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  Pennington is Midseason MVP
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Chad Pennington is a professional NFL quarterback, which is different from saying he’s an NFL quarterback. Professionals know how to prepare for, play, and manage the game properly. They approach their work with maturity, poise, and intelligence, and respect the limits of their physical abilities. They make minimal mistakes. They know how to lead. They know how to win.


The good ones are the most valuable of players. In Pennington, the Dolphins finally have a good one again. He’s the single biggest reason why they have returned to relevance and are now in the thick of a real playoff race.


I don’t mean to suggest he’s doing this alone. It is, after all, an improved offensive line, two premier runners, a couple of dependable tight ends, and the specter of The Wildcat that compel opposing defenses to play run first.


But it’s Pennington’s accuracy that is driving defenders nuts to the tune of almost 250 yards a game. That’s not chopped liver, Dolfans. Aside from ball movement and scoring, Pennington is helping the defense with good field position and overall good game management.


I maintain that the Dolphins would stand no better than 2-6 right now without him. He’s been a difference-maker. He’s the midseason MVP.


The evidence starts with Pennington’s passer rating of 95.2 - the best since Dan Marino’s 108.9 in 1984. He’s on track for a 4,000 yard season – his best ever, and the best by a Dolphin since Mr. Marino in 1994. His completion percentage – 67.4 – flirts with his personal best of 68.9 (2002) and would easily beat the team season record currently held by Marino (1984, 64.2). He’s tossed only four picks, not all his fault, which is third lowest this season.


That, folks, is some pretty good playing.


Of course there are the skeptics who point out that the numbers are misleading because he isn’t firing deep rockets at his receivers, or that the plays are churning huge amounts of YAC (yards after catch). They continue to bemoan his lack of arm strength and some still call for rookie Chad Henne to play instead.


Henne Who, it all sounds feeble today, in the swell of an important 26-17 win over the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field. It’s huge because the Dolphins were on the road, the opponent was coming off of a bye (rest and preparation advantage) and was desperate to end a two game losing streak.


What figured to be an offensive war ended up as a defensive to and fro. The difference, folks, was Pennington.


While Broncos QB Jay Cutler was losing his cool and giving out early Christmas presents, Pennington was playing it cool and giving Bronco defenders fits. Yeah, he tossed one pick but that seems to have been due to a route error by WR Ted Ginn, Jr. Even then, he stayed patient and, when the game was on the line with 11 minutes and change to play, he led that clutch 80 yard, 8 minute monster drive that ended with Ronnie Brown’s 3 yard blast off right tackle for the deciding points. Game over.


In this business, that’s what we call “making a statement”. To be sure, Pennington’s Dolphins (and this is unquestionably HIS team now) have made a few statements this season, though none bigger than that clincher against the Broncos.


Without Pennington’s fine play, we aren’t opening a legitimate discussion about the playoffs, a topic dormant for far too long. Yet the very topic is the biggest surprise of all, because the most optimistic of optimists (including yours truly) saw a way to a .500 record as the best possible outcome.


As expected, the Dolphins are on the upswing of their learning curve now. They’re healthy, too, with the remaining schedule looking very inviting (24-40 combined record). Five of the eight remaining teams have two or fewer wins. The other three, the divisional rivals, will be the tough outs. Still, the Dolphins will get the Pats in Miami and the Bills in the toasty confines of the Rogers Centre in Toronto. And only the Jets have a win against the Dolphins (2-1 in the division), though they will be wary of facing Pennington in a re-match that could decide their entire season.


This is a team, like its leader, that makes very few mistakes. They simply do not beat themselves. As Don Shula would attest, that and a good quarterback will take any team a long way.

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