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Thursday, January 16, 2003
Updated: January 17, 12:29 PM ET
Hyper sensitive

By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist

Not that I like to brag or say I told you so, but had you listened to me a week ago, you wouldn't have been surprised by Chad Pennington's dismal performance in the New York Jets' 30-10 loss to the Raiders.

No one has a nose for overhyped players as much as a man who spent the past 20 years telling anyone who would listen that one day Jeff George will be the NFL's greatest quarterback.

Chad Pennington
Pennington's hype train derailed big time in Oakland.
The NFL playoffs have a way of revealing the true limits of a man's ability to play football. If there's anything fraudulent about your game, an NFL playoff contest will expose that flaw.

Pennington, a solid young quarterback, had never had his (happy) feet put to the fire. Yes, he looked like the second coming of Joe Montana as he rallied the Jets from their regular-season hole. Pennington was the league's most efficient passer. But so what? He hadn't thrown or completed a truly important pass while under duress.

That's why when I talked with Jets GM Terry Bradway before the Raiders game I cautioned him that too much was being made of Pennington. Compare Pennington to Tom Brady, not Montana. Bradway was adamant that I was being too conservative. His passion made me second-guess my evaluation of Pennington.

The Raiders proved me right. All it took was a little pass-rush pressure for Pennington to start lobbing balls to imaginary receivers standing out of bounds, for Pennington to start forcing balls into major coverage. Pennington will bounce back, but so far he's the best example of the playoffs exposing an over-hyped player.

Who might get exposed this weekend during the AFC and NFC Championships? Here are five men to consider:

1. Keyshawn Johnson
Look, things are personal with Keyshawn and me. I haven't liked the dude since he bad-mouthed Wayne Chrebet. And things got significantly worse between us when Key tried to blame my man Warren Sapp for last year's playoff loss to the Eagles. Coward. Johnson catches one touchdown pass last season, undermines Tony Dungy by constantly campaigning for Bill Parcells to lead the Bucs and then wants to call out the baddest man on the planet for not single-handedly shutting down McNabb and the Eagles.

Keyshawn Johnson
Didn't Keyshawn want the damn ball?
To make matters worse, Keyshawn pretended like he wanted to fight me as his teammates dragged him out of the locker room as he melted down under my line of questioning. Punk.

Why is this guy considered a superstar? He gets the dumbest look on his face every time he drops the ball on a Key play. No allegedly big-time receiver has dropped more important passes over the middle than Keyshawn Johnson. Have you ever seen what happens to a first-time offender his first month on the block at Oz? Watch what Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Brian Dawkins and my Ball State homie Blaine Bishop do to Keyshawn on Sunday. I can already hear the catcalls and whistles as Key walks to his cell. And this guy thinks Bill Parcells is just dying to work with him again. What has Keyshawn ever won?

2. Brad Johnson
You're not buying this 24-TD, 7-INT charade Johnson is putting on, are you? Johnson is not that good, especially when his team doesn't have a consistent running game or much speed at the receiver position. Johnson is living the ultimate NFL fantasy. He's convinced you that he's a legitimate starting NFL QB. He hasn't convinced me.

Brad Johnson
The Bucs have been unable to rekindle last season's magic.
The Eagles have the best secondary in the business. I can just see Bobby Taylor running underneath one of Jobnson's misguided missles or wounded ducks. Johnson can't throw it or run it. I'm not saying Johnson's arm is weak. But he's had trouble throwing salt over his shoulder for good luck. I'm not saying Johnson is slow afoot. But I'll take Andy Reid in the 40-yard dash against Johnson.

BJ is a system quarterback. Philly's defensive quickness helps the Eagles break down a system. Johnson will have to free-lance a few plays, get off Gruden's nipple. Even at age 34, Johnson isn't ready to give up the nurturing nipple.

3. Jon Runyan
I spent all week trying to figure out who his agent is. The guy who talked the Eagles into giving Runyan a $9.5 million signing bonus and a $30.5 million contract is the guy I need sweet-talking Halle Berry into joining me at Hef's Super Bowl party.

Jon Runyan
McNabb's ankle better be ready to move with Runyan on the line.
Runyan ain't worth 30 and 9. He's a good right tackle and even made the Pro Bowl last season. But when you pay a guy that kind of coin, you ain't expecting Mike Strahan to post 30 (sacks) 'n 9 (games) against him. Now that's a bit of an exaggeration. But there's no denying that Strahan owns Runyan.

Tampa has a kid defensive end, Ellis Wyms, a second-year guy from Mississippi State, who could break out a severe case of whipass against Runyan. Wyms is playing inside and outside on the Bucs' somewhat depleted defensive line. Wyms subs in for starters Greg Spires and Warren Sapp. Spires, the starter at defensive end opposite Runyan, had the hot hand last week against the 49ers. He recorded a sack and several pressures against Jeff Garcia. But I like Wyms. He's 6-foot-3, 280 pounds and, when he gets up field on a speed rush, he reminds me of a poor man's Bruce Smith.

4. Jevon Kearse
I've always had my doubts about The Freak. He's simply too long and too light in the butt to be the pass-rushing freak the national media hyped him into being after his splendid rookie season. This season he's been hobbled by a broken foot (two sacks). Since his return late in the regular season, he's seen limited action. Even though he hasn't practiced all week, the Titans are talking about sticking him out on the field for 20 to 25 plays.

Jevon Kearse
The sneak peek at The Freak will be weak.
Big mistake. The Raiders have the biggest, nastiest line in football. Oakland left tackle Barry Simms will have little trouble handling a hobbled Kearse. And Lord, please don't make the mistake of flipping Kearse to the other side for a play or two. Lincoln Kennedy will swallow Kearse whole. Seriously, I saw Kennedy inhale two Chiefs' defensive ends earlier this season, and he didn't have to belch or loosen his belt to make room for Duane Clemons. Last summer my man Ray Ratto took his entire family camping inside Kennedy's belly button. Stayed two weeks, and the only time Kennedy complained was when a smoky camp fire got out of hand and set off a fire alarm inside his home.

Oakland right guard Frank Middleton is a shorter, fatter, meaner version of Kennedy. Middleton allegedly hides a playbook, water bottle and portable CD player under his right breast. The Freak is in big trouble.

5. Bill Romanowski
Bill Romanowski
Here's a guy that makes Ryan Leaf look popular.
This is just pure and simple wishful thinking on my part. Romo has absolutely tortured my Kansas City Chiefs. He's cheap and dirty and ruthless. When he was in Denver, he climbed inside the cranium of Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez and started rearranging furniture. Gonzalez hated seeing Romanowski.

Last offseason, before signing with the Raiders, Romo momentarily fooled the Chiefs into believing that he wanted to reunite with defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. Ha! Romo joined the hated Raiders, and is now a big reason the Raiders are on the brink of another Super Bowl appearance. Here's hoping Tennessee Titan Frank Wycheck runs Romo's old ass silly.

Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at ballstate0@aol.com.