Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pennington's Postseason Picks Vindicate Jets

This is probably the last in a long line of Brett Favre and Chad Pennington comparisons. Each player's fate was intertwined all season long, with Pennington clearly ending up with the upper hand, helping transform the 1-15 Dolphins to 11-5 and AFC East champions.

However, even with Favre's shortcomings this season well-documented by many, including yours truly, the trade was still the right move for the Jets to make.

It's hard to ignore 22 interceptions and a lost 3rd round pick, especially when your former quarterback beats you in your own building to win the division. There is no way to justify that releasing Pennington and trading for Favre worked.

But that's not what I'm arguing.

Before Favre's arrival, most close to the situation felt the team was pretty good. Expectations were high after the acquisitions of Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace, Alan Faneca, and Damien Woody. No one expected a Super Bowl, partly because of a lot of questions about the newcomers, partly because of concerns about Chad Pennington.

No one doubts no. 10 as a football player. In fact there might be no player in the NFL whose strengths and limitations are as well-known and as pronounced as Pennington. He's smart and accurate, and few are better at the short passing game and play action passes than the Marshall grad.

But he has yet to prove he can beat a good defense when he has to, and his performance against Baltimore serves as vindication for the Jets and for the fans who wanted him out.

Any Jets fan could have told you Miami stood no chance in this game. Not only were they outmatched talent-wise, but no one expected Pennington to play at the same level he had at the regular season against an elite defense.

Four interceptions later, and they were right. It was his worst performance since a five interception debacle against New England in 2003, and it vindicated Chad's detractors who felt that he simply cannot beat Super Bowl-caliber teams when he has to.

Look, Pennington deserves a ton of credit for leading the Dolphins turnaround. And I completely realize that he doesn't have much talent around him. However, this team won 11 games this year, including nine of their last ten, and talentless NFL teams simply cannot do that.

Pennington was replaced because the Jets did not believe that he was good enough to lead them to the promised land. Could he take them to the playoffs? Absolutely. He did that in 2002, 2004, and 2006 (maybe he's better in even numbered years?).

But he did not take them to an AFC Championship game, and no team ever feared him on the opposing sideline. At 32 years of age, Pennington had done all he could in New York, and his time had come and gone.

Miami put him in a great position, using the Wildcat offense and tons of trick plays to take pressure off Pennington, and against most defenses, he was able to remain in his comfort zone. Baltimore is not like most defenses.

Brett Favre proved that the trade was worth it when he beat New England and Tennessee in back-to-back weeks. He played very well in both of those games, and the team was primed for a deep playoff run.

Unfortunately, his play fell off a cliff after those two weeks. If the Jets had an average quarterback, they would be in the playoffs. If the Jets had Chad Pennington, they would be in the playoffs.

But making the playoffs was not the reason the Jets swapped Pennington for Favre. They wanted a Super Bowl. And as Chad has shown time and time again, he is incapable of doing that. The Jets didn't know if Favre was capable or not, but they wanted to mix it up, and for 11 weeks, it looked like it had worked.

Nine interceptions to just two touchdowns in the last five showed that the Favre gamble was not going to work. But Pennington's four interceptions showed that sticking with the status quo would have failed in bringing home the Lombardi trophy as well.


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