AFC East: Jets-Titans
Before I pull the pin from the grenade and launch it, let me state the performances of these two quarterbacks are not interchangeable.
Both sides needed a change of scenery. The Jets had lost confidence in Pennington's ability to get them over the hump, and Favre is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who could provide the needed jolt.
How sad it seemed when Pennington landed with the 1-15 Dolphins. He looked like a castoff desperate to prove he still was good enough to start.
Yet here we are, with only three games left in the regular season, and the quarterbacks have identical records, tied atop the AFC East at 8-5 and headed for a potential do-or-die showdown in the Dec. 28 season finale.
While Dolfans are looking forward to the matchup, Jets fans must be dreading the possibility of Pennington keeping them from the postseason.
Pennington has had the better season, hands down. His team is more improved than Favre's. The Dolphins have an NFL-low 10 turnovers all year. Favre has thrown 15 interceptions and lost two fumbles.
Pennington has more yards on fewer attempts. His passer rating is 5.5 points higher. Even more incredible is that before leading receiver Greg Camarillo suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 12, all but one of Pennington's targets on game days were undrafted, and the one who was drafted (Ted Ginn) is viewed by many as a bust.
Favre has a higher completion percentage, more touchdowns and a lot more interceptions. His offensive line includes four first-round draft picks, and his receivers include Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller.
But could Pennington have taken the Jets as far as he has taken the Dolphins?
Would the Jets have responded the same to Pennington coming back for a ninth season as they did to Favre's boost?
r words, was the Favre trade really necessary?
Fire in the hole.
Now that we're getting into crunch time, I'm unveiling "Flash Points," a new series in which you get to state your case on various issues in the highly competitive AFC East.
Those who make the NFL Nation rounds might find this running feature resembles Hot Topics on Mike Sando's NFC West blog. That's because I'm ripping off his idea and giving it a new name -- with his blessing.
With the inaugural Flash Point we'll examine whether the New York Jets truly are Super Bowl-caliber.
The Jets have been sensational, whacking the previously unblemished Tennessee Titans 34-13 in Nashville.
The Jets have won five games in a row and seven of their past eight. They're atop the AFC East with an 8-3 record.
But they've also been defeated by the Oakland Raiders and beat the Kansas City Chiefs by only four points.
How Flash Points will work on most issues, as with Sando's "Hot Topics," is you take a stance and present a reasoned argument. The best responses will be posted in a separate blog later in the week with me or an NFL expert adding perspective.
In other words, we're not looking for comments that declare "Jets rule!" or "Eric Mangini is a jerk!"
Are the Jets a legitimate Super Bowl team?
If so, why? If not, why not?
Are the New York Jets the new favorite to win the AFC?
A few weeks ago, folks wondered if the Jets were AFC East contenders. Now they're playing like world beaters.
The Jets on Sunday beat the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans, 34-13, in Nashville. It was an emphatic, all-phases display on the road for the second straight week. The Jets last week edged the New England Patriots in overtime at Gillette Stadium.
The Jets, who went 4-12 last year, lead the AFC East at 8-3.
New York's offense had all sorts of options at its disposal and kept the ball for an astounding 40 minutes 30 seconds.
Jets quarterback Brett Favre completed 25 of 32 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
All that was missing was a special teams or defensive touchdown.
Greer injured his knee in Monday night's loss to the Cleveland Browns. Whitner came back too soon from his separated shoulder.
The good news for the Bills is that No. 2 receiver Josh Reed likely will return after missing three consecutive games.
In the other AFC East games:
- The New England Patriots are healthy by their standards for Sunday's road game against the Miami Dolphins.
- The Dolphins list nobody on their injury report. Tight end David Martin missed practice Friday for personal reasons.
NFL analyst Phil Simms is impressed with how the New York Jets are coming together.
Simms will provide the color commentary alongside play-by-play man Jim Nantz for CBS Sports' broadcast of Sunday's big matchup between the Jets and the undefeated Tennessee Titans.
