As has often been the case throughout their somewhat dubious history, the New York Jets didn’t know what they had in Chad Pennington.
So they went out and got Brett Favre.
Now Pennington is one man’s NFL MVP for leading the Miami Dolphins from a 1-15 season to the cusp of the AFC East title. To get it, the quarterback the Jets released when they traded for Brett Favre has to beat his old team today.
Not that Pennington would have done for the Jets what he did for the Dolphins.
New York, in its customary nonwisdom, was going to make Kellen Clemens its starter, assuming that Pennington, who underwent surgery on his shoulder two years ago, couldn’t throw far enough or hard enough to get the Jets anywhere. He’s certainly thrown far enough and hard enough for the Dolphins. And his decision making and leadership have played a major role in making Miami the first team ever to win 10 games the season after winning just one.
Pennington is second in the NFL in passer rating — Favre is 18th — and has thrown just seven interceptions. Favre leads the league with 19. Without Pennington, Miami would more likely be 5-10 instead of 10-5.
Pennington is a somewhat offbeat selection in an offbeat year for MVP candidates. It could easily be a defensive player such as James Harrison or Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh; DeMarcus Ware of Dallas; Albert Haynesworth of Tennessee; or Ed Reed of Baltimore.
Realistically, it will probably end up being Peyton Manning winning his third MVP after carrying an otherwise shaky and injured Indianapolis team from a 3-4 start to eight straight wins. During those first seven games, Manning was clearly struggling from the effects of two surgeries to clear up a bursa sac behind his left knee.
But giving the MVP to Manning, who was 29-of-34 for 364 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 31-24 comeback win over Jacksonville that clinched Indianapolis a playoff spot, is just a bit boring. Not Peyton himself, just the idea of him winning it again.
Kurt Warner, an early candidate, has tailed off as Arizona, the NFC West champion, has lost three of four games and demonstrated that it can’t play on the same level as any half-decent team. Kerry Collins has done a wonderful job for the Titans, but is probably a little short in the numbers department.
Adrian Peterson, who leads the league in rushing and has been most of the Minnesota offense as it approached an NFC North title, has hurt himself with five fumbles in the last three games. That includes two in a loss to Atlanta last week that kept the Vikings from wrapping up the division.
One very offbeat player who deserves mention: Brandon “Earth” Jacobs of the Giants.
The 260-plus pound running back returned from an off and on knee injury last Sunday night to wear down Carolina’s defense, paving the way for running mate Derrick “Wind” Ward to rush for 215 yards in the overtime win that gave his team home-field advantage in the NFC. All of a sudden, everyone was crediting Jacobs’ return for allowing Ward to bring New York back from two straight losses.
But Pennington is the man.
He didn’t make the Pro Bowl and Favre did, just another demonstration how silly that selection can be.
But MVP isn’t silly at all. And if Pennington doesn’t win it, maybe Manning will give him a piece of it — they are good friends from the days when Pennington was a high school star in Knoxville while Manning was at Tennessee.
The rest of the awards:
Offensive Player: Drew Brees, New Orleans.
Brees needs 402 yards against Carolina today to beat Dan Marino’s 1984 record of 5,084 yards passing. He’s not an MVP because the Saints are 8-7 and have relied so much on the pass that it’s hard for him not to get Marino’s record. But he deserves this award.
Defensive player: James Harrison, Pittsburgh.
At one point, Manning’s coach, Tony Dungy, said he thinks Harrison should be MVP. He doesn’t lead the league in sacks, but he and Polamalu are the heart of the NFL’s leading defense.
Runners-up: Polamalu; Reed; Ware.
Coach: Jeff Fisher, Tennessee.
You’re not supposed to pick a coach whose team was good the year before. But Fisher got his team from a wild-card spot to the top seed in the AFC and did it by benching his “franchise” quarterback, Vince Young, for a supposedly washed-up veteran, Kerry Collins. And unlike some coaches who complain that injuries have killed them, Fisher beat Pittsburgh last week to earn the top seed in the conference without his two top defensive linemen: Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Runners-up: Tony Sparano, Miami (rookie) and Tom Coughlin, Giants.
Special mention: two other rookies, Mike Smith, Atlanta; and John Harbaugh, Baltimore.