EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington hasn't removed all doubts about the soundness of his right arm. But he at least has demonstrated that, even if everything isn't quite right with his surgically repaired shoulder, he still can make the necessary throws in crunch time and lead the Jets to a win they needed badly.
Pennington completed all seven of his passes on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive here Sunday that gave the Jets some breathing room after the Miami Dolphins had pulled to within 10-7. The Jets held on for a 17-7 triumph at Giants Stadium, evening their record at 1-1 on the heels of a pitiable performance in a season-opening defeat at Kansas City.
"Our mindset all week has been to get back to how we play," Jets Coach Herman Edwards said. "A lot has been said about how we play. That's how we play: We don't beat ourselves . . . . Pretty doesn't win it. We found a way to win, and that's what matters . . . . It's our mindset, and we can't lose sight of that. Somewhere, somehow, we lost sight of that last week. We did things we generally don't do in that game last week. We played a lot better this week."
Only the misadventures of kicker Doug Brien late in their conference semifinal at Pittsburgh kept the Jets out of the AFC title game last season, so expectations for this season have been super-sized in true New York fashion. As is always the case with the Jets, much depends on Pennington. The club signed former Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler as a free-agent insurance policy in an offseason in which Pennington underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, but the Jets know they probably need Pennington in the lineup and effective if they're going to come close to fulfilling their lofty goals in the rugged AFC.
The early returns have been mixed. Pennington suffered through a dreadful opener against the Chiefs in which he threw an interception and fumbled six times in the 27-7 defeat, and scouts said he had little zip on his passes. Pennington never has had a Nolan Ryan fastball, relying instead on accuracy and a quick release. But an NFL quarterback needs a certain amount of velocity on his throws to succeed, and observers wondered last week whether Pennington's shoulder remains too weak for him to thrive. The Jets brought him along slowly in the offseason and preseason, trying to ensure that he didn't suffer any setbacks.
"I'm doing well," Pennington said Sunday.
Edwards said: "His arm is fine. He made some bad throws [Sunday]. But he made some good ones, too."
There were still too many Pennington passes that floated and fluttered Sunday. He had a relatively modest 190 passing yards on 19-for-30 accuracy. The home crowd spent much of the day booing the Jets' offense after Pennington fumbled the snap on the game's opening play, although that was offset by a Dolphins' offside penalty.
"We actually recovered that one," Edwards said, "so we were all right."
The Jets crafted a 10-point lead but had it trimmed to three on a touchdown pass by Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Suddenly, the Jets were staring at the possibility of wasting a solid effort by their defense and starting the season 0-2. Edwards delivered a sideline pep talk to Pennington. "I just told him, 'Keep smiling and keep throwing,' " Edwards said.
Pennington delivered, spearheading an 80-yard drive that ended with him rolling to his left and flipping a one-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jerald Sowell.
"Our offense needed to step up and give our defense a breather, go down and put points on the board," Pennington said. "And that's what we did."
Edwards said: "When they scored, our offense did a great job of coming back and scoring . . . . That was the key for me -- when they scored, to see how our guys would react."
It was Pennington's second touchdown pass of the day -- he'd connected with wide receiver Laveranues Coles on a first-quarter fade pattern for their first touchdown since Coles's offseason return from the Washington Redskins -- and it re-established that the Jets could rely on their offensive leader.
"When our defense plays well, we need to play well," Coles said. "Our defense has been pretty much carrying us right now . . . . Chad, he took control of things and settled guys down. That got us the momentum back."
In Kansas City, the Jets had been shut out until the final minute of the game, and their offensive sluggishness for much of the afternoon Sunday made for a difficult beginning to the tenure of new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Edwards hired Heimerdinger away from the Tennessee Titans in the offseason to replace ousted offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. The Jets' offensive players say they aren't fully comfortable with Heimerdinger's system yet, and Heimerdinger spent Sunday on the sideline instead of in the press box so that he could be available for some up-close-and-personal tutoring. Pennington said he simply hopes that the offense ends the season on an upswing, the way the team's defense did last season under first-year coordinator Donnie Henderson.
"We're light years from where we need to be," Pennington said. "My goal is similar to how our defense progressed last year."
The gritty victory over the Dolphins ended a week of soul-searching for the Jets. Edwards said he "did a lot of counseling" last week, and several players said they were relieved not to have to face another week of intense media scrutiny. "New York is great for criticizing," middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.
