QB Chad Pennington's numbers this year are alomst identical to Colts QB Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning sat in front of his hotel television set as a fan on Opening Day Sunday of the NFL season and cheered silently for a fraternity brother.
The subject of his interest was Chad Pennington, who was leading the Jets to a rousing opening-week road victory over the Titans hours before Manning would take on the Giants in the Sunday night game.
"I am very happy that Chad has been able to come back and that he is off to a good start,'' Manning said. "In New York, we played the Giants the first game and we spent a long time in the hotel Sunday, just sitting and waiting, and of course they showed the Jets-Titans game.
"I got to watch the game; I watched it very much like a fan because I was getting ready to face the Giants team, so I didn’t want to be analyzing defenses and get confused with what I was getting ready to see that night. I watched it as a fan. Chad played really well in that game and made some huge plays. I certainly know he has been through a lot with injuries and his father has been ill. I am just glad that he is back and playing well.''
On Sunday, the two meet as competitors on opposite sides.
That their numbers are virtually identical says a lot about how far Pennington has, indeed, come from two shoulder surgeries and a world of doubt _ even from within the walls of Weeb Ewbank Hall.
There is, of course, a long way to go before we know how this season will truly unfold, but if the season ended today, Pennington wins the NFL Comeback Player of the Year without an argument.
Through three games, he's completed 65.7-percent of his passes for a gaudy 8.16 yards per attempt, 5 TDs, only one INT and a rating of 103.4, good for fourth in the NFL.
Manning has completed 59.1-percent of his passes with 8.14 yards per attempt average, 5 TDs, one INT and a 96.6 rating.
Pennington will be the first to tell you it's way early to be getting giddy about anything, but that doesn’t make his marvelous start to this season any less significant.
"Satisfaction is not even the word,'' Pennington said. "I have a feeling of happiness to be out on the field. I mean, that's what it's about. You miss playing the game when you're injured. I've played this game for quite a while now. This is my passion.
"When you're not allowed to be out there because of an injury, something that was totally out of your control, it's frustrating. So just having a good feeling of being in the huddle, the feeling of being out there on the field with my teammates, I'm just trying to take that all in, enjoy that every down, every distance, every play, because you never know what it's going to end.
"Last year really showed me that. This game, there's finality to it. It doesn't last forever. The hard part is you never know when that finality is going to come. You never know when your last play's going to be. Playing your next play like it's your last play, that means something to me because I've been there before.'
Asked if he was motivated by all of the other negative things that went on around him, such as the $6 million pay cut he was force to take, the trading for Patrick Ramsey and subsequent training camp competition to win his job back, Pennington said, "As an athlete, I've been told, 'No' my whole life.
"I've had people say, 'You're too slow'' or 'Your arm's not strong enough' or 'Yeah, you're smart, but you're not going to be able to make it to the next level.'
"That's fine. That's the beauty of athletics. You can only prove it on the field. You can't talk about it, you have to be about it. It was a little bit of motivation, but at the same time I have motivation within myself, and really my hat goes off to my support group with this organization, my family, my friends. I mean, those people really built a shell around me and supported me and uplifted me in the times that I needed it and helped me push further when it looked doom and gloom.''
Pennington has not only gained close to 10 pounds in muscle weight to help him bulk up against most injuries, but he's improved his mechanics, too.
"The one thing that the shoulder injury did do for me, really having two shoulder injuries, it showed some flaws in my mechanics,' Pennington said. "I always thought I used my body well to throw, but I really didn't. I was really an arm thrower. That's why the ball would die on me a lot. That's why my feet sometimes weren't planted in the ground when I was throwing. The ball would flutter.
"I really had to look at that. Look at some film. Break it down. My dad helped me look at that. He's seen me throw for 30 years. We tried to incorporate as many people as possible to help increase my core strength, increase my hip strength, which would in turn increase my velocity with my arm.''
Pennington also added karate to his rehab regimen.
"Karate did have a little bit to do with it and it still does,'' he said. "What karate has done for me is show me how important a good base, a good foundation, is and how to incorporate those hips and your core to throwing the football. Throwing a punch is similar to throwing a football.''
Asked how he'd compare his arm strength to previous years, Pennington said, "Well, there's no comparison to last year. That's because of the circumstances, the difference in injuries, surgeries, things like that. I'm not for sure on how things would compare six years ago. I would hope it would be better. If it's not, I definitely feel really good.
"I can say when I step out on the field I don't feel like I've come back from two shoulder surgeries. I don't feel like I've been injured before. I feel normal. Feeling normal feel goods to me because it's been a while.''
Speaking as someone who's worked with Pennington since he was drafted in 2000 and sat patiently, learning from Vinny Testaverde, before dramatically breaking onto the scene in 2003, it's good to see Pennington back to normalcy, doing what he's always wanted to do. Let’s hope it lasts a full 16 games and perhaps beyond this year.