Pennington Answers Questions; Defense Raises Them.
Jets QB Chad Pennington was nearly flawless in his first start since shoulder surgery in February. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Chad Pennington broke the huddle, marched behind center and went through the same motions he’d known since he first grasped a football.
He barked out his cadence and took the snap, drifted back scanned the defense before making his decision. Pennington cocked his arm and then dumped the ball to Jerald Sowell in the flat for a gain of two yards.
It was Pennington’s first throw in live action since Jan. 15 at Pittsburgh, but it was the ensuing throws that collectively put to bed any clamor about possible ill-effects regarding Pennington’s shoulder surgery in February. Pennington engineered the first three Jets possessions in the 28-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in front of 40,813 at the Meadowlands, looking like he never missed a beat.
“It felt like old times again,” said Pennington, who was 9-for-10 for 86 yards and a touchdown after playing in the Jets first three possessions. “I was really excited because a lot of receivers got involved. It was nice to spread the ball around.”
After their first two possessions, the Jets (2-0) offense looked like it needed an oil change. Two three-and-outs was not the glamorous return Pennington expected and the Jets didn’t gain a first down until the 7:36 remaining in the second quarter. But he more then made up for it.
The Jets $64-million quarterback completed six of seven passes for 74 yards on the Jets third drive and threw crisply. The one incompletion, however, was the most telling. Pennington threw the ball 50 yards in the air and overshot WR Justin McCareins by a few strides, but displayed the arm he has so widely been criticized for. Forget the naysayers, Pennington amazed himself with the throw.
“It proves to me I’ve got a good shoulder,” Pennington said of the throw. “When I let it go I was trying to put it out there and I even surprised myself how far I threw it. That’s probably the first time I have overthrown the receiver in about three years, so I’m not displeased with it at all.”
Neither was Jets head coach Herman Edwards, who after the long incompletion made eye contact with his quarterback, whose eyes told him something.
“I knew he’d be OK,” Edwards said. “It didn’t shock me that he struggled [early]. I know my quarterback pretty well.”
Pennington marched the Jets down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that spanned 3:33. WR Laveranues Coles hauled in a 19-yard pass and three plays later WR Jerricho Cotchery’s 18-yard catch and run got the Jets to the Vikings’ 20-yard line. On the next play Coles burnt Vikings CB Brain Williams on a post route for his first touchdown of the preseason to tie the score at 7.
“Anytime you have Chad in the game it’s always exciting,” said Coles, who caught six passes for 57 yards. “For me, it really wasn’t the touchdown it was getting the first pass from him.”
Thereafter both teams’ second stringers came in and after a turnover set up the Jets at the Vikings 35, backup QB Jay Fiedler lobbed an 18-yard touchdown to WR Wayne Chrebet. That gave the Jets a 14-7 lead.
Yet as well as the Jets first team offense performed their defense was equally as porous. The Vikings (1-1) lit up the Jets secondary as Pro Bowl QB Daunte Culpepper exposed a defense missing two key cogs. DE John Abraham, who is still holding out for a long-term contract, and CB Ty Law were both sorely missed as Culpepper completed 11 of 13 passes for 146 yards with a touchdown in just a quarter and a half. Last week Lions QB Joey Harrington was 9-for-9 for 100 yards, so the Jets secondary has been less than stellar the past two Fridays.
“They’ve got a good passing game,” Edwards said of the Vikings. “We’ve got to get better at defending some of those things.”
The Jets defense was stalwart on first and second downs, but Minnesota converted four third downs and two on their initial scoring drive. On a third-and-21 from his own 23, Culpepper connected with WR Marcus Robinson after CB Derrick Strait (starting in Law’s place) bit on a pump fake. The gain went for 42 yards and seven plays later the Vikings took a 7-0 lead after RB Mo Williams scored.
The Jets allowed just 18 rush yards in the first half, but the Vikings success throwing the ball was a culprit of the Jets lack of a pass rush. Once Abraham, who carries the franchise tag, signs a contract and reports to the team, the lack of pressure on the quarterback should be remedied.
Once the starters left the field, the game was an eyesore. The two clubs combined for 25 penalties, 17 by the Vikings. KR DeCori Birmingham broke the malaise with a 37-yard punt return that set up rookie RB Cedric Houston’s game-winning 10-yard touchdown run with 5:52 remaining. Rookie S Kerry Rhodes’ second interception in as many weeks sealed the victory for the Jets.
But tonight’s stage belonged to Pennington, and after the game the lights still shined on him.
“I felt really good out there,” he said.
-T Adrian Jones started the game and played with the first, second and third team offenses.
-Rookie CB/KR Justin Miller, who fumbled a punt in last week’s win over Detroit and has become prone to fumbling in practice, returned just on kick for 35 yards. Derrick Strait started in his place at corner.
-S Oliver Celestin threw his hat in the ring for the starting secondary spot, laying the wood on some of the Vikings offensive players. One such play included a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Vikings WR Marcus Robinson.
-S Kerry Rhodes intercepted his second pass of the preseason tonight. Tonight’s ended the Vikings last chance at victory, while last week his deflected pass to end regulation saved the game.
-In the battle of the punters, Ben Graham seems to be ahead of Micah Knorr, who struggled tonight. Graham kicked two balls inside the 20 and averaged just under 40 yards a punt while Knorr averaged 32 yards a kick. He could not pin any inside the 20.
-S Rashad Washington suffered a slight concussion in the third quarter and did not return.
-WR Harry Williams Jr. (knee): out
-WR Jonathan Carter (hamstring): out
-FB Jerald Sowell (ribs): out
-G Brandon Moore (hamstring): out
-LB Darrell McClover (foot): out
-S Andre Maddox (hamstring): out
-CB Ty Law (foot): out
-LB Mondoe Davis (knee): out
The Jets have an off day tomorrow and then return to the field for one practice on Sunday at 3:30. They resume two-a-days on Monday. Check back to Jets Insider.com often for all the latest training camp news.
JETS/VIKINGS GAME PICTURES: For over 100 Jets Insider.com Exclusive Jets/Vikings pictures,