Jets 17, Dolphins 7
-- The New York Jets got into the win column and found a badly needed reason to feel good about quarterback Chad Pennington and their offense, putting together a touchdown drive in fourth-quarter crunch time and escaping with a 17-7 triumph over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Giants Stadium.
The Jets' offense was booed for much of the afternoon by the home crowd of 77,918. The unit was taking the same conservative approach under new coordinator Mike Heimerdinger that it took under former coordinator Paul Hackett last season, and Pennington and his teammates weren't getting anywhere as they tried to rebound from last weekend's ugly season-opening defeat at Kansas City.
When the Dolphins pulled to 10-7 early in the fourth quarter on a four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Gus Frerotte to tight end Randy McMichael, the Dolphins were in position for a comeback victory that would have given them the early-season lead in the AFC East. But Pennington regrouped after receiving a sideline pep talk from Coach Herman Edwards and completed all seven of his throws on an 80-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown toss to fullback Jerald Sowell with just more than eight minutes remaining, and the Jets held on to even their record at 1-1.
"Quarterbacks get paid to win," Edwards said. "That's how I evaluate him. It's a bottom-line business. It's about winning. . . . We played in a very tight game. I think that's good for you. It puts anxiety in your gut, and we needed that."
Pennington threw a first-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Laveranues Coles and finished with 19 completions on 30 passes for 190 yards.
"At times it wasn't very exciting," Pennington said. "But when you play fundamental football, you have a good chance to win. And that's what we did."
The Jets' defense bottled Miami for most of the day, and the Dolphins' Nick Saban suffered his first defeat as an NFL head coach. Frerotte connected on only 20 of 43 passes for 177 yards and threw a late interception, and rookie tailback Ronnie Brown managed only 35 rushing yards on 12 carries.
"We talk about playing hard and competing," said Saban, whose club committed 10 penalties. "But you also have to play smart . . . . We did a lot of good things out there, but they were negated by our errors."
The Jets led, 10-0, after a first half in which both teams emerged shaking their heads about wasted opportunities. Pennington was coming off a six-fumble performance against the Chiefs, and boos could be heard when he fumbled the opening snap Sunday. "Wasn't that fitting?" Pennington said.
The ball was picked up by Pennington but ended up on the ground again on a botched handoff to tailback Curtis Martin. The Jets' stumble-and-bumble routine was offset, however, by an offside penalty on the Dolphins.
"In hindsight, it's funny," Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "At the time, it was like, 'Oh no, not again.' "
The Jets, aided by a pass-interference penalty on the Dolphins and a 37-yard completion from Pennington to wideout Justin McCareins, moved down the field. On third down from the Miami 7, Pennington lofted a pass toward Coles, his favorite receiver when they were together early in their NFL careers before Coles left for the Washington Redskins in free agency. Coles's stay with the Redskins lasted only two seasons before his unhappiness with his role in Coach Joe Gibbs's offense led to him being traded back to the Jets this past offseason, and he hauled in Pennington's pass along the right sideline for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Dolphins moved the ball easily on their first drive before stalling inside the Jets 10, then coming up empty when kicker Olindo Mare stumbled on a 21-yard field goal attempt and yanked the kick wide left.
The Jets crafted a 16-play drive in the second quarter but managed to come away without any points. Wide receiver Wayne Chrebet was ruled down at the Dolphins 1 after a third-and-goal reception, despite the Jets' contention on an instant-replay challenge that Chrebet had gotten the ball across the goal line. Edwards left his offense on the field for a fourth-down gamble, but the Dolphins stuffed Martin for no gain. Martin lost the ball, which sailed into Sowell's arms for a would-be touchdown, but that was negated because only the player who fumbles the ball on fourth down is permitted to recover and advance it.
Rookie kicker Mike Nugent, drafted in April to replace postseason goat Doug Brien, connected on a 41-yard field goal just over a minute before halftime to give the Jets a 10-point advantage. The third quarter became a punting competition, but the Dolphins finally put together a drive beginning late in the quarter. A 23-yard punt return by Wes Welker put Miami in position for a touchdown, which it got when McMichael fought his way into the end zone after catching a second-down pass from Frerotte.