Chad Pennington’s phenomenal red-zone passing success continued despite his torn rotator cuff. In five seasons, Pennington has thrown 39 TD passes and no interceptions and has a 112.2 passer rating inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Better by half
Coordinator Donnie Henderson’s first NFL defense posted seven second-half shutouts in the regular season, the first team to get that many since the 1993 Steelers also had seven.
Room for rookies
Twenty of the 22 selections in the Jets’ previous three drafts are still on the roster, so it figures they’ll find spots for all of this year’s eight picks.
Despite concussion problems the past two years, receiver Wayne Chrebet is ready for his 11th season in green. “It’s just tough to swallow, if that ends up being the reason I have to walk away from the game sooner than I would want to,” he says. “If it weren’t for that, in the right place, I think I could play years more. I’m only 31. I’m as fresh as can be.”
The first time the franchise opened the season at Kansas City, the year was 1968 and the Jets were headed to their first and only Super Bowl appearance.
The Prophecy: “The fate of the Jets will rest on how quickly the defense can progress with a new, more complicated system. If it all clicks, they should be in the playoff picture.”
The Lie: “The Jets’ season would end if Chad Pennington is injured again.”
— Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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The Vince Lombardi Trophy -- or a larger-than-life decal of it - is pasted on the media room wall in Weeb Ewbank Hall. And the Real McCoy, the silver chalice the Jets earned for their Super Bowl III upset, rests in a special case in the locker room.
No wonder, then, that this team is more grim and no-nonsense these days. General manager Terry Bradway was snappish in talking about his draft, and coach Herman Edwards' stare and jaw have been set for a while. That's how it goes when the only way you can reach your goal is through the New England Patriots, your AFC East rival who don't want anyone else getting within sniffing distance of that hardware.
"We've been in the playoffs three of the last four years - not a lot of teams have done that," Edwards says. "The wins we've accumulated in those years, we're in the top 10 in the NFL. You need a body of evidence to try to sell to your players. I think they understand that and take pride in the direction we're headed. But no, we won't be satisfied until we win that prize."
What should be an exclamation-point position has been in question since Chad Pennington underwent February surgery for the rotator cuff tear in his right shoulder. Pennington was set to begin throwing in June and be ready for training camp, but it remains unclear how comfortable he'll be once the games count.
"I'm just hoping I can make it through 16 games injury-free," says Pennington, who has never started that many games in any of his five Jets seasons. "I'd love to go into the playoffs feeling really good and see where that takes us."
In case he has more downtime, the Jets brought in former Dolphin Jay Fiedler as the new No. 2 quarterback. Fiedler can't help but love the move -- his career starting record is 3-6 against the Jets and 34-17 vs. the rest of the league. Third-year man Brooks Bollinger seems stuck at third on the depth chart.
The ball is still in Curtis Martin's court, and why not after he rushed for a career-high 1,697 yards and his first NFL rushing title at the age of 31? First-year offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has called Martin "a great pro" and will still feature him, though not as much as last year's career-high 371 carries.
LaMont Jordan reluctantly left Martin and the Jets to get a bigger workload and paycheck with the Raiders. So the Jets signed Derrick Blaylock, a different kind of back than Jordan but a proven backup. Cedric Houston, a sixth-round draft pick out of Tennessee, will be in the mix as well. Fullback Jerald Sowell will pave the way for Martin again and also has also been a reliable weapon in the passing game.
The biggest offseason transaction involved bringing back chip-on-shoulder, tough-as-nails Laveranues Coles, who left as a restricted free agent two years ago, and sending Santana Moss to the Redskins. The Jets never wanted to lose Coles, one reason being the 89 passes for 1,264 yards (14.2-yard average) Pennington threw to him in 2002.
Coles should improve the production of Justin McCareins, who led the Jets with 56 receptions opposite the speedy but soft-over-the-middle Moss. Wayne Chrebet will return for his 11th season and figures to split slot time with sophomore Jerricho Cotchery.
