Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 Dec 2008

Pennington Wins Second Comeback Award

Chad Pennington was named Comeback Player of the Year today. It was his second such award in three years; he also won it in 2006 with the Jets. He's the first player to win this award twice.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 31 Dec 2008

28 comments, Last at 03 Jan 2009, 5:24pm by Benjy Rose


by B :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 2:36pm

They should start calling this the Pennington Award. What are the odds he gets injured agaan next year and wins it in 2010?

by BucNasty :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 2:46pm

I guess going from out of the league to 83-1,248-7 just isn't good enough.

by Harris :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 2:47pm

How can a player be the Comeback Player of the Year more than once? How can he win it twice in three years? A single bad year is enough to warrant becoming the Comeback Player of the Year?

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

by HBG :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 2:53pm

Not to nitpick, but I'm pretty sure Garrison Hearst won it twice.

by justin (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 2:56pm

Didn't Garrison Hearst win this twice?

by AndyB (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 3:18pm

Congrats to Pennington. All the haters in the house can visit profootballtalk and make sarcastic comments over there.

by Goran (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 4:13pm

Unfortunately, not really sure those type of posts belong over there. Too many people here that think that they're terribly smart just because they visit FO.

by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 3:26pm

I believe injury warrents a "come back", not just a shoddy year. Congrats to Penny. The guy came to Miami what was it, less than 1 month before the season started, learned the playbook and was able to start from day 1. How impressive is that?

People in Washington still complain that Jason Campbell keeps having his coaches switched on him, while Penny was able to adapt in less than 4 weeks.

If there was ever a quarterback that was able/willing to be a head coach after he retired, I think Penny might be the solid pick. I just couldn't see Brady/Manning or some of the other ilk going through it, maybe entering the booth or politics etc., but I could see Pennington being a coach after he retires.

by Yaguar :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 4:26pm

Good post, but graded down to four stars because you did your obligatory "hating on Jason Campbell even though it's not remotely germane to the topic" thing.

by Wait, what? (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 4:38pm

The ESPN article claims the award has only existed for 11 years, with Pennington being the only person to win it twice in that time period. The latter part of this is correct, at least, as Hearst won it in 1995 and 2001 (so, only once in the past 11 years).

However, I'm not sure why ESPN makes the 11-year claim, as the award pretty clearly dates back to 1972. The only thing I can think is that it has changed its name slightly over the years, or has only been credited to the Associated Press in recent years, or something odd like that. A casual search produces no easy explanation, though.

Also, the phrase "the player named Comeback Player of the Year shows perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a severe injury, or simply poor performance," popped up a lot, which suggests that it constitutes the voting criteria for the award. So not a travesty to give it to Pennington necessarily, although it does seem symptomatic of the tendency to give awards to QB's and RB's above all other positions (Antonio Bryant would have gotten my vote, although his reasons for being out of the league may have made him unpopular among voters).

by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 5:50pm

I think the Campbell reference is linked to my point. After 2.5 years of starting as the Redskins quarterback, people are still complaining that he hasn't had a "fair chance" to learn everything as he has had to play for numerous offensive and defensive coaches. That is one extreme.

The other extreme is Pennington ( and to another extent Favre) coming to their new teams 3-4 weeks before the season starts, and learning the entire language of their offense, getting used to their plays, the timing of their receivers, the blocking protections, moving to a new city, the intangible skills needed to succeed etc. I mean, it was like they were cramming for final exams at the last minute. The odds of Pennington/Favre coming to a new team a month or less from the start of game 1 and having the level of success they both had was unlikely in my book.

One guy went to a 1-15 team and played that well, the other guy went to a 4-12 team and played that well on very short notice. Then we have Jason Leftwhich apoligsts complaining to the media that he hasn't been given a "fair opportunity" with all that coaching turnover. Pffft.

by AndyB (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 6:24pm

Just to play devil's advocate, Pennington's OC in Miami is Dan Henning. Henning was Pennington's OC for the jets.

by are-tee :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 6:36pm

I think Henning was the Jets' OC thru 2000, Pennington's rookie year. He sat on the bench until 2002.

The Phins would be wise to dump Pennington now (after the playoffs). He has never had two consecutive good seasons. He has played well every even year and was either hurt or ineffective in the odd years.

by TF (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 8:48pm

I'm pretty sure the plan is to push him aside for Henne after a year plus of tutelage as soon as the next injury comes. Good to have a sideline coach and/or excuse for poor play from Henne sitting around.

by Temo :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 6:42pm

Maybe it's because I'm such a big fan of Chad Pennington, but really I don't see much difference in his play last year and this year. He's been good both years, but was not given a fair shot last year and benched prematurely. The problem with the Jets last year was not Chad Pennington, but their defense.

by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 7:05pm

Amen, I think Pennington is one of the most underrated QBs in the league. Miami got a steal, and got lucky that he didn't get hurt this year. As much as I love him, I can understand the sentiment of wanting to unload him since he has such a propensity for missing nearly entire seasons between healthy years.

by Jim Glass (not verified) :: Wed, 12/31/2008 - 7:43pm

Pennington really came back in 2006.

