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Bucs Top Jets 16 – 3

From ESPN.com – TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Even if Eric Mangini isn’t ready to say it, Chad Pennington looks like a quarterback ready to reclaim his job. 

Playing for the first time since undergoing a second major operation on his right shoulder, Pennington worked two series in the New York Jets‘ 16-3 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night.

“It’s fun to be back out there with my teammates. That’s most important,” Pennington said. “You miss that when you’re injured.” 

The seventh-year pro completed 9 of 14 passes for 54 yards and lost a fumble when he was sacked early in the second quarter. But more importantly for him and the Jets, his surgically repaired shoulder withstood the first hits he’s taken since Week 3 of last season. 

“I feel pretty good. I took a few shots, but everything worked out fine. That’s what you work hard for,” Pennington said. “I was pleased how everything turned out.” 

Whether he’s officially No. 1, though, is unclear. 

“That’s completely up in the air,” Mangini, the Jets’ first-year coach, said when asked about the quarterback rotation for the next preseason game. 

Rookie Bruce Gradkowski threw second-half touchdown passes of 11 yards to Paris Warren and 2 yards to third-round draft pick Maurice Stovall for Tampa Bay, which pulled its first-team defense after Pennington kept them on the field for a few more plays than the Bucs would have liked. 

“We didn’t give up any points,” Derrick Brooks, Tampa Bay’s All-Pro linebacker said. “But obviously we would like to get off the field a little sooner.” 

Pennington completed his first five passes — all short throws — for 30 yards. He took his first real hit since the latest operation on his right rotator cuff when he ran for 5 yards and was tackled by cornerback Juran Bolden. 

The New York quarterback sustained his first drive with three third-down conversions, one a 9-yard completion to Tim Dwight. He moved the ball deep into Tampa Bay territory on the Jets’ second possession, but fumbled when sacked by safety Kalvin Pearson on third-and-goal from the 5. 

Mangini declined to reveal a starter for the preseason opener. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a surprise when Pennington trotted onto the field to take the first snap. He’s been No. 1 for parts of the last four seasons and has been having the best camp of any of the candidates for the job. 

“I thought Chad did a really nice job with handling the huddle, with moving the football, with his decisions,” Mangini said. “I thought he did a really good job.” 

The coach gave a less favorable review of the Jets’ performance overall. 

“Before the game, I talked to the players and said the important things were focus, communication and finish. That’s what I was looking for,” Mangini said. 

“I think we did a pretty good job in the first half of moving the football. But we couldn’t finish the drives and they could finish drives. That was the difference.” 

Rookie Kellen Clemens followed Pennington in the second quarter, leading a drive that produced Mike Nugent‘s 20-yard field goal on the last play of the half. Patrick Ramsey finished up for the Jets, who did not use Brooks Bollinger. 

Chris Simms started for Tampa Bay and played one series. Tim Rattay directed a first-half field goal drive and Gradkowski, a sixth-round draft pick from Toledo, played most of the second half, completing 11 of 13 passes for 104 yards against New York’s reserves. 

“Of course we had some mistakes, but you expect that in the first preseason game,” said Simms, who completed 2 of 3 passes for 5 yards. “We did some things well, too. It is a good building block.” 

Nearly all of Tampa Bay’s starters were out by the second series, and three regulars on offense — running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, receiver Joey Galloway and tackle Kenyatta Walker — didn’t play. Cornerback Brian Kelly was missing on defense after being excused to attend to a personal matter.

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