EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Chad Pennington was in the opposing locker room at the stadium where he spent the first eight years of his career, a big smile peeking out from a gray Miami Dolphins “Division Champions” cap.
“It’s always a sweet feeling to be a champion,” the Dolphins quarterback said after beating the New York Jets 24-17 on Sunday.
And an improbable one at that.
Pennington, cut in the offseason by the Jets to make room for an aging Brett Favre, threw two touchdown passes against his former team and helped the Dolphins (11-5) complete a remarkable turnaround.
“It’s not a revenge factor,” Pennington said. “This week, being the 17th week, it was strictly focused on winning the championship, knowing that we controlled our own destiny.”
A year after going 1-15, the Dolphins joined the 1999 Indianapolis Colts as the only teams in NFL history to make 10-game improvements. Miami, under first-year coach Tony Sparano, has won five straight and nine of 10 in making the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and winning its first AFC East title since 2000.
“I don’t think words can describe it,” running back Ronnie Brown said. ”
And now, Miami (11-5) will host Baltimore (11-5) in the first round Sunday.
Meanwhile, Favre and the Jets (9-7) were left to wonder what happened to them — and what’s to come.
After an 8-3 start and being mentioned as possible Super Bowl contenders, New York went into a tailspin by losing four of its last five — with Favre looking every bit a 39-year-old quarterback.
Whether Favre goes on remains to be seen. He said he’ll have an MRI exam today on his ailing right shoulder, saying it would affect his decision on whether he’ll come back for another season.
“It hurts in the back (of the shoulder), hurts down in the biceps and, occasionally, in my neck,” he said. “Other than that, it’s fine.”
If this truly was it for Favre, who has yet to announce his plans, it wasn’t a pretty ending. The 18-year veteran was 20-of-40 for 233 yards and a touchdown, but threw three interceptions.
It’s also uncertain whether Jets coach Eric Mangini will return for a fourth season, although he thinks he will.
“We have never discussed it throughout the course of the season,” he said, “but that’s my anticipation.”