The comeback of Chad Pennington has by far been the biggest story of the Jets so far this season. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
We’ve reached a point in the season where, incredibly, we’re taking Chad Pennington for granted.
We’re no longer walking on eggshells thinking about whether he’ll make it through a game. We’re no longer knocking on wood when talking about him making it through a season. We’re no longer waiting for them proverbial other shoe to drop in seeing Pennington re-injure that twice-surgically-repaired right shoulder.
The right shoulder watch, it seems, has ceased.
Pennington has come full-circle to the point where people are expecting him to perform well, to perform the way he’s been performing. In fact, his poor outing against Jacksonville three weeks ago seemed like an aberration.
Seeing Pennington’s name fifth in the AFC in quarterback ratings at 91.3 seems normal to us, because that’s about where he always was before he was injured.
Pennington is as much a reason as any that the Jets are 4-3 and exceeding so many prognosticators’ expectations.
A healthy Pennington is the best thing that could possibly have happened to Eric Mangini, because he’s the most important link to the success this team had in the past under Herman Edwards.
Imagine, if you will, if Pennington, like so many predicted, never made it all the way back from the second shoulder surgery.
Imagine if Mangini had to play these seven games with Patrick Ramsey or rookie Kellen Clemens. Be honest with yourself. Do you think the Jets would be 4-3 right now?
This, please understand, is no shot at Mangini whatsoever. Just reality.
Mangini has brought with him a sound, grounded, winning program that’s going to translate into more success than failure around here in the future. His approach has been consistent. His discipline has worked. His game-day decisions are generally bold, winning decisions.
But let’s be honest: None of that goes very far or means very much if you don’t have a quarterback.
The Jets had a quarterback in Pennington, but he could never stay healthy enough for us to gather as true body of evidence on him. Without jinxing Pennington _ the Jets have, after all, played only seven games this season _ he can make a huge step in his career if he can play the full 16-game schedule (and perhaps beyond).
If he’s able to do that, firstly, the Jets will probably make the playoff this season. Secondly, Pennington will be named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in a landslide. And, perhaps most importantly, Pennington will have made the most significant turn of his career.
Having covered the Giants several years back, I recall Phil Simms being so injury-prone early in his career that Bill Parcells started Scott Brunner in place of him (later calling it the worst personnel decision he ever made).
Simms eventually regained the starting job and eventually started staying healthy for full seasons and you know the rest.
Pennington hasn’t been perfect this season. He knows that. With a chance to lay the hammer on the Lions on Sunday late in the first half he overthrew tight end Chris Baker near the goal line and got picked off.
That was somewhat a rarity for Pennington, who’s not prone to interceptions. But there is almost more good than bad with him and he’s always improving.
“I fee like I can do better,’’ he said after the Detroit game. “My execution can be better. (But) I’m happy with my health. I don’t take that for granted anymore. So, when I’m hard on myself, I take a deep breath and tell myself to enjoy being out there and take advantage of the opportunity.
“Going through those injuries and not being able to play with your teammates is tough, especially when you’re in love with the game. So, I’m criticizing myself and trying to get better, but at the same time I’m enjoying this blessed opportunity I have.’’
INSIDER EXTRA POINTS
As Brad Smith’s role expands, so do the Jets’ chances of making big plays on offense.
The role for Smith gets as little bit bigger each week and with that he’s becoming more of a weapon _ even if it’s being out there as a decoy.
When the Jets first started bringing Smith in, teams would know the ball was going to him in some way and they’d immediately key on him. Now, Smith is being deployed with the regular offense and sometimes simply used as a decoy, though opposing defenses have to pay attention to him.
Now when Smith gets in there, teams don’t know if he’s going to take on a running play, catch a pass, sneak in behind center, block or simply run a route. That, of course, is saying nothing of what Smith has done on special teams.
“You have to remember, he was a quarterback last year,’’ Pennington marveled at Smith, the record-setting Missouri quarterback. “It’s hard to come into this league and produce as a rookie. Then to come in as a rookie and change positions? It’s unbelievable to do what he’s doing.
“You can see each week he’s gaining a little more confidence, learning how to play receiver from the veterans,’’ Pennington went on. “The more he can do, the more effective we can be. Right now, when Brad comes into the game, the radar goes up on the defensive side. So, if we can run our normal offense with him in there and not just run gimmicks every time, it really makes us more effective.’’
Stay tuned for more, because there will be more _ including perhaps a Smith throw to a split-wide Pennington.
Don't look for Jets' running back Kevan Barlow to complain too soon. He’s loving it being a Jet and he’s not even the starting, featured back, which is something he’s been accustomed to being in San Francisco. He, too, has developed a strong relationship with Eric Mangini.
"The more carries you get the more you get into a rhythm,’’ Barlow said. “I’ve been used to being the featured back. But we were successful (Sunday against Detroit). We put 200 yards on the ground (221) and we got a win. I can't complain. I'm a better situation now than where I came from. Winning means more than anything. That's all that matters.''
Quietly, the Jets are 2-0 since the new women cheerleaders and flag carriers were brought in for the Miami home game.