Eric Mangini’s first regular-season game as an NFL head coach was definitely too close for comfort. Up a solid 16 points entering the fourth quarter, the Jets appeared a sure lock for victory in Nashville. After a thrilling comeback by the Titans tied the game with just minutes remaining, Tennessee-native Chad Pennington took control to lead Mangini and Gang Green to their first win of the season.
Pennington, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, was simply brilliant in the win. The oft-injured Jets quarterback, whose wrist and rotator cuff injuries have earned the nickname “Noodle Arm”, has not looked as strong in his entire career as he did on Sunday. Pennington completed 24 of 33 passes for 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also avoided throwing any interceptions, a problem he dealt with during the preseason.
The game began somewhat slowly, with the Jets and Titans each mounting drives that led to punts. Ben Graham booted one of four consecutive nice punts on the early drive on a day that would see him average a monstrous 49.8 yards per punt.
Pennington began to take control of the offense early on after Jets starting-RB Derrick Blaylock proved to be having a very difficult time with Tennessee’s powerful defensive line. The Jets QB led the team down field with a series of short- and mid-range passes that were helped along by a number of Tennessee miscues. While Blaylock was able to pick up some momentum on the drive, Mangini clearly had no faith in his ability to move the chains, subbing in RB Kevan Barlow to take carries in the red zone. Barlow wound up scoring the first touchdown of the game on a one-yard rush.
Pennington’s aerial assault on the Titans’ secondary continued as the Jets ran a two-minute drill at the end of the first half. After CB Andre Dyson’s second pick of the game gave the team a final chance to score, Pennington capitalized on the opportunity by hitting WR Jerricho Cotchery in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
The throw, which was made with incredible accuracy and velocity, prompted a commentator for CBS television to exclaim, “Is that enough arm strength for you?” The comment was made in response to allegations that Pennington lacks sufficient strength in his twice-surgically-repaired shoulder.
The grab was the first TD of the season for Cotchery, who started the game at receiver over veteran WR Justin McCareins. Playing as the number three receiver, McCareins still had a productive game, reeling in two passes for 34 receiving yards.
McCareins’ 34 receiving yards and even Cotchery’s 65 receiving yards were dwarfed by the stats of top-receiver Laveranues Coles. Coles led the game with eight grabs for a total of 153 yards, including two catches over 35 yards.
Tennessee, faced with a quarterback controversy similar to that which surrounded the Jets this preseason, decided to give the start to newly-signed veteran Kerry Collins. Collins didn’t fare nearly as well as Pennington in the season opener, going 13-for-31 for 181 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. Despite the shaky numbers, however, it was Collins who led the Titans to their impressive fourth-quarter comeback that leveled the score at 16 with just minutes left.
Ultimately, it was Pennington’s near-perfect passing that made the difference in the game. Pennington, the Jets’ offensive co-captain, guided his team down the field and, with less than four minutes remaining in the game, found TE Chris Baker for the go-ahead score.
Collins had a chance to tie the game up once more, and he nearly did, but a late stand in the red zone capped off by CB Justin Miller’s fourth down deflection of a Collins-touchdown pass to Titans WR Drew Bennett sealed the deal for the Jets.
It may not have been the prettiest win because of missed field goals and costly penalties, but at the end of the day it’s still a win; not just for the players and coaches involved, but for the fans, who should be able to clearly see that this team is moving in the right direction. Even if the Jets lose, it’s a pleasant change to finally see well-planned and well-fought football games.
-Jets K Mike Nugent struggled mightily against the Titans, missing his first career extra point as well as two easy field goals from under 35 yards that would have put the game away much more easily for the Jets.
-Titans’ Head Coach Jeff Fisher decided to give rookie QB Vince Young a chance to prove his worth amid Collins’ struggles in the second quarter. While Young quickly riled up the crowd by completing three straight passes for 27 yards, he ultimately proved to be no more consistent than any of the team’s other options at the position by throwing a long interception to Jets CB Andre Dyson.
-Jets G Pete Kendall left the game early in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return to the field for the remainder of the game. His status is unknown.
-Kerry Collins was also intercepted by Jets S Kerry Rhodes, who picked a deflected pass out of the air for the turnover. Rhodes had a solid day for the Jets defense, adding two solo tackles and two tackle assists, as well as providing the pressure on Collins’ last throw that enabled Miller to get a hand on it.
-Pennington finished the game with a 123.2 quarterback rating. His 319 passing yards also led all NFL quarterbacks from Thursday’s season opener and Sunday’s 1:00 PM games.
Coles’ 153 receiving yards also led the league in that period.
OL Trey Teague (leg): Questionable
WR/KR Tim Dwight (lower leg): Questionable
G Pete Kendall (hamstring): Questionable
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