Said defensive end John Abraham: "We're happy to have the win just to get people off our backs. But we can play better."
Indeed, the Jets know that just barely getting by against a rebuilding team won't always be enough in this season of high hopes.
"Obviously it was a game we felt we had to win . . . [but] if we're going to be a good team, we need to play a lot better," Edwards said.
For one day, though, it was enough because it represented drastic improvement over the season's opening weekend.
"It was certainly a blue-collar win," Pennington said. " . . . It wasn't do or die. But we prepared and I prepared like this was a game we needed to win."
Tale of Two Auburn Runners
The Jets limited Dolphins rookie tailback Ronnie Brown to 35 rushing yards on 12 carries Sunday. Brown, selected by Miami with the second overall choice in the NFL draft in April, has struggled in his first two games, running for 92 yards on 34 carries.
Meanwhile, Brown's former college backfield-mate at Auburn, Carnell (Cadillac) Williams, has announced his arrival in the NFL loudly. Williams, drafted fifth overall by Tampa Bay, has run for a league-leading 276 yards while helping the Buccaneers to a 2-0 record. He had 128 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in Sunday's 19-3 triumph over the Buffalo Bills.
If this continues, the Dolphins obviously will be accused of drafting the wrong Auburn running back. But Brown said Sunday that's not on his mind.
"I can't really worry about that," he said. "People can say what they want to say. I don't compare myself to him."
Brown said he knows he needs to play better and be more productive, but he maintained that the pressure of his draft status and lucrative rookie contract hasn't gotten to him.
"I don't think the pressure that others put on me can even compare to the pressure that I put on myself," he said.
Dolphins Coach Nick Saban said of his prized rookie: "I think he's getting better and better. I think he has to learn how to play within himself all the time and gain confidence and know exactly what is expected of him on certain plays so he can do it naturally. We are not disappointed at all with where he is. We would like to get a little more production, but I'm not sure if that's all up to him. We have to finish blocks better and everybody has to do a better job of giving him an opportunity to run the ball effectively and use him as a receiver when he's available to us." . . . With the Bills' loss to the Buccaneers and the New England Patriots' sloppy defeat at Carolina, the AFC East is the only division in the league in which all four teams are off to 1-1 starts . . . .
The loss was Saban's first as an NFL head coach. Each of the league's three new head coaches is off to a 1-1 beginning. Saban and San Francisco's Mike Nolan got their first wins on the season's opening weekend, and Cleveland's Romeo Crennel got into the victory column Sunday at Green Bay.
Coles said Sunday he felt unburdened after revealing in the New York Times that he'd been sexually abused as a young boy in Jacksonville, Fla., by a man that his mother later married.
"I think it's something that should be said," Coles said. "If it gets one kid to come out and say, 'Look, this is happening to me' . . . I think it's right."
Coles said the abuse took place when he was between the ages of 10 and 13. Coles refused to identify the man, who reportedly served 31/2 years in prison for the crimes.
"I used to wake up in the middle of the night and think about it," Coles said. "But now I'm fine."
Final Preparations For Tonight
Representatives of the league and the NFL Players Association are busily making the final preparations for the events that will accompany tonight's game at Giants Stadium between the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants -- technically the first "home" game of the season for the Saints after they were displaced from New Orleans when the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and flooding.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue moved the game, which had been scheduled for Sunday at the Superdome, to Giants Stadium as part of a nationally televised Monday doubleheader. NFL officials say they want to use the game and the big New York stage to bolster relief efforts in New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast region.
Hall of Fame players quickly were rounded up for a telethon. Former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, who are leading nationwide fundraising efforts, are scheduled to be on the field for a pregame ceremony.
Saints Coach Jim Haslett has been critical of Tagliabue's decision to move the game to Giants Stadium, saying he realizes what the league is trying to do but he must focus on the competitive impact that the shift could have on his team. The Saints have moved their base of operations to San Antonio and are scheduled to play three home games there this season. Their other four home games are scheduled to be played in Baton Rouge, La.
Tonight's game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. and is to be televised on ABC initially, then switched to ESPN in most areas of the country when the regularly scheduled Monday night game -- the Redskins at Dallas -- begins at 9.