Chad Pennington just keeps hanging on

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Friday, October 12th 2007, 4:00 AM


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A couple of days ago, the headline suggested the Jets might want to think about trading Chad (I Once Threw a Really Long Pass to my Cousin Jedediah, Here's his Phone Number) Pennington. And yesterday the big type sacked the quarterback again, predicting that a loss against the Eagles on Sunday would earn Chad a view from the bench.

It ain't fair, of course. Pennington isn't asked to block defensive linemen, can't run back punts, can't play Cover-2, isn't asked to blitz, can't will his team into the red zone, and it's not his fault the Jets' running game is 5 p.m. on the Long Island Expressway. Or is it?

The idea here is not to beat up on Chad. Honest. It's just that if you don't dump on the quarterback for the Jets' 1-4 record, you might as well start writing about DivisionIII stickball.

The good news for Chad yesterday is that he isn't required to talk on Thursdays. At least, not to the guys and gals of the media. He doesn't show up in the locker room. He's not the only player who doesn't stop by for a little chat; plenty of others don't take advantage of their chance to say the wrong thing and tick off the coach. Wednesday is Chad's day to talk. I wasn't there on Wednesday to listen to Eric Mangini say, "I think Chad has done some outstanding things. His passer rating on third down is excellent. His efficiency in the two-minute offense ..."

So call him the best 1-4 quarterback in the NFL. Unless, of course, the Jets put away the Eagles, and Chad moves to a glorious 2-4, making Donovan McNabb the league's best 1-4 QB. Don't bet on that happening, kids.

Three weeks ago, when the Jets were the winning side, the other team was the winless Dolphins. They're still 0-for-the-season, but they're not losing by that many points. Maybe that's what they call progress in Miami, but getting close doesn't cut it in New York. The Jets can't be satisfied with close. This isn't the baseball season, where a losing team - let's call them the Yankees - has 100 games left to get themselves into the playoffs and then crash and burn in the first round. The Jets can't bring up a Joba.

Yeah, they can still save their season, still sneak into the playoffs. They did just that in 2002, when Chad started 12 games and pulled them to a 9-7 record and a win in the first round.

James Dearth, the Jets' long snapper - wouldn't you love to see his business card - was snapping on that '02 team. He was wearing a team-issued T-shirt yesterday with the inscription, "Every battle is won before it is ever fought." (Good practices, they're very important to Mangini.) The line belongs to Sun Tzu, a military genius in 6th century BC.

Ancient history. We're talking today's 1-4 and the quarterback. "Chad's the same fiery guy," said Dearth, who talks all week. "He just knows more."

Dearth insists this 1-4 noose doesn't mean The End is about to flash on the screen. In '02, he points out, "We were 1-4 and even went to 2-5. But we still won the division." So 1-4, he says, isn't the end of the world. "You've got to look forward. We're a good football team. We just need to put it together."

They lost leads in the fourth quarter the last two weeks, and just did hang on against Miami, when a 20-point lead in the last quarter was down to three at the finish. During those games - when the going gets late and the late get going, something like that - a reasonable man might start thinking uh-oh. Not Dearth. "I always feel we have a shot," he said. "The defense can make plays. The offense can make plays. I never say uh-oh." And while he's at it, "1-4, that's not a big deal to me."

If Sunday turns into the ultimate uh-oh game, and the coach decides something has got to be done, he will turn to the backup quarterback, Kellen Clemens, and hand him the ball. Right now, Clemens is the ideal backup: enthusiastic, smiles a lot, played the entire game against Baltimore when Chad's ankle was a problem and didn't embarrass himself. Hasn't played since but people keep bringing up his name in those stories about Chad leaning too far out the window. "I have the privilege of playing behind a hard-working intelligent quarterback," Clemens says. "My job is to prepare."

Until, and if, his job becomes a little more interesting.

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