Houston (3-7) at NY Jets (5-5)
November 23, 2006 8:22pm CST
Heading into this season, New York Jets fans were just hoping Chad Pennington could stay on the field. Now many of them don't want him to. Even though his coach says Pennington is entrenched as the starter, the veteran quarterback could use a strong performance on Sunday against the Houston Texans to convince the Jets' faithful he deserves to be. After injuries caused him to miss 21 games over the past three seasons, Pennington has stayed healthy all season but he's been mostly mediocre since opening the season with back-to-back 300-yard games. The inconsistency and costly mistakes of the former first-round pick have caused many New York fans to call for coach Eric Mangini to try Patrick Ramsey or rookie Kellen Clemens at quarterback. Pennington has all but one of the Jets' pass attempts this season. "Chad is the quarterback right now," Mangini said without hesitation Monday, one day after New York (5-5) lost 10-0 to Chicago. Pennington had two interceptions, including one in the end zone, while completing 19 of 35 passes for 162 yards. The Jets have been held to an average of 13.5 points over the past six games, and Pennington hasn't thrown for 200 yards in any of them. He's completed less than 58 percent of his passes during that stretch with four touchdowns and nine interceptions. "I understand, you know, people's frustrations or I understand the questions that are coming my way. I understand that," Pennington said. "What I'm trying to do is just do everything I can do to work towards getting back to how we were playing earlier in the season within the passing game." Pennington has a 97.8 passer rating in New York's five wins, compared to 54.9 in five losses. He has no touchdowns and seven interceptions in the last three losses, but claims he is not feeling the pressure of fans calling for Ramsey or Clemens to start. Like Mangini, the Jets players have not lost confidence in Pennington's ability to keep them in playoff contention. "No, not at all," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "We just know as a group, offensively -- the receivers and the QBs -- we've just got to continue to work at it every day and continue to go by what we see on film and continue to communicate with each other, and I think we'll be all right." New York, which also lost 41-0 to Jacksonville on Oct. 8, has been shut out twice in one season for the first time since 1977. "None of us are shaking," Jets wide receiver Laveranues Coles said. "We feel good about what we've been doing all year." Pennington hopes to get on track against a Houston defense which is allowing 375.9 yards per game, second-most in the NFL. The Texans (3-7), who allow an average of 21.6 points per game and a 93.3 quarterback rating, gave up 340 passing yards in last week's 24-21 loss to Buffalo. The Jets defense also has been inconsistent, creating 13 turnovers in the wins and only three in the losses. They were unable to force any against Chicago. New York has given up at least 125 yards rushing in nine straight games. That unit faces a Texans offense which rushed for a season-high 188 yards last Sunday against Buffalo. The Texans offense, though, relies heavily on the right arm of David Carr, who tied a league record with 22 consecutive completions last Sunday. Houston's defense, however, allowed a 15-yard touchdown pass with 9 seconds left to prevent the Texans from winning consecutive games for the first time since December 2004. "It is really frustrating," Texans wide receiver Eric Moulds said. "There were more good things that happened on the field than there were bad. The worst of them all is that we lost." Carr threw for 223 yards with one interception. He has failed to throw a touchdown pass in four consecutive games, but has only two interceptions in that span. The Texans have been fairly competitive during that stretch, winning 13-10 at Jacksonville on Nov. 12 and losing the other three games by a combined 13 points. "In this league the games are usually separated week in and week out by two or three or four plays," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "When you make them you win and when the other team makes them they win." The Jets have won their two games against the Texans, including a 29-7 victory at Giants Stadium in the last meeting on Dec. 5, 2004.