Pennington earns vindication in Dolphins' defeat of Jets

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Chad Pennington walked off the field where he spent his first eight NFL seasons, surrounded by cameras and jubilant teammates after leading the Miami Dolphins to an improbable AFC East title.

On the New York Jets' sideline, a disappointed Brett Favre jogged off the field and into the locker room, maybe for the last time in a storied career.

Pennington, cut in the offseason by the Jets to make room for Favre, threw two touchdown passes in leading the Dolphins to a division title with a 24-17 victory Sunday.

A year after going 1-15, the Dolphins completed a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Tony Sparano, joining the 1999 Indianapolis Colts as the only teams in NFL history to make 10-game improvements. Miami, which has won five straight and nine of 10, made the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. It's also the Dolphins' first AFC East title since 2000.

Miami (11-5) will host Baltimore (11-5) in the first round next weekend.

The Jets (9-7) knew they needed a win and Baltimore to lose to Jacksonville to even get into the postseason after New England beat Buffalo 13-0 earlier Sunday.

After showing the Jaguars taking an early 7-3 lead, the score wasn't displayed on the stadium scoreboard as the Ravens ran away from Jacksonville 27-7.

The loss ended a collapse for Favre and the Jets, who spent more than $140 million in free agency in the offseason and got off to an impressive 8-3 start. They controlled their playoff fate, but dropped four of their last five games and missed the playoffs despite having an NFL-high seven Pro Bowl selections.

Pennington, who went from the scrap heap to an MVP candidate, finished 22-of-30 for 200 yards and TD throws to Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Fasano. Phillip Merling also returned an interception 29 yards for a score for the Dolphins.

If this truly was it for Favre, who has yet to announce his plans, it wasn't a pretty ending. The 18-year veteran, who said this week that his shoulder was bothering him, was 20-of-40 for 233 yards and a touchdown, but threw three interceptions.

It's also uncertain whether coach Eric Mangini will return for a fourth season.

The Jets took a 17-14 lead on Leon Washington's 10-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion early in the third quarter after taking advantage of a special teams mistake by the Dolphins. Punter Brandon Fields couldn't handle John Denney's high snap, and the ball bounced behind him before he fell on it at Miami's 28.

Facing a third-and-14 at the 32, Favre connected with Jerricho Cotchery for 15 yards to keep the drive alive. After a 7-yard run, Washington went up the middle for 10 more and a score. Cotchery then caught a pass in the front of the end zone on the 2-point conversion.

But Miami came right back with a six-play scoring drive, with Fasano making a twisting, turning 20-yard touchdown catch in the end zone to make it 21-17.

Dan Carpenter kicked a 48-yard field goal into the wind to make it 24-17 with 9:20 remaining.

Miami took a 14-6 lead by scoring twice in a span of 15 seconds late in the first half.

With Pennington lined up in a no-huddle shotgun for the third straight play, he connected with Ginn on a 27-yard pass that floated just over an outstretched Dwight Lowery in the end zone with 2:18 remaining.

On the Jets' first play of their ensuing possession, Favre tossed a soft pass toward Thomas Jones, but Merling stepped in front of the ball and returned it for a touchdown.

Favre stood on the sideline -- Jets fans booing -- and rotated his right arm as if it was bothering him.

Jay Feely kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to cut the deficit to 14-9.

The Jets took an early 6-0 lead on Laveranues Coles' 13-yard touchdown reception, but Reggie Hodges couldn't handle James Dearth's snap, and the extra point wasn't attempted.


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