Last year he didn't go any where, he was just buried by his coach and a front office that left him without a left side of an OL -- so he was slammed by a pass rusher every other play, and had no running game, playing with the world's worst defense during the half of the season he was the starter. (The people here at FOers were saying then it was the worst defense they had on records since their stats started.)

The QB always gets too much credit or blame for the team's play, and Pennington was the fall guy for all that.

But I saw every game he played in 2006 and 2007, and he was just as good in 2007.

In fact, in 2007 his NFL passing was higher than 2006, and so were most of his splits by down and distance. So his only "comeback" this year is from a bad team and bad coaching to better ones.

If you look at Pennington's splits since his shoulder surgery in 2005, one thing really stands out -- in 2006 and 2007 he was one of the highest rated passers in the league for his first 30 attempts, but then his passing performance fell off a cliff for attempts 30+. It sure looks to me like his post-surgical arm has an endurance problem -- and last year the terrible Jets D left him playing chuck-the-ball catch-up in the last minutes far too often, with bad results.

Parcells/Henning obviously saw this, and knew Chad's skills as a game manager/play-action guy coming off a running game, and I am sure they put in the Wildcat & all at least in part to get more from Chad by protecting his arm from having to be a chucker and making the most of his strengths, by getting that running game going whatever it took.

Result: During the last 5 games as the Fins overtook the Jets, Pennington had a 107 passing rating, averaging 27 attempts per game. That's how good coaches get the most out of the talent they've got, and the difference coaching can make. (Favre's passing rating over those games was 55, with a 2-to-9 td-pick ratio.) In New York, Herm and Mangini were both "system first" coaches who put Chad in "throw first" offenses, which was bad enough before he hurt his arm, terrible after.

There's been a long-time argument about whether the league MVP award should go to the "best player" or the player who is actually the "most valuable" to his team. Usually in fact it goes to the best player on one of the best teams.

Pennington is far from the best player in the league, but if the award really is supposed to be for the "most valuable" player, who was more valuable to his team than Pennington this year? I'd vote for him for MVP on those grounds, but not for "comeback" because he's only coming back from being stuck on a bad team.

And if there was an award for "Most Under-Rated Player", Pennington would win it hands down or there is no justice. He's been among the best 25% of the league's QBs since the day he arrived -- his best statistical year is way better than all but two of Peyton Manning's -- but all people ever say about him is: "Yeah, OK, he's the NFL's #1 all-time most accurate QB -- but he's got a weak arm!"

Jets fans derided him as "Popgun ... Noodle Arm" and went on-and-on about "If only we had a strong-armed QB to back the defenses up, a Ramsey, Leftwich, Couch, Leaf Bledsoe, Jeff George, with Popgun's brain, then we could win ... Joy!! Favre is here !!!".

So Favre is voted to the Pro Bowl. Pennington stays home. (Well, except for the playoffs).

by emcee fleshy .S... :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 12:21pm

I know we have the little 'star' system to rate comments. But I think that deserves a separate note:

Look, everybody: an argument so clearly and cogently written that one can respect it even if one disagrees; an argument that musters facts without devolving into a 'wall of text'. I'm impressed.

Thanks, Jim Glass!

In 2009 all message board comments will look like this. Even at FoxSports.com!


by Craig Yetsko aka Craig Wolf (Penn State Class of '98) (not verified) :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 1:27pm

The Associated Press only started win this award in 1998 when Doug Flutie won it. The PFW/PFWA has been handing out a comeback player award since 1972, methinks.
Hearst won the award from each selecting organization in 2001.
Hearst did not win the PFW/PFWA award in 1995.

In other words, Hearst did not win a comeback player award in 1995 that had any significance or prestige.

Where did you fellows get your info as to Hearst winning the award in 1995?
My guess is it was just some local newspaper. Or maybe The Sporting News?

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 2:28pm

I've long thought Pennington was on the verge of becoming a great QB, but it's been difficult to make that assertion what with all the injuries. I've never quite understood the knock on his deep ball. There are a lot of guys who can throw deep who still can't get the ball to a receiver on a medium out, and Pennington's sharp delivery, intelligence, and the zip he puts on short passes have always seemed to me far more important. I think the lack of a deep ball was - for a long time - exaggerated by being constantly injured or in recovery for an extended period of time.

