Quarterback Chad Pennington was brilliant Sunday, completing 24 of 33 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns in the Jets' 23-16 season-opening win over the Tennessee Titans. For his performance, Pennington is a candidate for NFL FedEx Player of the Week.
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With just less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Pennington 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."
A highly publicized four-way battle at quarterback came to a screeching halt prior to the Jets' fourth and final preseason game. Mangini had seen enough of Pennington to name him his starter for the opener at Tennessee.
"His presence, his ability to move the team, his leadership - all those things that I've been looking for - he's done an outstanding job with and its clear to me that he should be the starter," said Mangini of Pennington.
This was a title Pennington had to earn after facing a challenge from three worthy challengers. The Jets increased competition in the off-season, adding veteran Patrick Ramsey in free agency and then selecting Kellen Clemens in the second round of the draft. Holdover Brooks Bollinger returned for another training camp as well. From the moment the team stepped on the field for a June mini-camp, the position was open.
"Every single position is wide open right now," Mangini announced. "So they are all going to get an equal opportunity."
The 30-year old Pennington underwent a small rotator cuff repair and repair of the anterior capsule and labrum through an arthroscopic procedure last October. That followed up an initial rotator cuff surgery performed on Pennington early in 2005. But despite the injuries, Pennington persevered and was the team's starter on opening day for a third consecutive season.
"I believe in the plan that we had, and I believe that the organization did a great job of looking at all the advice and expertise," Pennington said. "I wasn't surprised how everything went, but at the same time I was more or less relieved because I didn't know what to expect because there was a lot of variables going on and a lot of different things that could happen."
Pennington, the Jets starting quarterback since a quarter of the way into the '02, has led the Jets to a 21-16 record as a starter. His .568 winning percentage is the highest in club history among starting quarterbacks. The seven-year veteran says he won't change his approach.
"Nothing really changes to be honest when I prepare," Pennington said. "When I study - no matter if I'm in there with no matter what string - I approach everything as if I was starter, and I approach things to get better and that's the way I always looked at things."
During Pennington's first two years with the Green and White, he watched veteran Vinny Testaverde start 32 games. Pennington, who remained levelheaded throughout this process, respected the composure Testaverde displayed as a team leader.
"I learned a lot from being under Vinny," Pennington said. "He always stayed on an even keel -he never went too high or too low. That was something that I think was very important that I learned from him."
A confident Pennington was sharp throughout the summer months while sharing reps with his challengers. He started both preseason games he appeared in, completing nearly 59% of his passes.
"Over the next week and a half we'll definitely be making an emphasis on getting some timing and more chemistry down with my receivers," he said following the promotion. "I feel like the two games that I've been in there with my receivers - the feel for each other has been relatively good. We have been able to complete some timing passes and some things that require trust in each other and just having a feel for each other."
The key for Pennington and any other NFL quarterback is putting points on the scoreboard. For the third consecutive season, Pennington is in a new offensive system but he's taken to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The two worked very well together this past weekend as the Jets produced 23 points against the Titans.
"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."
Mangini, the Jets first-year head coach who makes his Meadowlands regular season debut Sunday against his former employer, has talked of making a roster complete with players who are smart, tough and competitive. Pennington, a passer who has displayed good accuracy throughout his career in addition to intangibles you just can't teach, fit the mold to a tee and earned the offensive controls.
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