Mangini’s Last Stand Ends in a Loss

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — Help didn’t come for the Jets in the form of either a New England loss or a Baltimore defeat. In the end, it didn’t matter.

After losing four West

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Coast games to non-playoff contenders, some would argue the Jets didn’t deserve a break. Yet even a late, if undeserved, holiday gift wouldn’t have made a difference since the Jets failed to take care of the only thing in the team’s control in a season-ending 24-17 loss to Miami.

Chad Pennington, who the Jets cut in training camp after acquiring Brett Favre, threw for 200 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions in helping the Dolphins clinch the AFC East title at the Meadowlands. Favre couldn’t match his counterpart, continuing his end-of-season struggles with the Jets losing four of its final five contests.

The three-time MVP was intercepted three times, including one returned for a touchdown and a costly pick to Andre Goodman with five minutes left and the Jets trailing by seven. Pennington basically ended his former team’s season, converting a quarterback sneak on fourth down on the ensuing drive to prevent a comeback.

“The hardest part is the finality of it, especially when you expect to go on,” Favre said. “It was a tough pill to swallow, but I had a blast working with these guys. It was a lot of fun. It’s disappointing where we are now, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Pennington spent eight seasons with the Jets before getting cut in training camp. Sunday afternoon, the former Comeback Player of the Year out-dueled Favre and extracted revenge in front or the organization that allowed him to join a division rival right before the season started.

Miami took the lead for good midway through the third quarter when Pennington showed plenty of arm strength— a source of criticism from some fans and media members during his time in New York—in finding Anthony Fasano in single coverage in the back-right corner of the end zone. The 20-yard scoring strike put the Dolphins up, 21-17, and sent Pennington to the playoffs for the first time since he led the Jets to a wild card berth in 2006, marking Mangini’s first year on the job.

“It’s not a revenge factor, it’s really not,” Pennington said. “It was strictly about winning the championship and knowing we controlled our own destiny to be AFC East champions.

“It just so happened that it had to come through New York. That’s how it is with sports and athletics, and that is the only way fate would have it. It truly wasn’t about revenge. I have great relationships and friends in New York. The Jets organization was great to me for eight years.”

Mangini said he expects to back for a fourth season, though he also said he has not discussed his future with owner Woody Johnson yet. He has one year remaining on his current contract.

“Yeah, I do,” Mangini said when asked if he expects to return. “Like I said, we don’t discuss that. We have never discussed it throughout the course of the season, but

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that’s my anticipation.”

Favre extended his NFL record when he notched his 463rd career touchdown pass but once again had his season cut short when he tried forcing a ball into a tight spot. Last season, it was a pick against the Giants in the NFC Championship game. This time, Favre’s last meaningful pass came off a no-huddle screen pass intended for Chansi Stuckey that instead went into Goodman’s arms at the Miami 28-yard line.

Should Favre retire, his last pass officially went for an incompletion to Jerricho Cotchery with the ball at the Jets 1-yard line. But that just might be a footnote to the Jets blowing an 8-3 start to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs for a second straight season.

As he exited the Giants Stadium tunnel, there is a chance the remaining fans of the announced crowd of 79,454 saw Favre’s last game. The future Hall of Famer did not say if he will return for a second season with the Jets and said he will get a MRI on his throwing shoulder Monday before making any decision on his future.

“It would be easy to sit here and make excuses. I’m sure that during the course of the year that there were some throws that I know I could make, but I didn’t,” Favre said. “Other times, I made some good throws. I hope that it was not a factor in my throws this year. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

Baltimore already beat Jacksonville before the Jets game finished, eliminating Gang Green from postseason contention. But the Jets still had a chance to knock out Miami and send Pennington home.

Instead, Pennington extracted revenge and kept New England out of the playoffs as well. The Jets nearly sent the Patriots into the party, since a win would have handed Bill Belichick and the defending AFC champions the division crown. Favre hit Leon Washington on a shovel pass on third-and-eight and then found Laveranues Coles on a crossing route that allowed the veteran wideout to speed into the end zone, putting the Jets went up 6-0 with 6:47 left in the first.

A bad snap prevented a successful extra point attempt, allowing the Dolphins to take the lead just before the two-minute warning when Pennington found Ted Ginn on a go-route in the left corner of the end zone. Dwight Lowery got in front of Ginn on the coverage but failed to jump in time to deflect Pennington’s on-target toss.

Just 18 seconds later, Favre faked a handoff and tried to find Washington in the flat. Instead, he threw the pass right to defensive end Phillip Merling, who took it in 25 yards for the Miami touchdown. Around the same time, Baltimore’s Ed Reed intercepted Jacksonville’s David Garrard’s pass, preserving the Ravens 10-point lead that ultimately sealed the Jets fate.

Jay Feely drilled a 28-yard field goal with time expiring to cut the deficit to 14-9 at halftime, giving the Jets some life. The team parlayed the late score into another successful offensive series on its first drive in the second half, capped by Washington’s 10-yard touchdown run that put the home team up, 17-14, marking the last time the Meadowlands crowd had a reason to cheer.

“It’s tough and it hurts a lot when you work so hard,” Washington said. “In December, we had the chance to control our own destiny and that’s where you want to be. We didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had.”

The Jets lost road games to teams with losing records, dropping contests in San Francisco, Seattle and Oakland. Two of those teams made in-season coaching changes and all three were playing for nothing more than pride against the Jets. Some players pointed to the missed opportunities as the reason why the Dolphins were wearing the hats that read “AFC East Champions.”

“We took teams, not lightly, but we went into games and didn’t execute,” Washington said. “It’s hard and we are not making excuses for ourselves. We didn’t come out and play the game we needed to play. We prepared well in practice. We practice really hard but when we get into the game, we can’t translate it. That the most disappointing thing.”

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