The grim news came down yesterday for Chad Pennington and the Miami Dolphins: Pennington's shoulder injury will cause him to miss the rest of the 2009 season. Normally I would rejoice at the prospect of the rival Dolphins losing their starting QB for the season, but Pennington is a player I genuinely like and I am sad to see injuries plague his career once again. He hasn't lived up to the potential he showed early on, but he has still put together a nice career for himself, posting a career winning record as a starter, winning 2 division titles and making the playoffs 4 times in 8 years, being the only player in NFL history to win the Comeback Player of the Year award twice, and posting a career completion percentage of 66.1%, good enough for #1 of all-time. Sadly, every time his career showed promise, it was set back by injuries soon thereafter.
The most bizarre thing about this injury is how remarkably predictable it was. Indeed, his career trajectory has followed the "every other year" phenomenon: he has literally switched off between being successful and being injured and thus unsuccessful. Let's examine:
2002: Pennington takes over the starting job in week 5. The Jets finish the season on an 8-3 run to win the AFC East and destroy the Colts 41-0 in the playoffs before losing to Oakland the following week.
2003: Pennington injures his shoulder in a preseason game against the Giants, misses the first 6 games of the year and the Jets go 6-10.
2004: The Jets start out 5-0, finish 10-6, and make the playoffs. They beat the Chargers in OT in the wild card round but then lose to the Steelers in OT the following week. We haven't forgotten yet, Doug Brien.
2005: Pennington's off-season surgery apparently didn't take. He re-injures his shoulder in week 3 against Jacksonville and doesn't return that year. The Jets finished 4-12.
2006: Pennington posted career highs for the season in completions, passing attempts, and passing yardage with 3,352 yards, starting all sixteen games for the first time. He was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year and the Jets went 10-6 and made the playoffs under rookie coach Eric Mangini.
2007: Pennington injures his ankle in a week 1 blowout loss to the Patriots, forcing him to miss week 2. He would return but led the Jets to a 1-7 start, throwing 7 INTs in the 7 games he started, before being benched in favor of Kellen Clemens. The Jets would finish 4-12.
2008: The Jets traded for Brett Favre weeks before the season and released Pennington. He was picked up by the Dolphins, for whom he quickly won the starting job. He finished the 2008 season with 3653 yards, 19 TD and only seven interceptions, a passer rating of 97.4, started all sixteen games and led the 'Phins to an 11-5 record and AFC East title. For the second time in his career, he was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
2009: Pennington re-injures his shoulder in a week 3 loss to the Chargers, dropping Miami to 0-3. It is announced that he will miss the rest of the season and be replaced by another Chad (Henne.) Dolphins' 2009 success: TBD.
So there you have it. Pennington's career has literally followed a good year, bad year, good year, bad year formula. In his career's four even-year seasons his teams have gone 40-24, made the playoffs all 4 years, and won 2 division titles. In his four odd-year seasons, his teams have gone 14-37 (including the Dolphins 0-3 so far from 2009) and missed the playoffs in all 4 years. I can't think of any rational reason why things worked out this way for Chad, but the story of his career is pretty easy to follow. That said, with Pennington being a free agent this off-season, let's see if there is a team out there smart enough to take a chance on him in 2010 and exploit his uncanny even-year success.