“Chad Pennington has a weak arm.” “Pennington can’t throw the ball.” “Pennington can’t play the vertical game, can’t stretch the defense.” But somehow, Pennington was able to follow up a 22-yard strike with a 57-yard, perfectly-placed rocket (and, yes: 50 of those yards were in the air) to Laveranues Coles on the team’s first drive for a touchdown. But, true to form, on the very next offensive play, the Jets’ defensive secondary blew its coverage and permitted the 1-4 Cincinnati Bengals to strike back with a 56-yard pass play of their own. But all of you Chad haters must be right: that doesn’t matter. It’s still all Chad’s fault when they lose. Maybe he should be making plays on defense, too, and on special teams. Maybe he should play every down of every game, and never make a mistake … would that be enough? Probably not.
Somehow, Pennington was able to quell all the garbage that he heard from the press all week, and from the “fans” of the team, and maintain a solid plan of attack, without entertaining the urge to prove everyone wrong and chuck every pass for bombs and, likely with the size and caliber of receivers on his team, interceptions that would just bury his team in an inescapable hole each week. He throws to the open receiver: he uses his patience (even when there is no time for patience; even when his line can’t keep the defense away form more than just a second or two), his intelligence, and the ability that got him to the NFL and for which few give him credit, to march the Jets down the field. He spreads the ball out, reads the defense before each play, and reacts accordingly. He started this game completing all of his first six attempts (including the 57-yard bomb) to three receivers (both wide-outs and his tight end); his first incompletion was a throw-away on 3rd-and-goal inside the “red zone” with nobody was open. Instead of chucking up a prayer for an interception and forcing new life down the throat of his opponent, he chose the sure three points of a field goal to put his team back up by a full touchdown early in the game. And from there, he just kept moving his team down the field during the first half, and giving his team a chance to win, including an 80-yard touchdown on a two-minute drill at the end of the half. He also showed great toughness by hanging tough in the pocket in the face of a heavy rush, good mobility to escape collapsing pockets, and cohones grandes on a critical 3rd-and-seven in the fourth quarter: after being smacked chest-to-chest by a lineman and escaping a sack, he ran the ball himself into the heart of the defense to get the first down.
Of course, it was all for naught, as it has been every game this season: a different team from half to half. After halftime, the offense went inept, the defense played terribly, and the only notable play calls made by the coaching staff were poor ones. The entire defense turned into a bumbling sieve in the second half, blowing coverage, missing tackles, and getting called for penalties, allowing the Bengals to take over the game with 21 unanswered points to take the lead for good. Then, and only then, did Chad make his first mistake of the game: forcing a pass to his only dependable receiver when the defense was sitting on the same play. The pick was returned for a touchdown, and the game was over; however, it didn’t matter, since it would have been over anyway had Pennington thrown the ball away instead of forcing the interception. Somehow, when that second half starts, the entire team, including Pennington, turns into a different team, and not in a good way.
I’m not saying that Kellen Clemens doesn’t have a stronger arm than Pennington. What I am saying is that if you think arm strength alone is going to win you games; if you value arm strength over experience, poise, intelligence, and accuracy at the quarterback position; then your opinions really aren’t worth listening to. In fact, if there’s any quarterback in this team who I would consider starting if Pennington got hurt, it would be Brad Smith, who has so many tools and one of the biggest hearts on the team. Unfortunately, bringing Smith to QB would take him away from the threat he poses at receiver (he had a big reception for a touchdown last week) and special teams (he’s one of the most fierce kick pursuers and most aggressive tacklers on the entire squad).
Overall, the positives:
- The passing game: Pennington rebounded from a rough outing and a ton of criticism with a solid performance, as did Coles, who played with a ton of heart.
- The kicking game: a few nice field goals and consistent, booming kick-offs by Mike Nugent.
- Special teams: no big plays all game, but no big mistakes that hurt the team, either.
And the negatives:
- The passing game. How can it be both good and bad? The offensive line was pathetic; the QB didn’t even get a two-count in on multiple shotgun formations before he had to unload the ball or get sacked; the turning point of the game came when the center snapped the ball on a shotgun when the QB wasn’t ready; and there were more inexcusable dropped balls on passes, including one laser to Sean Ryan that hit him square in the face mask.
- The punting game: the Jets didn’t punt until the third quarter, at which time Ben Graham shanked an important punt for about 20 yards.
- The defensive line: the Bengals’ offensive line and backup running back had a field day shredding the Jets’ line and running right up the middle; and the defense showed a pitiful pass rush against a strong passing team.
- The defensive secondary: Hank Poteat made another great play for an interception, but the Jets’ defense was clearly outmatched down the field by the Bengals’ receivers, especially Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Carson Palmer took constant advantage of physical coverage mismatches. Indeed, one could say that the game was lost by poor coverage and mistakes and penalties made by the cornerbacks.
- Coaching. Despite gaining about 200 yards passing in the first half with aggressive play calling, all momentum was lost in the third quarter by running conservative plays and abandoning the aggressive passing game that worked so well in the first half.
- The rushing game: Thomas Jones ran for just 37 yards in the first half; not much help for the offense. And it didn’t get much better from there, despite constant running tries long after the play calling should have shifted to the pass.
All in all, just another Sunday for the Jets. Why, Paul, why?!?
Maybe it is time for a quarterback change after all. Maybe that will be enough to give some sort of spark to this team in the second half of games. At least it would be enough to shut up the critics that blame it all on one person.