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Original Issue

Another Happy Landing New York cruised to victory on the amazing arm of Chad Pennington. Next stop: Oakland


As New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington posed for photos
and signed scraps of paper thrust at him following a 41-0
humiliation of the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card
playoff last Saturday night, a group of his family and friends
idled nearby in the cold breeze at the Meadowlands. Among them
was his father, James, a Tennessee high school football coach
who, in a conversation with his son four days earlier, had
typically asked Chad what he had learned that day and what he
had done well. Says James, "You always have to ask Chad what he
did well, because he'll never tell you [unprompted]. His
mistakes are what keep him up nights."

Given his near-flawless performance (19-of-25 passing for 222
yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions) against the Colts,
the 26-year-old Pennington must have slept like a baby later that
night. Though he insisted that his receivers made him look good,
that his line deserved all the credit and that the first
postseason shutout in franchise history made the offensive
outburst possible, Pennington was the primary reason his team
remains alive, and very dangerous, in the playoffs with a
divisional-round road game against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

"Chad makes great decisions, and his passing touch and leadership
are surprising for a guy who is so early in his career," says
quarterback Vinny Testaverde, whom Pennington replaced in the
lineup in early October. "He's been compared to Joe Namath and a
young Joe Montana, and he's very deserving of those comparisons."

The 18th pick in the 2000 draft out of Marshall, Pennington took
over a 1-3 team and led it to a 9-7 finish, including must-wins
over New England and Green Bay the last two weeks of the season.
He wound up with a league-leading 104.2 passer rating and .689
completion percentage. "I've had a tingling feeling since being
named the starter," says Pennington, "and I've just tried to do
my job ever since."

"Chad isn't driven by a fear of failure," says Jets coach Herman
Edwards. "He's more afraid of being unprepared, which is why he's
been sitting with the coaches every Tuesday night [the players'
regular off day] for the past three years, watching film,
learning this offense. But as much as we trusted Chad to be the
starter, we were all a bit surprised by his passion in the
huddle. It was the spark we desperately needed."

Just as surprising was the sight of Pennington head-butting
several of his offensive linemen before his first start, on Oct.
6, against Kansas City. It appeared to be an out-of-character
moment for the soft-spoken Knoxville, Tenn., native with the
gracious Southern manner and the reassuring tone of an airline
pilot, but the Jets quickly discovered that such emotion is true
to Pennington's nature. "His intensity caught us off guard, but
we loved it," says All-Pro center Kevin Mawae. "We fed off his
energy level."

Says Edwards, "When I promoted him, I told him, 'Don't look over
your shoulder. This is your team now.'"

Here's how much better the offense was after Pennington replaced
Testaverde: Total yards per game rose from 250 to 336, scoring
jumped from 12.5 points per game to 25.8 and turnovers dropped
from 2.75 per game to .67. After a 37-31 season-opening win at
Buffalo, New York was outscored 102-13 in the next three games
combined. The Jets outscored their last three opponents,
including Indianapolis, 113-34.

Against the Colts, Pennington mixed play-action passes with a
revived ground attack (180 yards on 42 carries). He connected
with nine receivers. On his first throw of the day, Pennington
faked a handoff to tailback Curtis Martin, turned and found
-back Richie Anderson in the left flat; Anderson rambled 56
yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. New York went on to score
on six of its next nine possessions. Meanwhile the Colts
controlled the ball for less than 20 minutes, just 7:44 in the
second half. Peyton Manning's third straight playoff loss was his
worst, as he completed 14 of 31 passes for 137 yards and threw
two interceptions.

Pennington's stature grows with each game. Says Jets wideout
Wayne Chrebet, "Chad has played like a guy who knows he's got the
opportunity of a lifetime."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN PITCH AND CATCH Pennington burned Indy for three TDs, including a four-yarder to a tiptoeing Santana Moss (opposite).

COLOR PHOTO: KIRBY LEE/THE SPORTING IMAGE ON THE SPOT Woodson will be tested by the Jets' potent attack.


Jets at Raiders

This is a different Jets team from the one that lost to the
Raiders on Dec. 2. New York turned the ball over twice that
Monday night, and one of the turnovers was a fumbled punt that
allowed Oakland to stretch its lead from three to 10 points in
the third quarter, putting the Jets in catch-up mode. Since then
New York has turned the ball over once in five games. No more
freebies against this team.

In the first meeting the Jets' zone confused quarterback Rich
Gannon at times and slowed the Raiders' Gnat Attack. But in the
second half wideouts Jerry Rice and Tim Brown burned New York on
seam routes, so I think you'll see more man coverage by the Jets.

New York's Chad Pennington will come out throwing, testing
corners Charles Woodson and Tory James, both of whom are coming
back from leg injuries. When the Jets go to the run, they'll have
more success than they did last time, because the return of left
guard Dave Szott gives them one of the best run-blocking lines in
the league.

The Pick: Jets 31, Raiders 27