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Success a snap for Brady, Pennington

FOXBOROUGH -- Jets-Patriots has always been a rivalry. It probably always will be. And within that rivalry there's the interesting subplot of Tom Brady and Chad Pennington, the two young gunslingers who seem to be cut from the same mold.

 

The similarities are obvious. Both have been called efficient, smart, and winners. Both were drafted in 2000. Pennington went in the first round (18th overall) and Brady was a sixth-round pick (199th).

Tomorrow night, the Patriots, playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the Jets, playing for pride, will go at it in a repeat of last December's pivotal matchup at Gillette where Pennington led the Jets to a playoff berth with a 30-17 win.

"I think there's a little rivalry," Brady said yesterday. "From my end, anyway. It's not only Patriots-Jets, but it's the same draft year. I think you're always trying to prove to people that you're at the top. He's a great quarterback. He led the league in efficiency last year and he's throwing the ball awesome again this year, too."

Brady was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVI, where he led New England to a 20-17 win over the Rams. He's taken the Patriots where Jets fans only dream Pennington will take them someday. They thought Pennington would lead them far into the postseason last year, especially after a 41-0 win over Indianapolis in the first round. The bubble burst the next week when New York was eliminated by the Raiders.

In 19 starts, Pennington is 12-7 with a quarterback rating of 104.2. He has a 66.2 completion rate with 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The Jets have averaged 19.2 points per game in Pennington's seven starts this year.

In that win over New England last season, he completed 23 of 33 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Oakland playoff game, however, was the worst of his career, as he went 21 for 47 for 183 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. It was the first time in his pro career he was under 50 percent.

He missed the first seven weeks of this season with a fractured left wrist suffered in an Aug. 23d exhibition game against the Giants. In effect, the injury killed the Jets' season.

While there's a fraternity among quarterbacks, Brady and Pennington are friendly but don't know each other really well.

"We've bumped into each other at a few events and obviously when we play against each other," Brady said. "I've called him a couple of times. He's called me."

If they're not too chummy it's because they realize they will be intense rivals for the next several years. There's an edge that has to come between them.

"Neither one of us are Michael Vick," said Brady with a laugh. "I think we're similar in that we're both efficient, we both try to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball and take advantage when you have guys open. I like watching him on film. I think he's very good with play action. He's got good footwork and technique. And it seems the Jets get a spark when he's in there. They're a different team when he's in there."

Pennington marvels at what Brady has done. He knows he's made it when he can have what Brady has.

"He's won a championship," said Pennington. "That's the bottom line. He's a great quarterback. He gets the job done when it counts most. What better compliment can you give a quarterback than that? He's a proven winner and when we face him, we have our hands full. I think every team has their hands full."

One guy who has caught passes from both is Patriots tight end Fred Baxter.

"Competitively, they're the same," Baxter said. "But they have different styles."

Baxter said of Pennington, "I'm not saying he's uptight, but he's more reserved than Tom. Tom is more fiery. Pennington has the fire and he's competitive, but he just does it in a different way. He's an excellent quarterback and I'm not saying fire is something he's lacking, because like I said, he has it in a different way. Chad has all the skills a quarterback needs to have to lead a team, but their demeanor is different."

As much as his teammates believe in Brady, the Jets feed off Pennington.

"That team really believes in him," said Baxter. "When I was there, this kid worked all the time and tried to learn everything he could. When he got the opportunity, he was ready to go in there and make plays."

And that part is not unlike Brady, who still spends 13 hours a day at the Patriots facility preparing for the next opponent. If he has an equal around the league in work ethic, it's Pennington.

Pennington understands the best the Jets (6-8) can hope for is .500. And the Patriots have bigger goals.

"We have had a few games where we felt like we let those slip out of our grasp and if we would not have, we would be in the same situation we were in last year where we did have a chance," said Pennington. "That is not what we are dealt with and that is why we are disappointed and we are aggravated, but at the same time, we have to finish strong."

The rallying cry around the Jets camp is what Pennington truly believes. "If we cannot go, we might as well take somebody down with us," he said. "That is our thought process."

Words that are to be taken seriously. The Patriots don't want to slip in New Jersey. But in this heated rivalry, the Patriots owe Pennington a bit of redemption for last season's critical loss.

And that has not been missed on Brady.

"They whooped us pretty good last year," Brady said. "Our earlier game was real tough, real physical. We just have to go in the final two weeks here and realize we're playing for something every week. We made the playoffs and we won the division, but we want that home field. That's very important to our team. We can go down there and show ourselves we can beat a tough team in a hostile environment because there's no tougher place to play than the Meadowlands."

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