To what was said above, the Dolphins would be monumentally stupid to get rid of Pennington. He's a deal, and at 32 he still has some football left in him.

To having off-years in odd-numbered years, 2007 had more to do with a bad team wanting to test out young quarterbacks - Pennington and his stats were actually fairly good, which leaves you 2003 and 2005. Congratulations on your sample size of 2.

by Benjy Rose :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 5:24pm

I've never quite understood the knock on his deep ball. There are a lot of guys who can throw deep who still can't get the ball to a receiver on a medium out, and Pennington's sharp delivery, intelligence, and the zip he puts on short passes have always seemed to me far more important.

The knock on Pennington's deep ball hasn't necessarily been the deep ball itself; rather, it's the medium (and deep and short) out patterns you mention, as well as the (utter lack of) zip he had put on short passes. Prior to this year, aside from 2002, he hadn't been able to put any sort of speed on the ball without looking like a center fielder trying to throw a runner out at home plate. Yes, he mastered the lob-to-a-spot-and-let-Coles-run-under-it pass, but the offense was severely hamstrung with Tim Wakefield out there at QB. This year, apparently as a result of more time after the surgeries and a change in his mechanics, his passes had zip. He could throw the 15-yard out and the 12-yard over-the-middle crossing pattern pass between the safeties. Pennington 2008 is the guy we Jets fans had been waiting for since after 2002.

by morganja :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 3:36pm

Obviously the award belongs to Delhomme. The first quarterback ever to come back from Tommy John surgery leading his team to the division title in the toughest division in football is what a comeback award is suppose to be for.

Giving it to Pennington is simply a declaration that the award is meaningless. What exactly did he come back from? Any argument that one can make for Pennington can be made much better for any other player who switched teams. As has been pointed out, he played pretty much the exact same this year as last year, especially when you take into account he played against the 30th hardest schedule.

I mean, if Pennington, why not Cassell? He was a career backup, with new meaning to the phrase 'career backup' and put up much better numbers against a slightly tougher schedule, 29nth.

I've already wasted more time than this award is worth. The voters obviously think it is a big joke otherwise they would have taken it a little more seriously and not embarrassed themselves.

Delhomme was the comeback player of the year, though arguments could me made for some others. But definitely it wasn't Pennington.

by 3.141592653 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 12:14am

84.7 rating for Delhomme, and a 97.4 for Pennington. Better TD to INT ratio for Pennington as well. You can make a case for Delhomme, but I am guessing the people who voted for the award looked at the QB rating, TD's, and Miami's W/L record from last year and this year, and voted for Pennington.

It is sort of odd to me with all these individual awards for a team sport. Something to argue on the blogs, the newspapers, the talking heads, and the radio call in shows.

by Anonymous 456365 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 3:59pm

Here's a source that says Hearst did win the award twice (tied with Jim Harbaugh in 1995) and that it was the AP award both times. I guess it might be wrong, though sports-reference is usually pretty conscientious.


by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 10:49pm

I thik site is wrong. AP only start giving comeback award in 1998 season like poster Carig yetsko ak Craig Wolf wrote. 1997 to 1972 things listed there was pfwa/pfw award. looks like profootballrefernce just combine the two things and say they are all from AP, but that wrong.

I have list of pfw/pfwa winners and is same as what profobtrefencer list there except for 1995. My list only have Harbaugh in 95 no Hearst. also see how pfw/pfwa not give award in 1985, but give to 2 guys in 1986. If was really AP list wouldn't you think it strange coincendeince that ap copy pfwa/pfw and not give award out in 85 but give to 2 guys in 86 season?

Maybe I write note to pfrofotballrefernce and they fix list.

by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 5:27pm

I agree with Morganja

The award is to come back from injury, not to come out of nowhere or come back from poor or ineffective play to become much better.

I mean, what if you gave it to Matt Ryan for going for being nobody to somebody in the NFL or Cassell as he pointed out.

by jebmak :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 7:10pm

I feel as though it was a make up award for him not getting voted in to the moronic pro-bowl when he should have. They can't give him any of the other awards, so he got this one.

by are-tee :: Thu, 01/01/2009 - 8:07pm

Yeah, the Jets' o-line was awful in 2007, but Chad made a lot of bad decisions and bad throws. They didn't bench him until the team was 1-7 and the season was effectively over. Clemens ended up winning three out of the seven games he started and completed.

The truth of the matter is that Pennington might not have won the starting job this year even if Favre hadn't come to the Jets. He was having a slightly better camp than Clemens, but not by much.