In Week 17 of the 2008 NFL season, in a win-or-go-home scenario against his former team, Chad Pennington did what he always does: orchestrated clock-dominating drives and systematically picked apart the opposing defense en route to the Miami Dolphins’ ninth win in 10 games, the AFC East division championship, a playoff berth, and one of the greatest stories in pro football lore to date.
Pennington tossed two touchdowns for 27 and 20 yards, completed 22 of 30 passes, and converted a critical 4th-and-1 on a QB sneak with two minutes remaining to ice the victory for the Dolphins, who, after a 1-15 season in 2007, return to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons with their first division title since 2000.
Yet Pennington’s production, leadership, and heart are not qualities that New York Jets’ fans seem to miss: not one Jets’ fan with whom I’ve spoken regrets their having cut Pennington, and they claim with unanimity that he would not have enjoyed such a successful season had he remained a Jet. This sentiment also seems to be shared among many New York media outlets and talk radio hosts. I believe that the following arguments provide adequate evidence to dispel this ethereal theory, if such evidence is truly necessary.
In 2007, Thomas Jones rushed for one touchdown and averaged 3.6 yards per carry for the Jets. In 2008, Jones averaged 4.5 yards per carry and rushed for a franchise-record 13 touchdowns. In addition, Jets’ spark-plug Leon Washington also improved his yards per carry by almost a yard (5.0 to 5.9) and doubled his rushing touchdowns from 3 to 6 from 2007 to 2008. Did Jones and Washington improve their abilities to such a stark contrast in the span of a single off-season? Or did the Jets’ revamped offensive line, which features two Pro Bowl players this year in Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold, simply provide better blocking and running support than they did last year?
In 2007, Jets’ quarterbacks were sacked 53 times. In 2008, Jets’ quarterbacks were sacked 30 times. Is this drastic reduction in sacks allowed the product of Brett Favre’s being that much more fleet of foot than Pennington and Kellen Clemens (granted: neither is considered a speed threat, but please, grant the assumption that they are both more agile than Favre at this point in his career)? Or did the Jets’ revamped offensive line simply provide better protection for their quarterback than they did last year?
If nothing else, the persistence of Jets’ fans and analysts is to be commended. Their argument is baseless and inane, but they are certainly persistent, if not obtuse, in denying any mistake in cutting Pennington and trading for Favre. Perhaps yet more evidence to the contrary is in order.
In 2007, Brett Favre passed for 4155 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers. In 2008, Favre passed for 3472 yards and as many touchdowns as interceptions (22) for the Jets. His decline in production is in stark juxtaposition with the improvements made on the offensive line to protect the quarterback.
In contrast, Pennington had a triumphant 2008 season, including career bests in passing yards (3665) and yards per game (228), and his best passer rating (97.4) since 2002. He did this with an offensive line anchored by a rookie tackle, Jake Long, and a receiving core full of unknowns and castaways.
Meanwhile, I’m sure the Jets are proud to have a leader like Brett Favre, who shook his head in disgust in reaction to one of Pennington’s touchdown throws, and ran off the field with time left on the clock and without shaking anyone’s hand. This classless, unsportsmanlike display in what could prove to be his final NFL game may tarnish the undeniable legacy he has amassed during his storied career. At least the Jets got their share of Favre’s legacy for all of four or five months, since he arrived in August and all but announced his impending retirement during the course of the season itself.
But where will that leave the Jets at the quarterback position next year? Jets’ fans are just glad it won’t be Pennington. And for once, it won’t be Pennington’s onus to bear.