Last season, Chad Pennington was fighting with Kellen Clemens for the starting job on a terrible Jets team. This season, he is the main reason last year’s 1-15 Dolphins are riding high this season. What a difference a year makes.
Last season, the New York Jets were one of the worst teams in the NFL with a 4-12 record. Pennington suffered a high ankle sprain which kept him on the sideline in week two.
The Jets could not seem to find a permanent starting quarterback, and many times Pennington and Clemens switched mid-game. Pennington had more passing yards in nine of the games, while Clemens had more passing yards in seven.
Pennington finished the year playing in nine games with 1,765 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Although he never had a rocket arm, his 6.8 yards per completion was one of the lowest in the league and of his career.
At the beginning of the 2008 training camp, Eric Mangini announced that there would be a competition for the starting job between Clemens and Pennington.
However, on August 7, the Jets acquired Brett Favre after a coming back from retirement. This led to Pennington being released later that day. Pennington signed a two-year, $11.5 million-deal with the Miami Dolphins under new coach Tony Sparano.
Pennington was one of the 27 players brought in by Dolphins’ new general manager Bill Parcells. Pennington became the 13th starting quarterback since Dan Marino’s retirement nine years ago.
The Dolphins were so bad a year ago that their best player, Jason Taylor, practically forced his way out of town last season. They were so close to achieving a perfect season, starting the season 0-13 before beating the Baltimore Ravens in overtime in week 15. Three different quarterbacks started at the position for the Dolphins last season.
Pennington immediately made his presence felt in the Dolphin’s locker room. He holds private meetings for his receivers on Wednesday, his offensive linemen on Thursday, and then all of the position players on Friday. He discusses the opponent and the gameplan for the upcoming week.
Rookie wide receiver Davone Bess said about his new quarterback, “We call him coach Pennington.”
The Dolphins got off to a rocky start; losing their first two games to the New York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals. In week three, the Dolphins unveiled their new high-school style Wildcat formation on the New England Patriots. The Patriot defense appeared lost the entire game, as Ronnie Brown ran for four touchdowns to help the Dolphins blow out the Patriots 38-13.
The Dolphins eclipsed their 2007 win total in week five, when they defeated the San Diego Chargers 17-10. After two straight losses to the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens, the Dolphins sat at 2-4. It appeared that their game against New England had been a fluke. They sat at the bottom of the AFC East.
The Dolphins recovered to go on a four-game win streak and now sit at 8-5 after this past week’s win against Buffalo. They are tied for first with the Patriots and the Jets in one of the best divisions in football one year after almost achieving a winless season.
It appears as though only one team from the division will make the playoffs due to Baltimore and Indianapolis a game up on the AFC East teams in the Wild Card race. Their next two games are against two teams that have struggled to find wins this year; the 5-8 San Francisco 49ers and the 2-11 Kansas City Chiefs.
Their season finale? Chad Pennington will return to the Meadowlands to face his former team, the team that didn’t believe in him, the New York Jets. It may be a playoff eliminator for the losing team.
The Jets chose veteran Brett Favre over Pennington. Did they make the right choice? Through 13 games, both teams have the same record at 8-5. Pennington has thrown for 3,062 yards this season, and is on pace for almost 3,800 which would shatter his career best by almost 300 yards. Favre has thrown for 2,845 yards on 28 more attempts than Pennington.
Favre has just three games this season where he has not thrown at least one interception; Pennington has seven such games. Pennington has improved his yards per attempt from 6.8 last season to 7.8 this season.
Favre throws to proven receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Laveraneus Coles. Pennington’s targets include tight end Anthony Fasano, late round draft pick Davone Bess, Ted Ginn Jr., and Greg Camarillo. Seven different receivers have led the Dolphins’ in receiving this season.
Before this season, Greg Camarillo had eight receptions for 160 yards. This season, he had 55 receptions for 613 yards before he went down for the season with an injury.
The Dolphins’ resurgence cannot be attributed to Pennington alone. Running back Ronnie Brown, who missed almost all of last season due to injury, has returned to rush for 760 yards and 10 touchdowns. The emergence of Pennington’s unproven receiving core has helped Pennington succeed this season.
Joey Porter, who looked like a free-agent bust last season, has come back this year and has posted 16.5 sacks so far this season. The acquiring of cornerback Will Allen from the Giants was also a huge factor to help out a weak defense.
If the Dolphins make the playoffs, it will be one of the greatest turn arounds of a team of all time. It will also be a nice reward for a quarterback who made a great turn around as well. He has brought a losing team with little morale together and turned them into winners.
The Dolphins’ offensive coordinator said about Pennington, “It was like a rebirth for him. I think it got a little stale there [in New York]—nobody’s fault, it happens. When he walked in here the first day he had an agenda. He wants it so bad enough to do whatever it takes, and it rubs on the other players. That was very good for this team at this point in time.”
Pennington’s dedication this season is nothing new. He brought his Jets playbook with him on his honeymoon. Pennington’s influence on the locker room is undeniable; the players respect what he says and follow his lead of working hard.
Center Samson Satele says, “He lifts up our spirits like our father. When we’re out there and we’re feeling down, he just gives us little sayings to get us pumped up.”
Pennington has brought a new energy to a team that needed a boost and it has shown with the Dolphins in the playoff hunt in December for the first time in years.