Mad about Chad
By Peter King
Now this is peculiar.
The topic is which player will emerge out of the NFL playoffs as this
year’s impact guy -- this year’s Tom Brady. And I’m going to pick someone I
don’t firmly believe will make it to the Super Bowl.
The reason is simple. We’re looking to find January’s meteor. I don’t
think a player needs to be a Super Bowl hero to be the player everyone points
to as the one who blew fans away in the playoffs as the new star of the NFL.
Now, it’s possible that Pennington, who has quarterbacked
the fast-rising Jets for all of 12 starts and who went 7-2 down the stretch
to will the Jets into the AFC East title, could be this year’s Brady and earn
the Super Bowl MVP if the Jets keep playing like they have the last two
weeks. They scored 72 points in routing the Patriots and Packers.
Pennington won the NFL passing title at 26. He seems the
latest of the league's young stud quarterbacks.
There is one difference between Pennington and some of the other big
stars, though. He’s Mr. Grounded. Check out this email give-and-take I had
with him a month ago for my SI notes column:
SI: You look at the NFL quarterback rankings. You see your name ahead of
Favre, Bledsoe, Manning. Do you think, "I am not worthy?"
Pennington: "I think about what a great job my teammates have done."
SI: The secret to your early success?
Pennington: "Trusting my teammates and making myself accountable."
SI: Favorite off-day hobby?
Pennington: "I don't have a favorite thing. I come to the Jets’ complex
to watch film, lift and get cardio in. It's all about getting ready for the
This is what drives Pennington, not about getting ready for the next
endorsement. So during the past eight quarters, when the Jets needed Joe Montana at quarterback, they
got these results out of Pennington: 70 percent passing, seven touchdowns, no
interceptions, no turnovers. Pennington’s as cool as they come, and he’s
ready to play very big on the big stage.
I see him starring against the suspect Colt secondary Saturday,
particularly when Indianapolis puts so many eggs in the stop-Curtis-Martin
basket. Then the Jets, in all likelihood, would fly to Oakland for a
divisional-round game. Let’s go back to the Oakland-New York Monday-nighter
in Week 13. Jets down 23-13, midway through the fourth quarter. Pennington
drives the Jets 71 yards, culminating in a touchdown pass to Wayne Chrebet,
to make it a three-point deficit. When he gets the ball back with just over a
minute left, Pennington drives the Jets to the Oakland 35 with 20 seconds
left. The Black Hole holds its breath. Pennington, desperate, throws a pick
to Rod Woodson in heavy coverage near the end zone. Ballgame. But the warning
was there. Pennington has the moxie and the fourth-quarter stuff to win
big games on the road.
I’m not saying Pennington will beat the Raiders. If I had to put my
mortgage on it, I’d take Oakland. But the kid will play valiantly, and if
somehow they make it past the Raiders, I think he’d play great against the
hard-charging Titans, or whoever else would make it to the AFC title game.
And after the Super Bowl, when we’re looking for the next
big star, we’ll focus on Michael Vick, to be sure. But we’ll
also say: Can you believe how Pennington played this month, when the
Jets got reborn, and with the Raiders breathing down his neck?
Good ol' Charlie
By Don Banks
Rich Gannon nabbed the NFL's MVP award Wednesday, and whether or not you agree with the pick, you can't deny that the veteran Oakland quarterback turned in a tremendous season. But as crazy as it sounds, we're not even certain Gannon was most valuable on his own offense.
That's how much respect we have for the multipurpose production of Raiders running back Charlie Garner, who couldn't even crack the Pro Bowl team in the running back-rich AFC. We wouldn't be surprised if Garner made up for that omission in the playoffs, where his rushing and receiving skills can't be overlooked.
Bet you didn't know that Garner was the only NFL player to gain more than 900 yards of both rushing (962) and receiving (941) this season, or that only four NFL backs rolled up more total yardage than his 1,903? Ah, but Priest Holmes (2,287 total yards), Ricky Williams (2,216) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2,172) -- the AFC's three Pro Bowl backs -- won't be in the playoffs.
In the NFC, the only back who surpassed Garner's total yardage was New York's talented Tiki Barber (1,984), and he needed a 276-yard regular-season finale (203 rushing, 73 receiving) to thrust himself into that elite neighborhood. Barber will be the only back in the playoffs who had a more productive regular season than Garner, which is fitting because he's kind of the NFC version of Oakland's two-way threat.
Though he rarely generates the headlines of a Gannon, Jerry Rice or Tim Brown, Garner is the Raiders' Mr. Reliable. His team-high 962 rushing yards came on just 182 carries (11.3 per game) for the pass-happy Raiders, with a 5.3 average yards per carry that ranked second behind only Denver's Clinton Portis (5.5). He led all NFL backs in receiving yards and receptions, and his 91 catches ranked 10th overall in the league and second among Raiders.
Indeed, Garner came close to matching the Pro Bowl receiving totals of Oakland's Rice, who ended up topping Garner by one reception (92 to 91), 270 yards (1,211 to 941), 2.9 yards in average catch (13.2 to 10.3) and three receiving touchdowns (7 to 4). But when you throw in Garner's 962 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground, it's not even close in terms of overall production.
Because he's so good at both rushing and receiving, Garner's yardage totals usually remain pretty evenly split -- which works against him in terms of media attention and Pro Bowl status. But in the past two weeks, with the postseason looming, his running skills came to the fore in a big way.
Oakland rediscovered its ground game in home wins against Denver and Kansas City, rushing for 416 yards compared to just 280 yards in the air. Garner had 196 of those rushing yards, on 36 carries, including 135 of Oakland's 280 rushing yards in last week's rainy-day 24-0 win against Kansas City.
That's an encouraging development for Raiders fans, because as sophisticated as their passing game has been, an effective ground game remains a key to winning in January.
Even if top-seeded Oakland's path to the Super Bowl won't require it to leave the state of California or encounter a cold-weather setting, the past two weeks have served a useful reminder to potential Raiders' playoff opponents.
Better than most, Garner can beat you any number of ways.