Prior to the commencement of the 2006 regular season, Chad Pennington had passed for 300 yards twice in 37 career starts. Pennington has already doubled that number in just two weeks, passing for 319 yards in a win over Tennessee and then totaling 306 yards last Sunday against New England. But the quarterback's chore this week could prove more difficult against a swarming Buffalo Bills defense.
"We have to be fundamentally sound in our approach. They have a great pass rush and the most impressive thing is their pursuit of the football," Pennington said of the Bills. "You watch film and there are eight, nine, ten guys in the frame when a player is tackled. That is pretty impressive."
The Bills, who split two divisional road games to open the season, are yielding only 163 pass yards per game and just 12.5 points a contest. They started four rookies in Miami and nearly tossed a shutout while sacking Dolphins QB Daunte Culpepper seven times. This week, Pennington will lead the offense into the noisy environment of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"You have to be fundamentally sound and you always have to know where those guys are," Pennington said. "We just have to be cohesive as a unit communicating and it's going to be tough in a hostile environment."
The Green & White haven't won at Buffalo since 2002. Pennington, who has made two starts in Orchard Park, says the Bills raise their game up a notch in front of their fans.
"They do a good job of feeding off the crowd and playing well in front of their home crowd. It's a college-type atmosphere there, a very raucous crowd, a very loud crowd," Pennington said. "They just play very well at home. A lot of NFL teams do, but they play extremely well at home."
It's been almost two years since Pennington's last playing appearance in Buffalo. During a 22-17 loss to the Bills on November 7, 2004, Pennington scrambled before absorbing a powerful hit delivered by Bills linebacker London Fletcher. He would leave in the fourth quarter after a Chris Kelsay sack.
The story has been well-documented past that point, as Pennington was eventually forced to undergo two rotator cuff surgeries on his right shoulderin 2005. Pennington has played very well in his first two games and he isn't focused on anything but a win upon his return to Western New York.
"I haven't thought about it much at all," he said Wednesday. "I have just focused on trying to do everything I can to help us get another win in the column."
The Jets split their first two games with Pennington playing at an elite level. After undergoing surgery last October, the veteran passer not only worked hard in the rehab room but in the film room. Thus far in early action, Pennington has displayed more than adequate arm strength, connecting with his receivers on a myriad of patterns. The Marshall alum credits the improvement of his overall body strength.
"If there's one positive of having the injury, it showed the flaw in my mechanics. I was able to study how I was more of an arm thrower than what I thought I was," Pennington said. "For me to have the velocity that I needed to make the throws that coach wants me to make, I needed to become more of a body thrower and understand how to use my body to an advantage to make those throws."
With Pennington back in the saddle, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are both flourishing. Coles' 253 yards lead the NFL and Cotchery's 186 yards are fourth in the American Football Conference. Justin McCareins has averaged 14.2 yards on his six receptions. The Jets are making explosive plays down the field.
"They take great pride in not only making plays but understanding the concepts that we are running," Pennington said of his targets. "The understand how to help each other get open and talk to one another. It's been pretty amazing to watch these guys work."
The Jets returned to the practice field Wednesday in Hempstead. Pennington, ever the leader, says the offense needs to be consistent Sunday against a relentless Bills defense.
"You can't be sporadic. Inconsistency stops drives," he said. "I think we have to focus as an offense of being consistent and taking advantage of the things we need to take advantage of when the opportunity presents itself."
Wednesday Injury Report Jets Doubtful: OL Trey Teague (ankle)
Questionable: CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (calf), WR Tim Dwight (thigh) & OL Pete Kendall (thigh)
Probable: *DL Dave Ball (hand), *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *S Kerry Rhodes (ankle) & *DL Kimo von Oelhoffen
Bills Questionable: S Matt Bowen (shin) & LB Takeo Spikes (hamstring)
*Denotes players who participated in practice