Pennington drops the ball­­, literally, in opener

This is the classic example of inconsistency between score and actual game flow. In 90 percent of such cases, the teams fought more evenly than the score suggests. Rare are the other 10 percent, the games where one team walloped the other, where one team’s execution was so obviously superior and its preparation more thorough than the other’s, where the final score does not do justice to the severity of the beatdown one team levied on the other. Sunday’s auspicious Jets season opener against the Chiefs was a prime example of this type of game.

In the Jets’ 27-7 loss, Laveranues Coles dropped a perfect pass over the middle that hit his hands and would have gone for a touchdown, the touted kicking savior Mike Nugent slipped and bungled his only field goal attempt, and the Chiefs receivers ran circles around CB David Barrett, who looked a step slow for the NFL on Kansas City’s first few possessions.

But the story of the day was the total embarrassing ineptitude of Chad Pennington and the Jets’ new offense. Pennington fumbled six times, resulting in six turnovers. All of last season he fumbled five times. He scrambled lazily and recklessly with one hand on the ball, so unsteady that he seemed medicated. Inexcusable botched shotgun snaps produced two of the six fumbles. It’s too bad that the offense performed so dismally, particularly because offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger actually succeeded in getting Coles, Justin McCareins and Wayne Chrebet open looks on new routes. The Jets’ failures are symbolic more than anything. They had nine months to find someone to kick field goals, and the best they could do is a rookie who slips on a 28-yarder? Don’t sound their death knell yet, but with an excited 1-0 Dolphins team coming in next week the Jets could easily be 0-2 in an improved AFC East.

Saints help healing in New Orleans

Football is no answer to grief, but you had to feel good watching John Carney nail a 47-yard field goal to lift the New Orleans Saints to a season-opening win over the Panthers. Before the game the Saints reportedly visited shelters throughout the Gulf, where displaced fans asked the players for one thing-a win. In a team meeting, Head Coach Jim Haslett used the suffering as a motivational tool, reading a poignant letter from New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. In other sports news related to Katrina, TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith organized a charity game for 5,000 displaced fans in Houston Sunday night-an East vs. West matchup of superstars that Smith called the most important basketball game ever played. Also, at an NBA Players Association press conference last week, Stephon Marbury-not widely known for his compassion-wept uncontrollably as he donated nearly $1 million to the relief effort.

What a mess

The sports world dedicated little fanfare to the retirements of Mark Messier and Scott Stevens from the NHL this week. Messier, 44, led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994. He is second only to Wayne Gretzky in total career points and sits third in career assists. Stevens, who holds the record for most games played by a defenseman, captained the Devils to three Stanley Cups over the past 11 years. Their retirements carry much greater significance as a combined story than they do individually. Messier and Stevens were the faces of a golden era in New York hockey that featured countless legendary games and moments over the last 10 years. Perhaps the greatest moment occurred in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, when Messier guaranteed and delivered a game six victory on the road against the Devils, who led the series 3-2. Meanwhile, Stevens’ unrelenting toughness and leadership epitomized Devils success for a decade. It is only fitting that these two giants retire together. It is also disheartening that the lockout stole time from their careers and diverted attention from their NHL exit.

As I write this section, the Falcons and Eagles are playing in the first Monday Night Football game of the season. Starting next year, ESPN will take over MNF, and NBC will steal ESPN’s hold on Sunday night games. Though John Madden will be dropped, his partner, play-by-play man Al Michaels, will switch to head the ESPN telecasts. Is anyone besides me sick of Michaels’ empty generality-based commentary? He’s even worse at the NBA Finals than on MNF. Has Michaels made a memorable call since the 1980 Miracle on Ice? Couldn’t ESPN have recruited a fresh play-by-play talent like Ian Eagle or Sam Rosen? As for NBC, the station is picking up Madden’s color commentary, I say: What about Phil Simms?

Menacing mascot?

I caught a repeat of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” last week that explored Native American names and mascots in college sports. The piece sought-but seemingly failed to find-anything flagrantly offensive. I guess no one told host Bob Ley about the Div. III school in Western Mass. whose nickname and mascot glorify the commanding general of British forces in the French and Indian War, the general who gave smallpox-laden blankets to the Indians and wrote, “you will do well to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” For the record, history maintains that Lord Jeff himself did not partake in the smallpox attack that his underlings launched (at Fort Pitt, Penn., in response to Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763). So, at worst, he ordered the attack, and at best, he merely supported the tactics used in the attack. It sounds like a colonial Abu Ghraib. Either way, should this guy really have a touchdown song in his honor?