Simms provided a breakdown of the game:
The Jets remind me of a team that has the fever. The fever is winning and how much fun they can have doing it. They have some personality going for them. There are a lot of reasons for it. You have to give the coaching staff credit, Brett Favre and all the new additions. It's taken a while, but they've all melded together. The Jets have absolutely become a fun team to watch in the NFL.
Jets' keys to victory:
It's on the road; crowd noise is always something to overcome. Can they find ways to generate offense first? You hope to run the ball and have a little success. What it comes down to is, can you make enough passing plays to win the game? That is what you have to look for anytime you see a team playing against the Tennessee Titans.
Titans' keys to victory:
Can they stay sharp and edgy and hungry and eager even though they're 10-0? There is a certain energy that comes with being undefeated and being 10-0. Not all the time, but sometimes being undefeated does make you lose sight of the little things. Sooner or later, if you lose sight of enough little things, it will cost you a game.
I'm anxious to watch this game because I want to judge the Tennessee Titans football team with my own eyes. I want to see if I can see and feel their edginess and how is it all coming together for them to be 10-0.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky and Tim Graham
In advance of the New York Jets vs. Tennessee Titans on Sunday in Nashville, AFC East blogger Tim Graham and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky debate what this November showdown means. The Jets could make a statement by ruining the Titans' hopes of a 16-0 regular season. Graham and Kuharsky debate other factors that should be considered.
Which graybeard quarterback will carry the day?
Paul Kuharsky: Well, Timothy, it's hard to argue against Brett Favre's contagious enthusiasm, but Kerry Collins is asked to provide something entirely different for the Titans. He's calm and cool, which fits a Jeff Fisher team perfectly. Odds are he throws for under 200 yards. Odds also are he doesn't get picked off or make a big mistake that puts his defense in a tough spot.
Tim Graham: I hear you loud and clear, Brocephus. But the Jets seem to have located their offensive happy place with Favre. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has reached a comfort level in calling plays for the type of quarterback the Jets weren't used to. Favre appears to be settling into his role -- somewhere between swashbuckler and game manager. I like to call him a swashmangler.
PK: Very wordsmithy of you. I know Farve's enjoyed joining a team that upgraded the offensive line before he arrived. One key to the Titans' success has been that they consistently get pass pressure from their front four. Kyle Vanden Bosch expects to be back from a groin injury that's pretty much cost him five weeks. Side-by-side with Albert Haynesworth, they'll look to overpower and outwork the left side of the Jets' line.
TG: The Jets' offensive line has been sensational. Alan Faneca has performed as advertised. Nick Mangold is turning into an elite center. But the New England Patriots, without Adalius Thomas and Ty Warren, got to Favre three times last week. Favre went down Strahan-style.
|Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire|
|New York's run defense will be tested by Tennessee's Chris Johnson on Sunday.|
How will the Titans' running game fare against the Jets' 3-4 defense?
TG: The element of Sunday's game I'm most fascinated to see unfold is how New York's run defense handles Tennessee's running backs. Two of my favorite players to watch this year have been Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins and Titans rookie Chris Johnson. The Jets have the fourth-ranked defense against the run. The Patriots didn't even bother last week, choosing to let Matt Cassel throw 50 times. The Jets' front seven are scary.
PK: Collins threw it 41 times in Chicago, but the Titans will be determined to hand the ball off. Still, the Titans likely will continue to look to get Johnson additional touches in the passing game, trying to set him free in space against favorable matchups. I certainly wouldn't be looking to get him up the middle against Jenkins. If offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger sees the Jets selling out to reduce the risk of big-plays by Johnson, then he'll give somebody else like Bo Scaife, Justin Gage or LenDale White more chances.
TG: I wonder how much of this game will hinge on Collins' arm. The Jets have a couple of stars in their secondary. Cornerback Darrelle Revis is one of the NFL's best, and safety Kerry Rhodes is Pro Bowl-caliber. But they were concerned enough with rookie cornerback Dwight Lowery's shaky play that they signed Ty Law, who hadn't played in 11 months.
