Pennington struggles against Raiders
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Chad Pennington’s passes were sailing high and off target. Or short and low. He still thought he’d lead the New York Jets to another victory.

After all the amazing things Pennington has pulled off this season, he couldn’t do it this time in the Jets’ 30-10 AFC playoff loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

“There’s a saying that as the quarterback goes, the team goes,” he said. “I didn’t go today.

“Coming out in the game, I had so much energy I was missing things out in front, missing things high, and I had to calm myself down.”

Pennington had been nearly perfect for more than a month. He had the best passer rating in the NFL, led the Jets to eight wins in 10 games and was brilliant in his playoff debut a week earlier.

He was on top of the world – a 26-year-old quarterback who began the season as the backup for the New York Jets and is now drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Joe Montana.

Oakland changed all that in a hurry Sunday, frustrating Pennington into four turnovers.

“It’s one of those days,” Pennington said. “I can’t explain it. That’s why it’s so frustrating. I didn’t feel like I was myself out there and I don’t know why.”

The quarterback’s collapse came at the worst possible time.

The Jets hadn’t committed a turnover in their last three games, including a 41-0 victory over Indianapolis in the wild-card round. New York was among the hottest teams in football, and Pennington was the main reason why.

“It’s not Chad’s fault,” said receiver Laveranues Coles, who had 30 of his team’s 183 yards receiving. “It’s not any individual person’s fault. We’ve got to take this together. Chad played a great game. Don’t ask me anything to badmouth Chad. I’m not going to do it.”

Pennington was rattled for the first time in months, and was totally ineffective in the second half.

He lost a fumble in the first quarter, and fumbled again in the fourth. He was picked off in the third by Tory James – his first interception since the Jets’ 26-20 Monday night loss to the Raiders on Dec. 2. He threw another pick early in the fourth. With two interceptions, he matched his total from his 10 previous games.

Pennington also was sacked four times, showing just how vulnerable he is when his offensive line protects poorly.

There were several other times he nearly threw interceptions, too.

His passes were a little off most of the day – some throws were too high, others were well short of his targets. Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson deflected three passes in his first game back from a leg injury, including one in the end zone.

“I don’t know who made Chad Pennington into Joe Namath. He’s not,” Raiders linebacker Eric Barton said. “Yeah, he got rattled. He got a lot of hats put on him today.”

Pennington finished 21-of-47 passing for 183 yards and a quarterback rating of 44.9.

He came in as the NFL’s highest-rated passer at 104.2, with a league-leading completion percentage of 68.9. Pennington demonstrated great poise in helping the Jets recover from a 1-4 start.

“He probably will tell you he didn’t have one of his better days,” coach Herman Edwards said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t have their better days.”

Minutes before the clock expired, Edwards spoke to Pennington:

“I told him, ‘I’m proud of you. You’re learning a lesson and it’s something you’ll grow from.”‘

Pennington’s amazing season ended in familiar territory for the Jets. New York was eliminated in the wild-card round here last January – and has played in Oakland four times in 53 weeks.

“I’m proud of this team,” Pennington said. “I didn’t play my `A’ game today, but everyone rallied around me.”

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