Pennington looks to help the Jets remain undefeated on the road on Sunday and saddle the Jaguars with a second straight dismal performance defensively.
Pennington suffered a torn rotator cuff in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Jaguars on Sept. 25 last season on a hit from defensive end Paul Spicer. That game in Week 3 saw Pennington throw two interceptions and the injury sent the Jets into a tailspin, finishing 4-12.
“I have the picture at home that I see quite often just to remind me how far that I’ve come and just to remind me of what it’s like to be injured and not to take for granted having the chance to play,” Pennington said.
He has bounced back nicely this season, completing 67.2 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions. The Jets (2-2) are scoring 24 points per game, good for fourth in the AFC, thanks in large part to a passing attack that ranks second in the conference with 239 yards per game.
Spicer will be available for the rematch—he had three sacks in last year’s meeting—but Pennington could benefit from the rest of Jacksonville’s defensive line being banged up.
Defensive end Reggie Hayward is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon and his backup, Marcellus Wiley, will miss his third straight game due to a groin injury. Tackle Marcus Stroud, who has played all 84 games in his six-year career, played through an ankle injury last week but strained his groin late in the game and will sit out against the Jets.
Those injuries had a bad effect on the normally stout defense of the Jaguars (2-2), who allowed 481 yards in a 36-30 overtime loss at Washington to match the third-worst defensive performance in franchise history.
It was the most yards Jacksonville has surrendered since 2000, three years before defensive-minded Jack Del Rio took over as coach.
“We’re not going to brush it aside. We’re going to learn from it,” Del Rio said. “We’ve got a proud bunch of guys. There are some clear, concrete reasons why.
“Shedding blocks and tackling are at the core of everything I believe in.”
The Jaguars had allowed just four offensive touchdowns in their first three games and beat the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers 9-0 on Sept. 18. Against the Redskins, however, they allowed nearly as many yards rushing (152) as they had in their first three games combined (177).
Still, the Jets know they can’t take lightly a defense that is giving up just 82.2 rushing yards per game.
“They do just a great job up front,” Pennington said. “Their size and physicality is unbelievable. It’s unmatched, really, and they do a great job of just overpowering offenses and playing good team defense.”
New York’s defense, though, has had problems. The Jets ranks 29th in the NFL with 378.2 yards allowed per game and are giving up 140.5 rushing yards per game.
Of the 91 points they have surrendered this season, 43 have come in the fourth quarter.
New York allowed Peyton Manning to lead two scoring drives in the final 8 minutes in last Sunday’s 31-28 loss to Indianapolis, including one after Justin Miller returned a kickoff 103 yards to give New York the lead with 2:20 remaining.
“We’ve got to get better,” tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen said. “We’ve had enough time, guys need to make plays. That’s the bottom line. And we’re going to get a little bit better.”
First-year Jets coach Eric Mangini did show a fondness for trick plays against the Colts. He called for a second-quarter onside kick after a score, twice lined up receiver Brad Smith under center and Pennington at receiver, and elected not to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal on New York’s first possession of the third quarter.
“Ummm, no, not really. I’ve got pretty much index stocks and blue chips,” Mangini said when asked if he considered himself a gambler. “But I think that anything that’s thought out and practiced and worked on and looked at in terms of the situation, I think it’s more of an educated risk.”
This game features another matchup of former Marshall teammates Byron Leftwich and Pennington. Leftwich was 16-of-23 for 177 yards in last year’s meeting, and threw the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.
Leftwich looks to take advantage of the Jets struggling defense after having his best performance of the season last week, throwing for season highs of 289 yards and three touchdowns. He had only two TD passes through his first three games of the season.
Leftwich, however, threw an interception for the fourth straight game and was sacked four times—one more than he had been sacked in the first three weeks combined.
Receiver Matt Jones, who has 13 catches for 157 yards, has played sparingly the last two games because of an injured groin and will sit out against the Jets.