Pennington's leadership not half bad for New York
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Chad Pennington could feel the pressure of trying to make franchise history weighing down his teammates.
With the Jets trailing at halftime, 14-3, Pennington spoke up in the locker room. It worked. Pennington led a second-half comeback and rookie Jonathan Vilma sealed the victory, helping New York beat the San Francisco 49ers, 22-14, yesterday.
Though they floundered for the first half, the Jets are 5-0 for the first time in their 45-year history thanks to a strong effort after the break.
"At halftime, it wasn't about the offense's play," Pennington said. "It was about looking at each other in the eye and having a gut check. Are we playing up to our capabilities? It's about playing with passion. That's what we did in the second half."
His speech was a little more animated than that.
"That's the maddest I've ever seen Chad," said Curtis Martin, who ran 25 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
With Pennington sparking the offense, defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson lit a fire under his unit. After San Francisco (1-5) scored its second touchdown to go up, 14-0, midway through the second quarter, he left his usual spot up in the coaches box and went to the sideline. That was enough to motivate the players, who got an earful from their coach. "He told us to get our butt in line and get on the job," tackle Jason Ferguson said. They did that, shutting out the 49ers and limiting Tim Rattay to 93 yards passing in the second half. Rattay finished 18 of 28 for 286 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
Meanwhile, Pennington and Martin keyed the Jets. Now they can savor making history before turning to a division showdown against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium next Sunday.
"We had a chance to etch our names in stone," Martin said. "Today we made history."
Pennington finished 20 of 30 for 222 yards, including 11 of 14 for 117 yards in the second half. Martin also had a big second half and now has 12,282 career rushing yards.
The Jets began their comeback on their first drive of the third quarter. LaMont Jordan capped a 91-yard drive with a 17-yard scoring run. He failed on the 2-point conversion, though, and the Jets trailed, 14-9.
After the New York defense forced the Niners to punt, Pennington went to work again, leading a 70-yard drive. After Martin scored from the 1 to give the Jets the lead, Pennington threw incomplete on the 2-point conversion. It was 15-14.
"When we went down and scored, we got our adrenaline back," coach Herman Edwards said. "From there, we started playing like we did before."
San Francisco had two good chances to regain the lead. The first drive was halted by an Arnaz Battle fumble on an end-around. Then, after the 49ers got the ball back and were driving, Vilma picked off Rattay's poorly thrown pass with 1:44 left, ending any hope of a rally. Martin added a 9-yard touchdown for the final margin.
"It came so quickly I was like, `Thank you!' " Vilma said.
Niners coach Dennis Erickson was discouraged with the way his team let the game slip away. "We've got to find a way to win," he said. "We've got to make plays at the end. We're finding a way to not make plays."