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Pennington, Jets roll past Vikings 26-13

MINNEAPOLIS (Dec. 17, 2006) -- Chad Pennington and the New York Jets bounced back from a bad game, staying in the playoff chase for at least one more week and smiling from start to finish.

The Minnesota Vikings are nearly out of the running, their shaky quarterback situation about the only bit of intrigue remaining.

Pennington completed 29 of 39 passes for a career-high 339 yards, one touchdown and one interception, leading the Jets past the Vikings 26-13 for their third straight road victory.

"This was a big game for us -- and an even bigger game as far as our mentality and our attitude after you suffer a setback like we did last week," said Pennington, referring to a 31-13 loss against Buffalo.

Brad Johnson was benched for the third time this season, but a late surge by rookie Tarvaris Jackson was too little, too late for the reeling Vikings (6-8), who have lost six of eight.

"We have too many good players to be in the position we're in," safety Darren Sharper said. "That's the most disappointing thing."

Laveranues Coles had 12 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown for the Jets (8-6). Mike Nugent kicked four field goals to stretch his streak of makes to 13, and New York improved to 5-2 on the road.

First-year coach Eric Mangini, whose club has far exceeded most expectations, was just as pleased by the overall performance and week of preparation as he was the victory.

"This is a fun time of year to play football," said Mangini, who grinned several times during his postgame news conference.

The Vikings had a chance to thrust themselves into the wide-open NFC wild-card race. Instead, it was the same old story for a team that has wiped out the old standby of stopping the run and running the ball well leading to success.

"Mathematically, we're still in it," coach Brad Childress said.

Depends on the perspective.

"Mathematically, that's a miracle," said receiver Travis Taylor, who caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Johnson barely two minutes into the game following a jarring, blind-side sack of Pennington by Napoleon Harris that caused a fumble.

After that, Minnesota was completely outschemed. The Jets didn't bother running the ball much until the stretch, as most opponents have approached the league's best rushing defense. But Pennington took what he was given, faking a handoff nearly every time and favoring soft, short throws to slowly move the ball upfield. Coles consistently found openings underneath the coverage.

"That's Chad around the clock," Coles said. "Y'all got an opportunity to see how Chad functions when he has the ball in his hands. When he gets going in a rhythm, he throws a nice ball and guys can make plays."

Pennington went 7-for-8 for 56 yards on New York's second possession, an impressive response to the first Minnesota score. A 6-yard touchdown surge by Cedric Houston tied it.

The biggest blow landed by the Jets was midway through the second quarter on third-and-8 at the Vikings 21. Coles beat Fred Smoot by a step on a fade route to make it 17-7.

"We had talked about there being some adversity sometime during this game, and when it happened we had to look at each other and smile and stare it right in the face," Pennington said. "It just so happened that it happened the first series, the second play, and guys just smiled at it."

Against a defense that entered the game 27th in the NFL in yards allowed and gave up two touchdown plays of 57 yards or more in last week's loss, Minnesota couldn't do much.

Johnson, who went 10-for-17 for 96 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers, was sacked three times for 28 yards. Chester Taylor, who sat out the previous week with bruised ribs, rushed 11 times for 38 yards. In the first half, the Vikings had as many first downs as punts (four) and totaled only 91 yards on 24 plays.

Though the offensive problems went far beyond Johnson, the Metrodome crowd began booing every time he started a new drive. To the chant "We want Jackson!" the frustrated fans got their wish at the end of the third quarter -- confirming as much with a roaring standing ovation.

Jackson, a second-round pick out of Alabama State, came through with his first scoring pass on a 35-yard screen to Mewelde Moore with 6:15 left. He finished 14-for-23 for 177 yards and a late interception.

As for Thursday's game at Green Bay?

"We'll just see who gives us the best chance to win," Childress said.

Notes: Neither Mangini nor Coles specified his injury, apparently to his back, but Coles was walking fine afterward, but was taken for X-rays. ... Minnesota added former guard Randall McDaniel, a 12-time Pro Bowl pick, to the team's Ring of Honor in a halftime ceremony.

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