Chad Pennington in his last season (2007) with the Jets. [Getty Images]
Today, June 26, is the 37th birthday of former Jets’ QB Chad Pennington.
To celebrate, let’s take a look back at his career.
Pennington was selected by the Jets with the eighteenth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft following a solid five-year collegiate career at Marshall University. Pennington led Marshall to the first two bowl wins in program history; the school moved to Division IA (now FBS) for the 1997 season. He also performed solidly in the classroom and was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, which allows for study at England’s Oxford University.
In 2000 and 2001, Pennington served as veteran QB Vinny Testaverde’s backup, and he only made three relief appearances over these two seasons.
The 2002 season was an entirely different story, however. Following a 1-3 start, which culminated in three games where the Testaverde-led offense only mustered 13 total points, Pennington became the team’s starter.
Pennington led New York to an 8-4 record down the stretch in 2002, and the team finished with a 9-7 record. During Week 17, after a Miami loss at New England gave Gang Green a chance to clinch its second-ever division title, Pennington played one of the best games of his career. In a home contest against Brett Favre and the Packers, who needed a win to clinch a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, Pennington threw for 196 yards and four touchdowns en route to a 42-17 blowout win.
The Jets hosted Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in a Wildcard Playoff game the following Saturday. For the second consecutive game, Pennington outperformed an all-time great—New York’s QB passed for 222 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-0 victory.
Pennington’s string of success ended the next Sunday at Oakland, where a 30-10 loss ended Gang Green’s season. In the second half, Pennington threw two interceptions, and the Raiders outscored the Jets 20-0.
In spite of the 2002 season’s disappointing ending, Pennington had made his mark and shown his potential. His 104.2 QB rating in 2002 was the best in the NFL. Additionally, because of his solid play and good decision making in spite of below average arm strength, Pennington drew comparisons to Hall of Fame QB Joe Montana.
Unfortunately for Pennington and the Jets, the QB’s 2003 season was derailed before it even started. During the team’s fourth preseason game against the Giants, Pennington fractured his non-throwing hand during a tackle from LB Brandon Short. Pennington missed the first six games of the regular season and didn’t look overly sharp when he returned; the Jets went only 4-5 in Pennington’s starts in 2003, and they finished with a 6-10 overall record, the worst in the AFC East.
More on one the smartest Jets QBs after the jump...
In 2004, Pennington led the Jets to five straight victories out of the gate, the best start to a season in franchise history. However, for the second consecutive season, an injury would force Pennington to miss action. During a 22-17 loss at Buffalo in Week 9, New York’s QB injured his rotator cuff, and he missed the next three games.
Though the Jets finished with a 10-6 record and won a playoff game in 2004, Pennington struggled, both with his play and his composure, after returning. Regarding the latter issue, during a Dec. 20 press conference, Pennington lectured the media on how it was a “privilege,” not a “right,” to cover the Jets. Following the outburst, New York lost its final two regular season games.
Pennington’s 2005 season lasted only three games. In a week three home loss to Jacksonville, the Jets’ QB reinjured his rotator cuff and was forced to miss the remainder of the season; the Jets finished 4-12 in 2005.
Although injuries were a key theme throughout Pennington’s career, the QB never lacked toughness. After backup QB Jay Fiedler was also forced out of the Jacksonville game due to injury, Pennington reentered the game and helped lead his team into overtime.
The 2006 season showed Pennington’s resiliency. Under a new coaching staff led by Eric Mangini, Pennington won the starting QB job in training camp, and he led the team to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. New York lost its Wild Card playoff game at New England, but Pennington’s bounce-back season did not go unrecognized—the QB won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Unfortunately for Pennington, he struggled through injury and poor play in 2007. On opening day against New England, the QB exited the game with a high ankle sprain, an injury that also forced Pennington out of the Jets’ Week 2 loss at Baltimore. Pennington lost his starting job to backup Kellen Clemens following a 1-7 start. The Jets finished the 2007 season, Pennington’s final campaign in New York, with a dismal 4-12 record.
Embarrassed by their 2007 season, the Jets acquired Favre from the Packers on August 7, 2008 and promptly released Pennington.
Now a free agent, Pennington signed with division-rival Miami, who had finished with a league-worst 1-15 record in 2007—to the Jets’ horror, Pennington would earn revenge. In the 2008 season finale at the Meadowlands, Pennington threw two TD passes against his former team, and the Dolphins defeated the Jets 24-17 to win the division title with an 11-5 record. Following an 8-3 start to the season under Favre, the Jets collapsed down the stretch, finishing third in the AFC East behind Miami and New England with a 9-7 record.
Pennington’s unbelievable 2008 season earned him NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors for the second time in three seasons. Additionally, for his role in turning the Dolphins’ fortunes around, Pennington finished second in the NFL MVP Award voting behind Peyton Manning; Pennington’s 19 TD passes in 2008 were the second most of his career behind the 22 TDs he threw in 2002.
After staying healthy and starting all 16 games in 2008, Pennington endured major shoulder injuries in 2009 and 2010. He was limited to only four games over these two seasons. He then missed the entire 2011 season due to an ACL injury suffered during a pickup basketball game and announced his retirement on Feb. 9, 2012.
Pennington never reached the highs that people thought he could attain following his breakout 2002 season, and being the first QB selected in the same draft where Tom Brady lasted into the sixth round will always carry some stigma. Regardless, Pennington’s resiliency and ability to repeatedly return with a vengeance from major injury should not be forgotten.