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Jets win East, deny Packers

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 30, 2002


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Like the fans tailgating outside Giants Stadium to the broadcasted sounds of a game in another city, Jets players settled into their locker room early Sunday afternoon and watched a little football.

Coach Herm Edwards reluctantly granted them the luxury.

But it wasn't until almost nine minutes into their 4:15 p.m. game against the Packers, when many of the 78,733 fans cheered the news that the Patriots had beaten the Dolphins in overtime, that New York knew precisely what was available.

"It was like a switch," Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet said. "To know that if we did win, we were going to win the East certainly put an extra charge into all of us. We wanted to take it.

"And that's what we did."

New York, which began 1-4, earned its second AFC East title with a 42-17 victory and a little help from the right foot of Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri. The Jets' victory sets up a first-round matchup between Edwards and his former boss at Tampa Bay, Colts coach Tony Dungy.

"I think we've definitely opened some eyes and people are starting to realize we do have a good team," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "We're not a fluke."

And neither is Pennington.

Handed the starting job in Week5, the blond, former Marshall quarterback with the twang still evident in his voice was the difference. He completed 17-of-24 for 196 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, two to Chrebet.

"I thought he performed very, very well," Edwards said of Pennington, 26, who finished the regular season with 3,120 yards passing and 22 touchdowns. "He kept his composure, didn't try to overdo things, he didn't try to compete with Brett Favre. He was just Chad Pennington."

The Packers, who missed a chance to grab homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, trailed 14-10 at halftime thanks to a field goal and a breathtaking drive orchestrated by Favre.

Showing off an arm still capable of throwing hard enough to leave a ball mark on the side of an opposing player's helmet, Favre completed four passes of 11 yards or more in a drive that went 76 yards in 1:35. He capped the drive by finding Terry Glenn on his knees behind Jets cornerback Donnie Abraham in the back right corner of the end zone with five seconds left in the first half.

But Favre was relieved before the fourth quarter began, his last play a third-quarter interception returned 42 yards. That set up New York's third touchdown on its third drive of the second half.

"A lot of credit goes to the Jets," Packers defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. "Everything they did worked. ... It didn't matter what play they ran, what defense we were in."

New York is abuzz about its two playoff-bound teams.

The Giants beat the Eagles in overtime on Saturday and have won four straight entering the first round. The Jets have resurrected themselves after a horrendous start, winning seven of their past nine.

"Our guys can go out and have dinner and not sit in the back room," Edwards said. "They can finally go to the front. After the first couple of games guys were ordering takeout. But now they can finally get a front seat in the restaurant."

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