Chad Pennington has mastered NFL quarterbacking. And personal comebacks.
For the second time in three years, Pennington is The Associated Press 2008 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. The Miami Dolphins star is the first player in the 11 seasons of the award to win it twice.
"This time last year, I'm getting ready to watch the ball drop in Times Square. No playoffs, no starting job, no anything," Pennington said Wednesday, reflecting on the end of his 2007 season with the New York Jets.
"Now here we are playing in a wild-card playoff game with a team that was 1-15 the year before," he added. "We were able to move the dash over one and be 11-5, so it's pretty special."
As special as the way Pennington turned around his fortunes.
This time, Pennington was coming back from being benched in New York last season, then discarded this summer when the Jets acquired Brett Favre. Two years ago, Pennington returned from two rotator cuff operations in eight months in 2005 and led the Jets to the playoffs to grab comeback honors.
What's his secret?
"Get hurt the following year and then come back," he said, laughing.
"It's a reflection upon this organization and upon my teammates. This could have easily been an awkward situation with the new guy coming in the day of the first preseason game. It could have been a situation where there could have been sides chosen. These guys in this locker room wanted no part of that. They just wanted whoever to come in and help win.
"It has been a blessing. I've been blessed to have good teammates and good coaches and I'm real thankful."
The Dolphins needed to lean on Pennington as a leader as much as a passer. They rallied around his work ethic, his preparation and his cool demeanor in the toughest circumstances, and it resulted in an AFC East championship, Miami's first since 2000.
"One of the things Chad has been tremendous with is he has been able to take the message you send every day to the team," said Coach Tony Sparano, a prime contender for AP Coach of the Year. "From my standpoint, it's almost like you have another coach in the locker room all the time. To have a guy like him be a little bit of the torch carrier with your message to the team is very important.
"It was very special for the entire organization for Chad to be able to get that award."
Pennington received 19 of 50 votes from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. That was 13 more than quarterbacks Kerry Collins of Tennessee and Jake Delhomme of Carolina. Another quarterback, Arizona's Kurt Warner, received four votes, as did his teammate, wide receiver Anquan Boldin. So did Bucs wideout Antonio Bryant.
Pats' Mayo Wins Rookie Honors
Jerod Mayo firmly answered everyone who criticized the Patriots for taking him with the 10th pick in April's draft by winning The Associated Press 2008 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Mayo was a nearly unanimous choice, earning 49 of 50 votes from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. He was the outstanding performer on a linebacking corps that often struggled during New England's 11-5 season, leading the team in tackles.
"I knew when they first called my name at the draft I was going to an organization that knew how to win," Mayo said. "They knew how to prepare for games. ... So I pretty much came in trying to learn as much as I could."
Mayo led the Patriots with 139 tackles, according to their coaches' calculations after reviewing game tapes. The NFL credited Mayo with 128 based on statistics compiled on the day of the games.
COWBOYS: Fired special teams coach Bruce Read, making him the first assistant ousted in the wake of a disappointing 9-7 season.
49ERS: Mike Singletary has made two more adjustments to his new coaching staff, firing quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner and running backs coach Tony Nathan.
JETS: Received permission to speak with Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan for their vacant coaching job.
Ryan is the son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan and the twin of Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
The Jets will interview a pair of in-house candidates Friday: offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and offensive line coach Bill Callahan. New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will meet with the team Saturday.
LIONS: Expressed interest in speaking to Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier for their vacant coaching job.