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Pennington uncertain about future as fourth surgery nears

DAVIE, Fla. -- When Chad Pennington suffered the latest injury to his right shoulder, he popped it back into place for one more play, throwing a 19-yard completion.

Then he took himself out of the game. With his season over, Pennington is scheduled for surgery Friday, and he says it's 50-50 whether or not he'll retire.

The Miami Dolphins quarterback will undergo an operation on his shoulder for a fourth time. The arthroscopic procedure will be performed by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola.

Pennington, twice chosen the NFL Comeback Player Of The Year, said he's confident he can fully recover and play again. But given the wear and tear on his shoulder, he's unsure whether or not he should try at age 34.

"There's no doubt I can come back," Pennington said Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time since his latest injury. "I'm going to have to weigh whether I would be a liability or an asset. That's going to be the decision. To not be a liability and not doubt whether this thing is going to pop out -- that's going to be the issue. You have to evaluate whether this thing can't be trusted anymore."

The extent of the injury won't be known until the operation. Pennington said Andrews believes the injury is the same as last year -- a torn capsule -- and the hope is there's no muscle damage.

Following an arduous recovery from season-ending surgery last year, Pennington began this season as a backup and made his season debut last month when he started against the Tennessee Titans. He was hurt on the first play.

"It's definitely frustrating," Pennington said. "I felt like I was throwing the ball better than I have since my first shoulder surgery. I felt extremely strong. Physically and mentally, I felt like I was at the top of my game."

The injury occurred when Pennington fell elbow-first on a teammate, forcing his shoulder backward and causing the dislocation.

"I just closed my eyes and gritted my teeth and popped it back in," Pennington said with a laugh. "I was like, 'Well, maybe I'm OK.'"

He completed a pass on the next play before the shoulder slipped out again, and Pennington appealed to teammate Ronnie Brown for help.

"I had popped it back in, and then it just fell out and it was stuck," Pennington said. "I looked at Ronnie, and I said, 'Hey Ronnie, pull on my shoulder. See if you can pop this thing back in.' He's like, 'I'm not touching that shoulder.'"

Reluctantly, Pennington left the game -- perhaps for good. His last pass boosted his career completion percentage to 66.0, highest in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts. His passer rating of 94.5 with the Dolphins is the highest in team history.

Pennington said he has thought about what he'll do after retirement, with coaching, broadcasting and pursuit of a master's degree among the possibilities. But he hasn't yet given up on playing.

"It just depends which side of the bed I wake up on each day, how I feel," Pennington said. "I've got to leave my options open and let Dr. Andrews give me some more information after the surgery and then go from there. I need to let all this soak in. I think it's going to take a few months."

Even if Pennington's career is over, he said the operation will ensure him a better quality of life.

"If I decide not to play, I don't want to not have surgery and five years down the road be doing something normal like putting luggage in the rack on a plane and have my shoulder fall out of place," he said with a chuckle.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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