Chad Pennington not only has returned strong after a second shoulder surgery in as many years, he might be even better than 2002.
All Pennington did that year was lead the NFL in passer rating.
Pennington threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns to lead the New York Jets to a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans after having to beat out three quarterbacks in preseason to reclaim his starting job.
"Chad has done a great job in preparing himself and getting himself back to the point of being our starting quarterback," Jets receiver Laveranues Coles said. "I'm just happy that he now has a game under his belt and showed he's back."
The Titans had trailed 16-0 until Travis Henry tied the game, rushing for two fourth-quarter touchdowns within five minutes of each other. His 1-yarder with 5:58 left came one play after Pennington was sacked and fumbled.
Pennington needed seven plays to take back the lead after Justin Miller's 41-yard kickoff return, going ahead on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Chris Baker with 2:10 left in helping make coach Eric Mangini a winner in his head coaching debut.
"The mechanics were excellent, the tempo was excellent, and I'm proud that he was poised," Mangini said.
Tennessee had one last chance and drove to the Jets 8. But Kerry Collins missed tight end Bo Scaife while trying to reach David Givens in the end zone on fourth-and-6 with 35 seconds to go.
"I'm proud of the way our guys fought, but I also believe the bottom line is about wins and losses and we didn't get that done today," Collins said.
This opener matched teams that went 4-12 in 2005 and came into this season with questions at quarterback. .
Pennington played only three games last season before hurting his right shoulder. He couldn't have looked much better in posting a 123.2 passer rating and said he was happy to be playing again with lots of friends and family in the stands from his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn.
"It's just truly a blessing to be able to come out here and play this game. It's an honor to play this game, and that's the way I look at it," he said.
His father, who has been ailing recently, stayed at home and watched his son on television.
"I hope he enjoyed it," Pennington said.
The Titans didn't announce their starter until 90 minutes before kickoff, and gave the job to Collins, who opened his 12th NFL season with his fifth team. Rookie Vince Young also played a series.
Andre Dyson, who started his career in Tennessee, intercepted each of them. The Jets ended three of four Tennessee drives with interceptions and had two sacks.
The Jets could have avoided all the late drama if only kicker Mike Nugent had been better. He missed an extra point and a 34-yard field goal, then bounced a 30-yarder off the right post. Mangini said he would talk to Nugent, among others, about mistakes. Without Pennington, the Jets had the next-to-last ranked offense in the NFL in 2005. He picked apart the Titans and helped the Jets pile up 393 yards of offense.
Kevan Barlow scored for New York on 1-yard run two plays after a Titans' interception was overturned by a defensive pass interference call in the second quarter.
A sellout crowd didn't waste any time sharing its anger early, booing Collins when he replaced Young and alternately chanting for Young and Billy Volek, the quarterback who lost his starting job when the team signed Collins on Aug. 29.
Collins, starting 13 days after being signed to a one-year contract, looked out of sync early and often with several balls sailing out of bounds and at least three batted down. His receivers didn't help with a couple drops. He finally clicked in the fourth quarter when he went 4 of 6 for 56 yards in setting up Henry's first TD run.
He finished 17 of 38 for 223 yards.
"This team is not happy right now and does not have a right to be," coach Jeff Fisher said.
Young made his NFL debut in the second quarter, entering with 8:55 left to a round of cheers. The No. 3 pick overall out of Texas looked like an immediate improvement over Collins as he completed his first three passes and moved the Titans to the Jets 29.
Then he came up short on a pass to Givens, which Dyson picked off.