Tight end plays a bigger downfield role in Heimerdinger's system than in former coordinator Paul Hackett's scheme, which is why the Jets traded for Oakland's Doug Jolley three days before the draft.
This is a veteran group -- some might say too veteran, especially on the left side with tackle Jason Fabini (31), guard Pete Kendall (32) and center Kevin Mawae (34). But Mawae is still Pro Bowl-quick and right guard Brandon Moore is still young and feisty.
A problem may exist, though, at right tackle -- unrestricted free agent Kareem McKenzie is now a Giant, and the starter is slated to be Adrian Jones, who practiced predominantly on the left side as a fourth-round rookie a year ago. Says Bradway: "Trust me on this one: He can play right tackle."
Marko Cavka, like Jones an untested second-year man, provides the tackle depth. Jonathan Goodwin is the first backup behind Mawae and at both guard spots.
Gang Green's premier unit last season took two hits this offseason. First, nosetackle Jason Ferguson agonized and then bolted for Dallas as an unrestricted free agent. Then Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham refused to sign his $6.66 million franchise-tag tender.
Abraham, one of the NFL's sackmasters whose impact has been hindered by injuries the past two seasons, will be back to team up with end Shaun Ellis, a former Pro Bowler. Bryan Thomas and Trevor Johnson also played well in the end rotation.
Dewayne Robertson, who scuffled as a rookie but arrived last season as coordinator Donnie Henderson's three-technique tackle, could be the next Pro Bowler on this line. He's backed up by Alan Harper. But it could be nose by committee with the re-signed James Reed, former Giant Lance Legree and third-round draftee Sione Pouha.
Jonathan Vilma lived up to the hype last year. He took over at middle linebacker for the injured Sam Cowart and played like a five-year vet, calling the plays, making the plays and being named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is in the middle of the defensive plans to improve on its strong rankings: No. 7 in yards allowed, No. 4 in points allowed.
Just as important is Eric Barton, the "Jack" or weak-side backer, who, except for his bonehead penalty in the San Diego playoff win, drew high praise in the locker room after coming over from Oakland. On the strong side, Victor Hobson figures to regain his starting role, but Mark Brown played well when Hobson was hurt. Depth elsewhere is debatable, although Kenyatta Wright re-signed and Barry Gardner came in from Cleveland.
The secondary had bright spots, such as the development of right corner David Barrett and the emergence of rookie safety Erik Coleman. Derrick Strait, last year's third-rounder, and Justin Miller, this year's second-rounder, are expected to be factors. Ray Mickens, perhaps the group's best man-to-man corner, is set to return after missing last season following knee surgery.
But the unit has pockets of concern. Corner Donnie Abraham was contemplating retirement through the offseason. Free safety Jon McGraw needs a season of health after rehabbing from sports hernia surgery. Strong safety Reggie Tongue has been feast-or-famine.
At least safety has competition: Returnees Rashad Washington and Derek Pagel are joined by second-day draft picks Kerry Rhodes and Andre Maddox.
It wasn't all Doug Brien's fault, but he paid for his 47- and 43-yard misses in the final two minutes in the Pittsburgh playoff game with his job after the Jets drafted Ohio State's nearly flawless Mike Nugent 47th overall.
Special teams coach Mike Westhoff got many more presents. Edwards anointed Miller, the rookie cornerback, as the leading candidate to return punts and kickoffs. Many considered Maddox the best specialist among the draft's defensive backs. Sixth-round tight end Joel Dreessen could challenge James Dearth's four years of quiet long-snapping excellence. Veteran Micah Knorr and Australian Rules thumper Ben Graham were vying to replace punter Toby Gowin.
Much rests on Pennington's shoulder and Abraham's head, plus the position quandaries at right tackle, tight end, nosetackle and in the secondary. The schedule is favorable, except for those two games against New England.
Here's the plan, according to Pennington: "We're slowly establishing ourselves as a winning organization that doesn't just have a flash of brilliance but is consistently good and competing for the championship. The way you earn your stripes is by competing on that level for a period of time, and eventually you break through."
Many Jets fans are arguing that eventually is now.