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Pennington overcomes surgeries to win comeback POY

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Chad Pennington spent two nerve-racking
weeks at home in Tennessee last fall wondering if his right
shoulder would ever be the same.

"That was the lowest point, not knowing what direction I would
go in, whether it was good or bad or whether it was with football
or without football," the New York Jets quarterback said. "I had
no idea."

Pennington overcame a second torn rotator cuff in as many years
-- and incredible odds -- to win The Associated Press NFL Comeback
Player of the Year award.

The seven-year veteran acknowledged that dark thoughts passed
through his mind in the days following the injury in Week 3 of last
season.

"Not having a goal, not having a challenge, not having a carrot
out in front of you as an athlete is a bad place to be,"
Pennington said. "It's sort of like 'The Twilight Zone.' You have
no drive, you have nothing to go for."

His outlook improved after he had surgery and the Jets' medical
team helped him focus on his rehabilitation.

"Then I had a challenge ahead of me," he said. "I had a goal,
I had something to go after and my total mind-set and attitude
changed. I was starting to get back to normal."

And he came back, maybe even better than before. The seven-year
veteran has led the Jets to a surprising 10-6 record and a
wild-card berth one season after they went 4-12 -- most of it with
him sidelined -- and changed coaches. He started all 16 games in a
season for the first time, finished second in the AFC with a 95.7
passer rating and threw for a career-high 3,352 yards, along with
17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Most importantly, he re-emerged
as a leader.

"No situation rattles him," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said.
"I've never seen him rattled. Obviously, when you have your leader
like that, you feel the same way he feels, that we can't get
rattled out there."

Pennington earned 27 votes in balloting by a nationwide panel of
50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. He finished
ahead of two other quarterbacks, Drew Brees of New Orleans (8½) and
Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (5½). Pennington, the fifth quarterback
to win the award in its nine years, is the first Jet to receive the
honor.

Last year's recipients were New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi
and Carolina receiver Steve Smith.

"It does mean a lot to me because I've put in a lot of hard
work and there's been a lot of people that have supported me
throughout the entire process and have put in a lot of hard work
with me," Pennington said. "To me, it's a group award and it
involves so many people in so many different areas in so many
different places that have taken time out of their schedules that
have helped me get back to being the player I want to be, and to
have a chance to play the game that I love to play."

Pennington came to training camp determined to win a four-man
competition at quarterback.

"When you're put in difficult situations, I think you have to
fight human nature sometimes and human nature sometimes wants to
feel sorry for itself and come up with excuses and look for ways to
get out of a situation," he said. "I just chose not to listen to
my own human nature."

Or to the naysayers, of whom there were plenty.

After all, how could an NFL quarterback who already had a
reputation for not having a strong arm possibly come back from two
operations on his shoulder in consecutive years? There was no
precedent for it.

"In Chad's mind, there was never any doubt," coach Eric
Mangini said. "He was extremely committed to doing everything he
could possibly do to put himself in a position to come back from
those injuries."

The latest occurred last season in Week 3 when Pennington was
sacked by Jacksonville's Paul Spicer, who hit the quarterback from
behind and pulled his right arm behind his back as he was about to
throw. Pennington keeps a picture of the play on his desk at home
as a framed reminder of how far he's come.

"I would say that at some times during the rehab and at some
times during the competition, I think I had to look at it as if the
slate was wiped clean," he said. "What I had done in the past
didn't matter anymore."

Once he was medically cleared to practice, Pennington was ready
to run the offense instituted by Mangini and new coordinator Brian
Schottenheimer.

"It didn't matter what time I was passing through [the training
room], if Chad was getting rehabbed, he was multitasking with his
playbook," Mangini said. "It was like a mobile study center where
he was getting worked on and working at the same time."

Pennington easily beat out Patrick Ramsey, Brooks Bollinger and
Kellen Clemens for the starting job, and proved he was back with
consecutive 300-yard games to start the season. He has also
routinely bounced back from hard hits to the shoulder.

"If this situation did anything for me, it showed me how
important staying in the present and staying in the now is, because
that's the only part of your life that you can control at that
moment," Pennington said. "You can't control the past and you
have no idea what the future holds."