave us an opportunity to win the game."
Pennington took time to praise first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"I think it is a credit to our coaching staff, a credit to Brian Schottenheimer for preparing me for really focusing on the details," he said. "I am a detailed person, but we really stuck to the details. He really taught me a lot about the quarterback position. It's a group effort."
Veteran Kerry Collins, who signed with the Titans on August 29, made a surprise start at quarterback for his new club against the Jets. But Pennington, making a comeback to the field following two rotator cuff surgeries in the 2005 calendar year, proved to be the difference-maker on the field.
Pennington was razor sharp from the start, completing nine of his first 10 passes for 84 yards. The Tennessee native's favorite target was Jerricho Cotchery early in the game. Pennington hooked up with Cotchery often including a pretty 19-yard fade in quarter two, setting the Jets up inside the Titans' 10-yard line. After two penalties and a couple of plays, running back Kevan Barlow scored his first touchdown for the Jets and the team's first touchdown of the season.
Prior to taking the 7-0 lead, the Jets were beneficiaries of a pass interference call on Peter Sirmon. Pennington, who stood tall in the pocket all afternoon and absorbed a couple of big hits, threw in Chris Baker's direction but the ball was deflected and intercepted by Reynaldo Wynn. The turnover was nullified though with the flag and the Jets were able to capitalize.
Midway through the second quarter, Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher inserted rookie Vince Young to lead his offense. Young threw three consecutive completions before the Jets welcomed the prized draft pick to the National Football League. Cornerback Andre Dyson ran step-for-step with David Givens up the right sideline and Young threw in the receiver's direction. Dyson, a member of the Titans from 2001-'04, intercepted the pass at the Jets' six-yard line.
Dyson wasn't done either as he picked up his second interception just minutes later. Collins threw a poor ball that Dyson was able to corral at the Tennessee 26-yard line. Seven plays later, Pennington found a wide open Cotchery for an eight-yard score. The Jets went to the locker room leading 13-0 after place-kicker Mike Nugent missed an extra point for the first time in his career. Pennington finished the first half 16 of 22 for 189 yards. The Jets defense was steady if not spectacular in the first 30 minutes, registering the two takeaways and holding the Titans to just 120 total yards.
The Jets continued their relentless road assault in quarter three. Safety Kerry Rhodes registered a third interception for the secondary after Ben Troupe juggled a very catchable pass from Collins. The Rhodes pick set up a 19-yard Nugent chip shot and the Jets took a commanding 16-point lead.
Despite dominating much of the play, the Jets found themselves in a one possession game with 10:46 remaining. Nugent missed two field goals, a 34-yard attempt traveled to the right of the uprights and then a 30-yard kick struck the right upright and caromed back towards the field. Nugent said he had the worst pre-game warm-up of his life and he was hitting the ground on each of his kicks.
"I am so proud of my teammates," Nugent said. "They did such a great job. It shouldn't have been a close game. I speak for myself when I say that because there were seven points that we missed out today because of me not hitting field goals and an extra point."
"It's a group effort," Mangini added. "Different people made mistakes during the game that we need to build on and correct and we will."
Following the second Nugent miss, Collins led the Titans 80 yards before running back Travis Henry ran for a three-yard score. Henry converted the two-point conversion after a Derrick Strait pass interference penalty allowed the Titans to line up at the one.
Momentum stayed on the Titans' side as the fourth quarter continued. Pennington and the Jets were facing a 3rd and long at their own 11-yard line when defensive back Cortland Finnegan came unimpeded on a blitz. Finnegan delivered a vicious hit on Pennington, causing a fumble in the process. Randy Starks recovered for the Titans at the Jets one-yard line, setting up a short Henry touchdown. The Titans tied the game at 16 on another two point conversion; this time Collins threw a dart to receiver Drew Bennett.
Trailing 23-16, the Titans moved the ball well in their two-minute offense and got to the New York eight-yard line with seconds on the clock. But on 4th and goal, Rhodes came on a safety blitz, hurrying Collins into a throw which fell harmlessly to the ground.
"There are a lot of things we need to work on and we are going to work on them," Mangini said. "We are going to make improvement, but the important thing is the way these guys fought. We dealt with some adversity late and in the end we finished the game, which is something we are always talking about."
The Jets will host the New England Patriots next weekend at the Meadowlands. Fight time is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.
Laveranues Coles was fantastic throughout, catching eight balls for 153 yards. He was the recipient of a 41-yard ball from Pennington in quarter three and LC's 38-yard grab on the final drive set up the final touchdown… The young offensive line got even younger Sunday as Pete Kendall exited in the first half and was replaced at left guard by Norm Katnik. "I feel proud of them," Pennington said. "They did a great job." … Jonathan Vilma, a middle linebacker now in his third season, let the Jets with 11 tackles including eight solo stops… Both defensive end Bryan Thomas and linebacker Victor Hobson were credited with sacks… Derrick Blaylock started at running back for the Jets, gaining 36 yards on 19 attempts. Kevan Barlow also got in the mix, rushing for 35 yards on 11 carries… Late in the game, Derrick Strait moved to corner after Andre Dyson exited the field… The Jets owned the lead in time of possession, holding the ball for 34:02… Young, the Titans first round selection last April, played in just the one series and he was on the field for a two-point conversion which resulted in penalty. Collins returned to the field following the infraction…. Both teams committed eight penalties.