MIAMI -- Even in the end, with his jersey covered in dirt and his skin pierced with bruises, Chad Pennington had to smile.
Playing in his first game since being awarded The Associated Press 2008 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Pennington had four interceptions against the Ravens after only having seven all season, ending one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in NFL history.
"It's been magical," Pennington said. "That's why it hurts even worse."
Pennington set a team record with his 67.4 completion percentage and he posted a 97.4 quarterback rating. But Sunday, his rating was a dismal 53.7.
With the Dolphins trailing 20-3, Pennington tried to rally them with a 58-yard drive to the 13 before Ed Reed intercepted him for the second time late in the third quarter. Reed also made an over-the-shoulder interception in the second quarter after receiver Ted Ginn Jr. tripped, and Reed reversed field and sprinted for a touchdown.
Pennington tried to make a tackle but was planted into the grass by Terrell Suggs at the 5-yard line, getting an all-too-close view of the Ravens' celebration.
"I certainly didn't expect for it to end this way," Pennington said.
Teammates praised him for his leadership, calm presence in the huddle and efficient play. He threw for a career-high 3,653 yards with only seven interceptions during the regular season, directing an offense that totaled just 13 turnovers, an NFL record the Dolphins share with this season's New York Giants.
"Pennington's been great all year. It just wasn't a good day," Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga said. "We really don't have anything to complain about. The guy's done a great job. It's been a heck of a year."
"If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be where we are right now," Ginn said
Pennington spent a few extra moments sitting at his locker after the loss, peeling away tape on his equipment and thanking teammates for an incredible season.
He straightened his hair one last time, then put on his Dolphins cap, slowly savoring the last moments of a season he thought would never end.
"It's been a special year," Pennington said. "You wanted it to keep going. You wanted to keep it going and see how far you can take it."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press