Jets QB Pennington wins AP Comeback Player of Year award
Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:59 a.m.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) — Chad Pennington spent two nerve-racking weeks at home in Tennessee last fall wondering if his right shoulder would ever be the same.
"That was the lowest point, not knowing what direction I would go in, whether it was good or bad or whether it was with football or without football," the New York Jets quarterback said. "I had no idea."
Pennington overcame a second torn rotator cuff in as many years — and incredible odds — to win The Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year award Thursday.
The seven-year veteran acknowledged that dark thoughts passed through his mind in the days following the injury in Week 3 of last season.
"Not having a goal, not having a challenge, not having a carrot out in front of you as an athlete is a bad place to be," Pennington said. "It's sort of like 'The Twilight Zone.' You have no drive, you have nothing to go for."
His outlook improved after he had surgery and the Jets' medical team helped him focus on his rehabilitation.
"Then I had a challenge ahead of me," he said. "I had a goal, I had something to go after and my total mind-set and attitude changed. I was starting to get back to normal."
And he came back, maybe even better than before. The seven-year veteran has led the Jets to a surprising 10-6 record and a wild-card berth one season after they went 4-12 — most of it with him sidelined — and changed coaches. He started all 16 games in a season for the first time, finished second in the AFC with a 95.7 passer rating and threw for a career-high 3,352 yards, along with 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Most importantly, he re-emerged as a leader.
"No situation rattles him," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "I've never seen him rattled. Obviously, when you have your leader like that, you feel the same way he feels, that we can't get rattled out there."
Pennington earned 27 votes in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. He finished ahead of two other quarterbacks, Drew Brees of New Orleans (8) and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (5). Pennington, the fifth quarterback to win the award in its nine years, is the first Jet to receive the honor.
Last year's recipients were New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Carolina receiver Steve Smith.
"It does mean a lot to me because I've put in a lot of hard work and there's been a lot of people that have supported me throughout the entire process and have put in a lot of hard work with me," Pennington said. "To me, it's a group award and it involves so many people in so many different areas in so many different places that have taken time out of their schedules that have helped me get back to being the player I want to be, and to have a chance to play the game that I love to play."
Pennington came to training camp determined to win a four-man competition at quarterback.
"When you're put in difficult situations, I think you have to fight human nature sometimes and human nature sometimes wants to feel sorry for itself and come up with excuses and look for ways to get out of a situation," he said. "I just chose not to listen to my own human nature."
Or to the naysayers, of whom there were plenty.
After all, how could an NFL quarterback who already had a reputation for not having a strong arm possibly come back from two operations on his shoulder in consecutive years? There was no precedent for it.
"In Chad's mind, there was never any doubt," coach Eric Mangini said. "He was extremely committed to doing everything he could possibly do to put himself in a position to come back from those injuries."
The latest occurred last season in Week 3 when Pennington was sacked by Jacksonville's Paul Spicer, who hit the quarterback from behind and pulled his right arm behind his back as he was about to throw. Pennington keeps a picture of the play on his desk at home as a framed reminder of how far he's come.
"I would say that at some times during the rehab and at some times during the competition, I think I had to look at it as if the slate was wiped clean," he said. "What I had done in the past didn't matter anymore."
Once he was medically cleared to practice, Pennington was ready to run the offense instituted by Mangini and new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"It didn't matter what time I was passing through (the training room), if Chad was getting rehabbed, he was multitasking with his playbook," Mangini said. "It was like a mobile study center where he was getting worked on and working at the same time."
Pennington easily beat out Patrick Ramsey, Brooks Bollinger and Kellen Clemens for the starting job, and proved he was back with consecutive 300-yard games to start the season. He has also routinely bounced back from hard hits to the shoulder.
"If this situation did anything for me, it showed me how important staying in the present and staying in the now is, because that's the only part of your life that you can control at that moment," Pennington said. "You can't control the past and you have no idea what the future holds."
Comments are currently unavailable on this article