HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington stood in front of reporters this week and volunteered to absorb the blame for the bulk of his team's losses, saying, basically, that he committed too many mistakes.
OK, so the report card offers evidence. But there's another side here that Pennington didn't mention -- namely, that he and his teammates confounded everyone by staying alive this long.
|Chad Pennington and the Jets have overcome long odds to be in the playoff race. (Getty Images)|
That won't be easy. They're at Minnesota this weekend. They're at Miami on Dec. 25. Then they gain a season-ending bye with Oakland on Dec. 31. Once, I thought they were a lock to run the table, but then I checked the record: They haven't won three in a row all year.
So if they fall short, then what? Does Pennington point the finger at himself again?
I hope not, because the Jets are one of the feel-good stories of this season. Sure, they can't measure up to New Orleans, by now America's Team, but nobody can. With nine wins, the Saints have already tripled their output from last season. But the Jets accomplished something nearly as important: They laid the ground for future success, with Pennington a prominent part of the picture.
A year ago, no one was sure that would or could happen. After Pennington underwent two surgeries in one year to his right shoulder, people close to him and to the club expressed reservations about his playing this season. One, in fact, said he wasn't sure Pennington would play again.
Well, he did, and he's playing capably, thank you. Of course, you wouldn't have known that listening to him dissect his interceptions this week, with 11 of them in the Jets' losses and only four in their wins.
"I've got to improve as a quarterback," he said. "And I know that."
OK, swell. But everyone has to improve. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Carson Palmer. Everyone. Let's appreciate what we have here in Chad Pennington and the Jets.
First, he's playing, and that's news. As I said, the forecast was dismal before this season, with Pennington once questioning if his injury might be more serious than he or anyone else would admit. But he's not just playing; he's playing well -- completing 64 percent of his passes and throwing smartly and accurately in a 17-14 upset of New England.
But that's only part of the story. Basically, Pennington operates without a running game. Yeah, I know Leon Washington and Kevan Barlow have had their moments, but the Jets miss Curtis Martin. It's not that 17th-place ranking that's the tipoff; it's those 3.7 yards per rush, the fourth-lowest figure in the league.
That's why all eyes are on Pennington again this weekend. The Jets are in Minnesota, and nobody's better at stuffing the run than the Vikings -- with opponents checking for an average of 54.1 yards a game.