HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Chad Pennington sounds optimistic about his chances of returning to the New York Jets this weekend.

Chad Pennington
New York Jets

Att Comp PaTD RuTD Int Rat
216 144 9 1 3 97.4

Pennington, who has missed the last three weeks with a strained right rotator cuff, is questionable for the game Sunday against Houston. He will share snaps with Quincy Carter during practice this week before determining whether he can play.

"I always said I'm going to come back when I feel I can help my team and not hurt my team," Pennington said Monday. "I feel that way. I feel like I can play well."

Whether coach Herman Edwards agrees could be the deciding factor. Pennington started throwing last week for the first time since getting hurt Nov. 7 at Buffalo at the end of a scramble. Before a 13-3 win over Arizona on Sunday, he threw 50 passes with full velocity, ranging from short ones to 40-45 yarders.

There has been no swelling in his shoulder and no setbacks, and Pennington does not know whether sitting out an additional week will be beneficial to what he is able to do.

"Does a week really make a difference?" Pennington said. "That's the question. Functional-wise and my shoulder, and the type of movement that it has to make, I don't think a week makes a difference. Obviously a week makes a difference if you don't get hit, but that's not where we are right now. This is football, and you do play hurt.

"I don't feel like I'm hurt. I feel like this is an obstacle that I have had to overcome. Now I have to deal with it like other minor injuries. You fight through them."

Waiting a week also could put the Jets in a tough position. If Pennington misses the Texans game at home, he would return at Pittsburgh on Dec. 12.

"It's always good, if a player is coming back, to try to get him to play at home because the environment of being at home, not having to travel, home fans -- that's always an ideal situation for a player," Edwards said. "You always like that, but sometimes it doesn't happen."

The Jets are in a much different spot than they were last season when Pennington broke his wrist in the preseason. The team struggled without him, starting 0-4 and never recovering. This time, Carter has gone 2-1 as a starter, with close wins over Cleveland and Arizona.

Though the offense has two total touchdowns in its last two games and a combined 23 points, the Jets (8-3) are finding ways to win and relying on their aggressive defense. The wins might be ugly, but New York has the next-best record in the AFC behind Pittsburgh and New England, both 10-1, and is in good position to make the playoffs.

"You don't want to play that way every week," Edwards said. "But you got to win the game. That's how we won two games."

Getting Pennington back for the stretch run would help immensely.

The final five games on the schedule are the hardest of the year. After Houston and Pittsburgh, the Jets host Seattle and New England before closing the season at St. Louis. That is another reason Pennington might prefer to come back against the Texans.

"These next five games we have, this is the toughest stretch of the season," Pennington said. "You always want to come back as quickly as possible because each game you miss further removes you from the last time you played. It's all about feel and being in rhythm; coming back this week definitely is more attractive than coming back next week."