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Insurance claim

To grasp what the New York Jets have lost, you would need to have been on that strip of grass where coach Herm Edwards and quarterback Chad Pennington met on Oct. 17.

Heading to the locker room that day after struggling mightily against the San Francisco 49ers, Pennington told Edwards he intended to rip his team. Pay mind to the fundamental phrase, his team. Not Herm Edwards' team. Not Curtis Martin's. Certainly not Quincy Carter's.

We're talking singular ownership, with Pennington's name on the lease. Now we find out that the deed will be changing hands temporarily.

With Pennington knocked out for at least two games (and perhaps as many as four) with a rotator cuff injury, the Jets will be turned over to the enigmatic Carter – a player whose talents can dazzle with the heat and flash of a solar flare, but also disappear just as quickly. Whichever Carter shows up for the Jets, the loss of Pennington could have far-reaching consequences, not only for the AFC playoff picture but also for the continuity regained between the 6-2 Jets and their starting quarterback.

A little more than a year ago, Pennington's absence at the start of the 2003 season sent New York tumbling to a 2-4 start. While the 2004 Jets are faster on defense and more reliant on running back Curtis Martin, they still feed off Pennington's accuracy in the passing game. And that's precisely what will be lacking with Carter, who was signed as an insurance policy after his surprising summer release by the Dallas Cowboys for reportedly failing a drug test.

"That's why we brought Quincy here, to be quite honest," Edwards said Monday. "We said if something should happen (to Pennington) – we had foresight, we were able to get him. Now he's here and he's played in a lot of football games. Now he's got an opportunity to play until Chad comes back."

Known for his arm strength and mobility, Carter started 31 games in three seasons with Dallas. His best performance came last season, when he finished with 3,302 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. But his expertise never has been accuracy or consistency – two primary functions of the Jets' offense. Carter never has completed more than 58 percent of his passes in a season.

Scouts have been quick to point out Carter's overly aggressive style with the pass, criticizing him for relying on his arm strength too much and making hasty decisions. When he's good, he's special. When he's bad, he's just awful.

One interesting point: Carter does have uncommon motivation. After being released by the Cowboys, he's playing for a second chance at a starting job. His one-year contract with the Jets guarantees he'll get renewed free-agent looks this offseason.

But no matter how Carter plays, the Jets will be set back in the long term. Like last season's injury, Pennington once again sees crucial development halted. While he still hadn't bridged the gap to his breakout 2002 campaign, Pennington was getting close.

The injury only intensifies a treacherous stretch in the schedule at the beginning of December. With home games against Houston, Seattle and New England and road dates in Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the Jets need to have Pennington at his best after Thanksgiving. If he can't return to form by then, the 6-2 start could be for nothing.