Beating the NFC’s last unbeaten team on the road gave the New York Giants a huge emotional lift and may have saved their season. Chad Pennington’s return, at least for one week, made no difference for the Jets.
With the Giants looking to build momentum and the Jets desperate for a victory, the two Giants Stadium tenants meet in the regular season for the first time in four years with New York bragging rights on the line.
With three straight lackluster, mistake-filled defeats going into last week, the Giants’ season was perilously close to being all but lost just seven games in. That was before they went into the Metrodome and stunned the Vikings 29-17, dealing Minnesota its first loss and closing the gap in the NFC East.
The Giants pulled to within two games of Dallas, which lost to Tampa Bay, and kept themselves in the playoff hunt with a critical victory.
“I just think it shows the character of the guys on our team,” cornerback Will Allen said.
Kerry Collins had his best game of the season when his team needed him the most, passing for 375 yards and throwing two touchdowns to Ike Hilliard. The Giants defense also stepped up by holding Randy Moss to two catches and four yards in the second half.
“It’s been tough around here,” Collins said, “but we kept our belief.”
The Giants were 3-4 last year, too, before winning seven of their final nine to earn a wild-card spot.
Now the Giants will look to take advantage of their struggling co-tenants, who are part of a division that the Giants have had little trouble with of late. They have won nine of their last 12 games against the AFC East, and will be looking to improve to 6-4 all-time against the Jets.
Pennington wasn’t able to bring the Jets a win in his first action since returning from a broken left wrist suffered against the Giants during the preseason, even though he didn’t get a full game to do it last week at Philadelphia. Coach Herman Edwards put Pennington in for Vinny Testaverde in the second quarter, and he went 14-of-23 for 154 yards and one interception.
Pennington directed a third-quarter drive that gave the Jets a 17-14 lead, but the Eagles went back ahead and held on to win 24-17. Pennington’s desperation pass from Philadelphia’s 42 fell incomplete at the end of the game.
“For the most part he was a little bit rusty,” said Edwards, who will start Pennington against the Giants. “He did some good things. He moved the team. He didn’t hurt us.”
Pennington performed well after being out nine weeks, and it’s possible the quarterback and his team are right where they want to be. The Jets were 1-3 last season when Pennington took over as the starter for Testaverde and went on to win the division, going 8-4 the rest of the way. Pennington finished with a 104.2 passer rating and 68.9 completion percentage.
“I always think I can play better whether we win or lose,” he said after Sunday’s loss. “We had the Eagles right where we wanted them and we couldn’t finish. That’s something that we’ve got to do down the stretch if we expect to make the playoffs.”
Collins and Pennington will likely have to perform under heavy pass rushes this week. The Jets lead the NFL with 26 sacks, just ahead of the Giants, who have 24.
However, the Jets defensive line suffered a huge blow when John Abraham, who had 3 1/2 sacks against the Eagles, was lost for Sunday’s game with a strained right groin. His absence could ease the pressure on a patchwork Giants offensive line that is struggling with injuries.
The Jets defense could also be without starting linebacker Mo Lewis, who is questionable with a sore hip.
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