Griese, Pennington embrace the present in memorable Sunday wins
NEW YORK -- If you like football, and you like football players, you've got to be happy for two people this morning, regardless of your rooting interests: Brian Griese and Chad Pennington.
Griese's like Mongo in Blazing Saddles.' You know, "Mongo just pawn in game of life.'' Since 2002, he's bounced from Denver to Miami to Tampa Bay to Chicago and back to Tampa Bay, where he was the innocent bystander in the Jon Gruden/Brett Favre/Jeff Garcia merry-go-round this summer and just won the starting job 12 days ago.
I doubt he'll be ceding his seat anytime soon, not after Sunday's ridiculously improbable 27-24 overtime win at Chicago. All Griese did was throw 22 straight passes in the last seven minutes of regulation to bring the Bucs back from a 24-14 deficit, then lead a 90-yard OT drive to win it. Along the way, he attempted the second-most passes -- 67 -- ever thrown in an NFL game.
Griese threw 11 passes in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. His dad, Bob, threw 11 passes all day in quarterbacking Miami to a victory 35 years ago in Super Bowl VII.
When Pennington was last a big news item, he was getting unceremoniously dumped by the Jets to make room for Favre. That was a little more than six weeks ago, and we assumed he'd have a nice little half-season or so playing in Miami, keeping the seat warm for quarterback-of-the-future Chad Henne before becoming Henne's mentor for a couple of years.
A funny thing happened on the way to the rocking chair. Pennington completed 17-of-20 passes in Foxboro (he'd been 2-6 in this Pennington personal house of horrors before Sunday) in one of the most interesting schematic charades in recent history as the Dolphins stunned New England 38-13.
They hang onto their first lives in this league. When Griese called Sunday evening from the team bus on the way to O'Hare, a 303 area code showed up. Denver. And when Pennington checked in from the Dolphins' charter before it left Providence, 516 was the prefix. Long Island.
What I liked about them Sunday: They both sounded euphoric. Griese's 33, a tad laconic, and Pennington's 32 and will never be a Favre-like quote machine. It's not like they're on their last football legs, but both are smart enough to realize they may not have many more days like this in football. Ever. Griese's got the ultimate bottom-line head coach looking over his shoulder; if he bombs next week, Gruden will be motioning for Garcia to warm up in the bullpen. And Pennington knows he can't hold off Henne forever. But Sunday night wasn't time for thinking about the future. They were loving the now too much.
Griese: "Early in the third quarter, I came off the field after we had a drive stall and Jon said, 'We can't run the football. I need you to go out and win this game.' I said, fine, if you want me to throw it every play, I will. We just couldn't run it at all. I never expected a day like today. None of us did. We wanted to run it because that's the kind of team we are. But Chicago's good, real good, against the run.
"It helped us to go to the no-huddle in the fourth quarter and overtime. We're down 10 with about five minutes left and went hurry-up, and we got a field goal. Then we got the ball back, went to our two-minute drill, scored a touchdown and got to overtime. We didn't run it right away, but then we figured we'd go back to it, just to get back in a rhythm and give us a good tempo -- and to prevent them from substituting and blitzing much. It worked.
"In a game like this, you really have to persevere. I threw three interceptions today. I really made a couple of bad decisions. But after you've thrown three picks, you've got to have supreme confidence in yourself to make some of the throws I did. And I was confident. Part of being in this league for 11 years is you don't get rattled by that. On one play today, they brought a blitz from the weak side and ran a twist up front against us. I had to hold the ball a little longer than I wanted to, and stand there and face the fire and take the hit I knew was coming, just so I could throw the ball to a spot down the field. I had to throw it a little earlier than I wanted, before [Alex Smith] was out of his cut. But it worked. I was able to bring us down the field and make some plays to help us win.
"At this point in my career it's so fun, so rewarding. I feel no pressure. I'm just out there playing. You know, forget about all the things fans might think -- like I want to show Chicago they made a mistake by trading me. It's not about that. It's about playing against guys you really like, being down 10 late in the game and making enough plays to get your team back in the game. There's a lot to be said for perseverance, not only in football but in life. You've got to hang in there, no matter what the environment is around you, and if you do, good things have a chance to happen.''
Pennington: "The last two weeks we've really had some good practices. But Wednesday we show up, get the game plan for the Patriots, and it's one of those grinding practices. We're not very good. It's probably 100 degrees, and we're making a few mistakes, and we don't look good.
"The coaches put the option-type plays in [with Ronnie Brown taking the shotgun snap, the QB split wide right and Ricky Williams or a wideout coming into the backfield from being flanked out to get a handoff or to fake it] and we worked on them. When you play New England, you can't just line up two backs and run the ball at them. They're too smart for that. They've seen it all. To run it on them, you've got to create some space somewhere. Give them a different look. Get them back on their heels. Then when Ronnie tried to throw that little option pass, the first time he did it, he shot it into the ground. It was awful. But he [completed] it when it counted.
"Our attitude was, 'Who says we can't go up there and win? Why not?' Coach [Tony] Sparano keeps telling us, 'Believe in the hard work. Believe in the preparation. It's not a matter of if it'll work; it's a matter of when.' And he was right.
"It's still a whirlwind for me. When I got released by the Jets and came in here, I didn't have time to think about much of anything. The day I got here, I had to start memorizing practice scripts. The way the year has gone so far, a day like today, it's pretty special.''