by Tom E. Curran, NBCSports.com
Then, finally, Pennington appeared.
Lost? Maybe. Never before as an NFL player had he made this trip after a game. For eight seasons, Pennington veered right into the New York Jets locker room. Not this time. Not anymore. Now he had to veer left.
That's because the Jets decided in August they didn't want Pennington. So they cut him. Replaced him with an older but - theoretically - more souped-up model. A guy named Brett Favre.
Pennington landed with the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins that went 1-15 in 2007. The Dolphins that were a threat to precisely no one.
So while Favre would lead a retooled Jets team in 2008, Pennington would be part of what promised to be an arduous, painful rebuilding with the Dolphins.
On Sunday night, it was one of those Dolphins teammates, safety Jason Allen, who finally poked his head into the hallway looking for Pennington.
Seeing him, Allen bellowed, "Hey! C'mon and get your hat, man!"
The hat. The hat that read, "Miami Dolphins. 2008 AFC East Champions."
Meanwhile, down in the Jets locker room, they were giving out green garbage bags for the players to stuff their season's belongings into.
In one of the most delicious dishes of sports irony ever served, Pennington and the Dolphins knocked off Favre and the Jets 24-17 on Sunday.
And, to put it simply, the Dolphins won because they had Pennington; the Jets lost because they had Favre.
Pennington was 22 for 30 for 200 yards with two touchdowns and (drum roll) no interceptions. Favre was 20 for 40 for 233 yards with one touchdown and (drum roll) three interceptions.
And the last two picks were killers. The first came on a screen to Thomas Jones that landed in the arms of Phillip Merling and went for a Miami touchdown late in the first half. The other came with 4:59 remaining and the Jets at the Miami 29-yard line. This time, Favre threw directly to Miami safety Andre Goodman. Would-be target Laveranues Coles wasn't on the same page, in the same book, near the same library. Ball. Game.
But Pennington wouldn't rub anyone's face in it afterward.
"It's not a revenge factor for me," Pennington said. "This week was so much different than the first week (when the Jets and Dolphins played in Miami). Then, the emotion was still fresh. But this week, it was focused strictly on winning a championship. It just so happened that it had to come through New York. That's how it is in sports. That's the only way fate would have it, to have to come back here and win a division championship. It wasn't about (revenge)."
The Dolphins, in possession of the AFC's third seed in the playoffs, now move on to play the sixth-seeded Baltimore Ravens in Miami.
The Jets? They wait to find out if their team's going to remain intact. Jets owner Woody Johnson said, somewhat ominously, that he'd be having meetings this week to decide the fate of coach Eric Mangini, who just presided over a monumental collapse as the Jets lost four of their last five games. Favre, who threw just two touchdowns and was picked off nine times during the five-game collapse, will resume his annual "should I play or should I go" routine.
"I'm sure everyone's going to say, 'He's old and washed up and gray' and all that stuff," Favre said. "Maybe they're right."
Say this for Favre, as cement-headed as some of his decisions may be on the field, he is wonderfully detached in his introspection off of it. Asked to assess his performance down the stretch, Favre said, "Not good enough. I have no excuses. I'd love to tell you it was this or that. But I won't. It wasn't good enough. In my mind I did everything I could do and it wasn't good enough. Am I old and washed up? Maybe so. If that's the case, maybe it's time to do something else."
While Favre and the Jets pondered their postseason-free future, the Dolphins were feeling good for themselves. And for their leader.
"It means a lot (to see Pennington win in New York)," said Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell. "It's everything. (The Jets) embraced Favre and kicked (Pennington) out the door. He came here and proved he could still play. This was redemption for him. He took a 1-15 team to 11-5 and the playoffs."
In other words, Pennington found his way. In Miami.
© 2008 NBC Sports.com
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