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News » DOLPHINS CLINCH AFC EAST CROWN


DOLPHINS CLINCH AFC EAST CROWN


DOLPHINS CLINCH AFC EAST CROWN
All week long Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington dodged using the word revenge, but his teammates knew better, just by his demeanor and the expression on his face.


Even in the raucous postgame locker room in which Pennington was handed the game ball by his teammates and coach Tony Sparano after leading the Dolphins to a 24-17 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday to clinch their first AFC East title since 2000, he kept his emotions intact.

Sparano said Pennington was burning the midnight oil on Christmas and Christmas Eve, preparing for the Jets, who discarded him in August after eight seasons as soon as Brett Favre became available.

"It's not the revenge factor, it really isn't," said Pennington, who was 22 of 30 for 200 yards with two touchdowns to finish the season with a franchise-record 67.4 completion percentage, bettering Dan Marino's 64.2 percent in 1994.

"It was much different than the first week which was extremely emotional because it was so fresh. This being the 17th week of the season it was strictly about focusing on winning a championship. ... It so happen it had to come through New York."

But several of his teammates weren't as controlled after watching their poised leader outplay Favre all season and again Sunday. Favre, 39, who may have played his final game, added to his league-leading interception total with three more (22), while Pennington added to his classy resume as the conductor who directed a 1-15 team to 11-5, tying the 1999 Colts for greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history

"Chad never would say it but that's how he feels. He was coming out yelling, 'Defense!' all game," linebacker Channing Crowder said. "He wanted to beat these guys because it was a division game for the playoffs against a team that released him to bring in someone else. Chad beat the hell out of them in front of people that booed him. In his mind, he was saying he kicked their butts."

The win wasn't easy despite the Jets knowing that the 11-5 Patriots had already beaten the Bills and the 11-5 Ravens were hammering the Jaguars 24-7 at halftime, all but eliminating New York (9-7) from playoff contention.

The Dolphins, who tied the 2008 Giants for the fewest turnovers in NFL history Sunday with 13, played a sloppy first half, with Pennington losing his first fumble of the season to set up a 13-yard touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles. A botched snap kept it at 6-0, and as usual Pennington answered a few minutes later when he pulled off one of his patented Houdini escapes from the rush, only to hit Anthony Fasano on a key third-down conversion.

Two plays later, Pennington, who for years was bashed for his lack of arm strength, lofted a 27-yard strike to Ted Ginn Jr. in the corner of the end zone.

"We knew what it meant to him," Ginn said. "Words weren't going to explain anything. We knew in his face."

Less than 15 seconds later, Favre lofted a screen pass that rookie defensive end Phillip Merling snared, and rumbled into the end zone from 25 yards out.

Defensive end Vonnie Holliday couldn't hold back tears after the game speaking of his teammates such as Merling, who he compared to his son, "taking his first step."

"All I've gone through in Green Bay and Kansas City, then Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, 1-15. It doesn't get much better, but it does," Holliday said. "The end of this story hasn't been written. Why not us?"

The Jets, who didn't see the Wildcat in their season-opening 20-14 victory over the Dolphins, got both barrels, with the best a flea-flicker that resulted in a 44-yard connection from Pennington to Ginn. Five plays later Pennington placed the ball perfectly over Fasano's shoulder for a 20-yard TD and a 21-17 lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Pennington basically iced the Dolphins first trip to the playoffs - a Sunday rematch at home with the Ravens, when he made a 4th-and-inches to help maintain possession until 17 seconds were left.

"I just wanted it," Pennington said. "I felt like I could get it."

Harvey Fialkov can be reached at hfialkov@SunSentinel.com INFORMATIONAL BOX:

More

Skolnick: Dolphins' unlikely success story had believers. >> Page 2C

Hyde: AFC East championship has Dolphins feeling great. >> Page 1A

Dolphins cornerback Andr? Goodman finally a winner. >> Page 4C

INFORMATIONAL BOX:

Ravens at Dolphins First meeting, Oct. 19

The Ravens beat the Dolphins 27-13 earlier this season at Dolphin Stadium, dropping Miami to 2-4. Willis McGahee rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown that day for Baltimore, and Chad Pennington threw a pick-six. The Dolphins never led after Terrell Suggs' interception return midway through the second quarter. "They're not fired up," rookie coach Tony Sparano said of his Dolphins. "We need to understand how to win." The Dolphins went 9-1 in the rest of their games.

- Staff reports

INFORMATIONAL BOX:

Playoff tickets

Tickets for the Dolphins' first playoff game since 2001 will go on sale today starting at 9 a.m. The Ravens-Dolphins game is Sunday at 1 p.m. Prices start at $46. Tickets can be purchased at MiamiDolphins.com, through Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-

3000 or in person at Dolphin Stadium (Gate F). Fans attending the game will receive at commemorative Dolphins rally towel.

- Staff reports

INFORMATIONAL BOX:

AFC playoff Ravens at Dolphins, Sunday at 1 p.m.

The third-seeded Dolphins (11-5) turned their season around after a loss to the Ravens in October left them at 2-4. They'll get another chance against sixth-seeded Baltimore (11-5) in the AFC wild-card round. The game will be televised by CBS. The winner will play at second-seeded Pittsburgh, which has a first-round bye. Tickets go on sale today at 9 a.m.



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 29, 2008

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