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Miami Dolphins QB Chad Pennington truly is comeback player of the year

Chad Pennington crammed the night before, and won over the Dolphins at his first practice.

Associated Press

Chad Pennington crammed the night before, and won over the Dolphins at his first practice.

The moment quarterback Chad Pennington made the Dolphins offense his own didn't come in the fourth quarter of some pivotal game, nor can it be traced to some chemistry-building players-only meeting.

Ask coach Tony Sparano and he takes you back to early August when Pennington participated in his first practice, just days after his humbling release from the Jets.

Knowing nothing about the scheme installed by Sparano's new staff, Pennington crammed the night before in an attempt to be merely functional in his practice-field debut.

"He grinded so hard the night before to get ready for that practice," Sparano said. "Well, he did a great job that day and immediately we saw some things … the fade ball on the back shoulder, some of these kind of throws that our players hadn't seen consistently at that time. Once we saw that kind of thing happen, I think the players bought into him and he took ownership."

And he hasn't let go.

Pennington, benched midway through the 2007 season, was named the Associated Press comeback player of the year for the second time on Wednesday. He beat out Tampa Bay's Antonio Bryant, Tennessee's Kerry Collins, Carolina's Jake Delhomme, and Arizona's Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin.

Even before this news, Pennington had been one of the season's most delightful stories. The next chapter will be written Sunday at Dolphin Stadium as he leads Miami back into the postseason against the Ravens. Even if the journey ends there, it's been an unforgettable ride.

It began with his unceremonious dumping after the Jets had swung a deal for Brett Favre and paraded Favre heroically around the Big Apple. Then, Pennington, 32, found himself on a team that in 2007 flirted with a winless season, going 1-15. And when the Dolphins opened with two losses, it seemed Pennington's year would go as predicted.

That is, until Pennington and the Dolphins went on a tear. He finished the season with a career-best 3,653 yards, completing 67.4 percent of his pass attempts — tops in the league. But Pennington thinks he was capable of playing this way last season when he was demoted, had he been given the chance to rebound.

"As an athlete, you've got to be realistic about it and can't get caught up in the extremes," he said. "Realistically, over the last three years, I've felt like I've played my best football, regardless of the win-loss record, I feel like I've really come back from a serious (shoulder) injury twice and the last three years I feel like I've gotten better as a professional quarterback, regardless of what's happened in the win-loss column.

"It's always perception versus reality. … When you do experience some success, that kind of solidifies exactly what you believe in."

The success of the Dolphins is being attributed in large part to Pennington's resurgence. Perhaps this isn't just his offense, but his team.

Consider linebacker Joey Porter's assessment: "He was our savior. He changed this whole team. He's not the one that's going to brag about it. He's just an ol' humble country boy. So I'm going to brag for him."

It's a steep climb from 1-15 to 11-5. And it's a long way from being booed out of the Meadowlands to quieting that same rabid crowd with Sunday's victory over the Jets that sent Miami to the postseason and the Jets packing.

But Pennington is back, and after having been to the bottom — twice, actually — these moments are priceless.

"This stuff does not happen all of the time and when you have an opportunity, you really have to seize that opportunity," he said. "This is not an everyday occurrence.

"The opportunity is now."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Miami Dolphins QB Chad Pennington truly is comeback player of the year 12/31/08 [Last modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 11:34pm]
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