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REALITY CHECK

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
September 15th, 2006
Jets S Kerry Rhodes tackles Patriots RB Corey Dillon in their matchup at the Meadowlands last season. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Jets S Kerry Rhodes tackles Patriots RB Corey Dillon in their matchup at the Meadowlands last season. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Chad Pennington's story is a marvelous one, and one that should continue to grow as long as he stays healthy.

Last week's performance, worthy of winning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, was magnificent. Pennington did what he's always done so well en route to a 22-16 career record as a starter: He put the ball exactly where the receiver was going to be and not in interception range of the opponent.

This Sunday, though, in the Jets' home opener the sledding gets quite a bit tougher for Pennington, because the Patriots' defense is a lot more multiple than Tennessee's and there is no way the Patriots are going to allow Pennington to be as comfortable in the pocket as he was against the Titans.

Count on that.

A week ago, the Titans went into that game believing all the hype. Not about themselves, but about the Jets and Pennington. The Titans went into that game daring Pennington to beat them. They stacked the box with the front seven and then some and stuffed the Jets' running game, did a pretty good job at it, in fact.

The problem for the Titans was this: Pennington, given some good time to throw, had his accuracy mojo going and he was on, picking the Titans apart with short passes early in the game as they over-pursued against the run. That left receivers open. And eventually, after he connected on so many short passes, Pennington hit the Titans with some long ones down the field.

"You have to respect what Chad did last week,'' Jets running back Kevan Barlow said. "He went out there and performed. He put on a great performance and you have to respect that. I donít know what the Patriots are going to do to respond to that. It will be good if they drop them because then weíll be able to run the ball.''

In theory.

"That's what (the Titans) tried and do: take away the running game,'' Barlow said "They came out and they had a good plan. They came out aggressive. Now you just have to look forward to New England giving us some things we might not expect.''

Count on that.

New England is better than Tennessee. Sure, the Patriots are going to try to stuff the Jets' suspect running game, but theyíre not going to give Pennington any free passes.

It should be noted, too, that New England has had a decided edge over Pennington as a starter. He's 1-3 lifetime against the Patriots entering Sunday's game, having lost his last three starts.

In those last three starts, losses of 23-7, 13-7 and 21-16, Pennington is 65-of-109 for 643 yards, one touchdown and seven interceptions.

He scoffed at the notion that New England has his number, saying, "I donít think I've played them enough for them to have my number. Besides, the past for us doesnít matter. We're focused on the here and now.''

Even after winning the player of the week honor, Pennington couldnít dole out enough credit to his teammates and support system with regard to his comeback.

His top receiver and friend Laveranues Coles, for one, wanted to hear nothing of it.

"Chad winning that honor is just like I won it; that's how excited I am for him,'' Coles said. "It's the greatest feeling. I'm so happy for him and opportunities he's getting and where he's come from with all the criticism and people wondering where he was going to be at. Just last week he was being dogged out and it seemed like we had all these questions at quarterback. Now this week it's like, 'Oh, we knew you could do it. That's crazy.''

Welcome to the ever-changing, fickle world of the NFL.

INSIDER EXTRA POINTS

Quietly, but quite effectively, linebacker Matt Chatham has become quite a find for the Jets, who signed him as a free agent from the Patriots in the offseason.

Chatham has already made enough of an impression in the locker room to be named one of the team captains on special teams. He, too, has been invaluable this week helping the Jets out with their preparation with the Patriots.

"I can talk to these guys about what (the New England players and coaches) think of them,'' Chatham said. "A guy who we in this room hold in high regard they may not across the way. I know there are guys in this room that we didn't think particularly much about when I was there, but now coming here I have a healthy respect for them.

"Itís important what other teams think of you and how they're going to try to attack you. I can help in that regard, so I will of course talk to Chad. We faced him several times and I can say, 'Here's what the game plan was.' ''

Mangini has been impressed with the transition Chatham has made all along.

"I really like the way that Matt played in practice when we were in New England,'' Mangini said. "He was a guy who came in and had an opportunity and really worked to establish a role on special teams and then worked to establish a role on defense and played in some games while we were there.

"Now he's working to the next level. A good indication of what type of person Matt is is the fact that he was voted special teamsí captain. That is part of the development, and the recognition by his peers. He is a really smart guy; heíll talk politics with you all day, if you want to explore that with him I am not saying he will necessarily agree with you, but he is a guy who can explore a range of issues.''

****

Speaking of Chatham, he joked why Bill Belichick hasnít already been voted into the Hall of Fame,saying, "Bill would be in the Hall of Fame if the guy that carves the busts knew how carve one out with a sweatshirt hood on.''

****

Speaking of busts, the Jets' running game was borderline bust on opening day, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry.

Donít be surprised to see more of Barlow this week even though Derrick Blaylock started last week. Barlow, who's a bigger, more powerful runner than Blaylock, said he's been rapidly picking up the new offense.

"Itís picking up a lot,'' he said. "Iím here early with my coach, learning everything and hopefully Iíll be able to go out there and play a lot more then I did last week to help ensure we get a win. Itís kind of tough, but Iíve been learning on the run and moving on with everything and hopefully Iíll be able to play a lot more.''

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