December 30, 2004 Edition > Section: Sports
Warner Is First To Jump Giants' Ship
BY SEAN LAHMAN
Kurt Warner, the two-time MVP who began the season as the Giants' starting quarterback, announced yesterday that he did not plan to return to the team next year.
The 33-year-old quarterback started the first nine games of the season, throwing for 2,054 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions. He had a respectable 86.5 passer rating, which still ranks as the seventh best in the NFC.
"My whole goal was to show people I could throw the football, I could lead and I could win," Warner told the Associated Press. "I think I showed people I could do that."
Warner was a respectable 5-4 as the Giants starter, but his inability to muster enough points for wins against the Bears and Cardinals prompted the decision to let rookie Eli Manning start. Warner never grumbled about his demotion and was the consummate team player, visibly and vocally supporting Manning through his rocky start. It's that attitude as much as his playing ability that will earn him a chance to play for another team next year.
While Warner's departure doesn't come as much of a surprise, it's a harbinger of the massive housecleaning that appears imminent for Big Blue. When a team changes coaching staffs and finishes a second straight year with an eight game losing streak, it's a clear sign that there are veteran players who need to go.
Left tackle Luke Petitgout, who is due to make a whopping $3.75 million next year, may have played himself out of a job with a rash of penalties and generally poor play over the last few weeks. Same for safety Shaun Williams, due to earn $3 million in 2005 after spending the last year and a half on injured reserve. The emergence of rookie Gibril Wilson this season makes it hard to justify bringing Williams back.
Cornerbacks Will Peterson and Will Allen could be playing their final games for the Giants this weekend. Both have performed poorly this season, and Peterson has feuded with head coach Tom Coughlin, who demoted him from the starting lineup for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. He is widely suspected of being one of the players who complained anonymously to the media that the head coach is so unpopular among his players that most have stopped listening to him and some have stopped playing hard.
Those comments were undoubtedly aimed at getting Coughlin fired, a move that co-owner Wellington Mara said was misguided. "If I were a player who'd been on this team for these two seasons under two completely different coaching staffs, the first place I'd look for an explanation would be to myself," he told New York Newsday.
Last year many players complained their coach was too lax. This year, they're complaining the coach is too strict. The one constant has been a core of veteran players who have grumbled but not performed. Neither Coughlin nor Mara will let that problem go unresolved for another year.
Last week's disappointing loss to New England revealed two problems that will most likely keep the Jets from making much noise in the postseason. The first is the play-calling of offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who seems to stubbornly cling to a game plan that only works against weaker opponents. The second is the poor play of Chad Pennington, who is either more injured than he's letting on, or more limited as a quarterback than we previously believed.
Pennington missed three and a half games with a shoulder injury suffered in the week nine game at Buffalo. Before that game, the Jets were 6-1. Since Pennington returned, they are 2-2, and his numbers have dropped across the board. His completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating have all dropped. Most startling is the dramatic increase in the rate at which he throws interceptions, from two in 201 pass attempts before the Buffalo game to six in 118 attempts since he returned.
While his teammates did drop some catchable balls on Sunday, too many of Pennington's passes were off the mark. Some were underthrown, some were overthrown, and some just floated into traffic. Pennington's strength is his accuracy, particularly on the short, quick pass routes.
In two of the last three games, that accuracy has deserted him. Whether that's because his shoulder injury is limiting him or because good defenses have found a way to disrupt his rhythm, it spells trouble for the Jets.
The lack of adjustments by Hackett is also worrisome. It appears that he is stuck to one all-encompassing game plan: Start by pounding the ball up the middle on first and second down, then use screens and play-action passes when the defense starts committing to the run.
It works to perfection against teams with poor run defenses, like Seattle, Miami, and Houston. They're forced to move extra defenders into the box to contain Curtis Martin, and then the Jets take advantage by throwing into single coverage. When facing teams like the Steelers or Patriots, that approach is doomed to failure. Their front sevens can shut down the ground game, which frequently leaves the Jets in third-and-long situations.
If the Jets make the playoffs, their likely first-round opponent will be the San Diego Chargers, whose defense ranks second against the run. If Hackett insists on running the standard Jets offense rather than adjusting to the strengths and weakness of the opponent, the results of that game will be fairly predictable as well.