PK: The Titans will be content to dink and dunk against that crew if that's what they have to do. Patience won't be a problem. And I suspect they'll like their chances of getting Favre to try to force a couple against their own group of rising DBs who are establishing names for themselves. Cortland Finnegan, Michael Griffin and Chris Hope each rank at the top of the AFC with four picks. If they can get one or two here, I like the Titans' chances. If they can't, this could be loss No. 1.
Which team has more to prove?
PK: It takes a 10-0 start and Favre coming to town with the hot Jets for Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to call a game for CBS in Nashville for the first time. The Titans love to cast themselves as the under-the-radar underdogs. They know they'll be drawing a lot of eyeballs Sunday and that
if they lose, there will be people who say the Titans weren't worthy the hype.
TG: One of the more nauseating sports phenomena is when teams try to underdog each other. Every team wants to enter a game feeling as though they're not being taken seriously. But the Jets feel that way, Paul. I mean, they were so emotional last week they actually were shedding tears before and after beating the Patriots. The Jets come into Sunday's game with a chip on their shoulder even though they're from the nation's biggest media market. Don't forget, the reason they went out and made all these splashy offseason moves was because they were sick of being in the New York Giants' shadow.
PK: The Titans would take a loss to this New York team if they could trade it for a Super Bowl matchup against the other New York team. I'm with you on the artificial underdog and faux disrespect stuff. Griffin played good defense against the Jaguars, then got all twisted up in the postgame locker room. He said people get tired of teams or athletes who win all the time, that they are rooting against the Titans just like they rooted against Michael Phelps. Yeah, nobody wanted to see that guy with all those gold medals around his neck.
TG: If Mercury Morris is OK with the notion you might go undefeated, then you're not exactly Public Enemy No. 1. In my travels around the AFC East, I haven't heard any negative talk about those dastardly Titans. I think the Patriots still lead the conference in haters. But if that's how the Titans are getting themselves jacked up, so be it. As Crash Davis once scolded Annie Savoy: "A player on a streak has to respect the streak." Whatever the Titans are doing to get mentally prepared, it is working.
PK: Even the truest Titans fan has to admit there would be at least one upside to a loss: Morris would disappear for another year.
The old-man references won't be thrown around like they were a year ago when Brett Favre faced Vinny Testaverde, but there's plenty of mileage between the quarterbacks in Sunday's game between the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans.
How many clicks on the odometer? Over 57 miles.
The Elias Sports Bureau computes that Favre and Kerry Collins will have the third-most most combined yardage between opposing quarterbacks in NFL history with 100,364 yards.
Favre and Testaverde also set the record for combined age in that game at 82 years.
Favre is 39. Collins will turn 36 next month.
"I appreciate every game," Favre told reporters Wednesday in Florham Park, N.Y. "If you talk with Kerry, if you talk with Kurt [Warner], older guys, you realize that you're playing game to game.
"Your focus is so much different than it was as a younger player. You just appreciate the moment a lot more because you realize it won't be there forever. This game could be my last."
Favre clearly is having a blast with the Jets, as evidenced by a video clip that's making the rounds in cyberspace of the legendary quarterback forcefully hugging Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum after last week's sudden-death victory over the New England Patriots.
"You have to seize the moment, whatever that may be, whether it's taking in the crowd, whether you take in a rivalry, whatever it may be, really appreciate it," Favre said.
"I'd like to say I've seen it all and done it all, but that's not true. A big win like we had Thursday night, I think 'Man, it just doesn't get any better than this.' Then you play next week against a team that's undefeated. You never know."
Favre, who never has won in Nashville, has walked out of 31 NFL stadiums triumphant, tying him with Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino for victories at the most venues.
Steve McNair is third with 30 stadiums. Joe Montana and Vinny Testaverde are tied for fourth with 28.
If he can't knock off the unbeaten Titans, Favre will have another opportunity to chalk up a new building Dec. 21. The Jets visit Qwest Field to play the Seattle Seahawks.