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 DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -When Chad Pennington's scramble ended with a dive near the sideline for a touchdown, he rose to face the stands, raised both arms, leaned back and answered the crowd's roar with one of his own.
It was a pose worthy of an arena rock star, and the Miami Dolphins have a big hit with their new frontman. Pennington has revived his career and a woebegone franchise, giving the Dolphins quality quarterbacking for the first time in years and a shot at their first playoff berth since 2001.
The Dolphins describe Pennington as a pied piper and father figure, a big change from the sometimes unprintable adjectives attached to his predecessors at the same position.
``It has helped a whole lot getting a player of that caliber to be the leader of your offense,'' coach Tony Sparano said.
last year.
``So many times quarterbacks can't show emotion, because we've got to stay on an even keel and make sure that all of the guys around us are levelheaded as well,'' Pennington says. ``Every once in a while it's good to show that burst of emotion and to let your teammates know that you care and that you're fired up. I think it permeates through your team.''
It's one more way Pennington sets the tone for the Dolphins (7-5), who have won five of their past six games entering Sunday's game against Buffalo in Toronto.
``We call him coach Pennington,'' rookie receiver Davone Bess says.
Desperate for direction, the Dolphins acquired Pennington in August, two days after the New York Jets released him in favor of Brett Favre.
Pennington started 61 games for the Jets and three times led them to the playoffs. But he was benched at midseason last year and embraced a fresh start.
``It was like a rebirth for him,'' Miami offensive coordinator Dan Henning says. ``I think it got a little stale there - nobody's fault, but it happens.''
Arriving only a month before the season, Pennington quickly took charge in the huddle and locker room.
``When he walked in here the first day, he had an agenda,'' Henning says. ``He wants it bad enough to do whatever it takes, and it rubs off on these other players. That was very good for this team at this point in time.''
s 13th starting quarterback since Dan Marino retired nine years ago. He's by far the best.
Ranked fifth in the NFL in passing, he needs only 119 yards to reach 3,000 and is on pace for 3,841, which would far surpass his career high of 3,352 in 2006. Pennington has thrown only six interceptions in 364 attempts, and the Dolphins' 10 turnovers are the fewest in the league.
He's thriving in part because he's healthy, which was often not the case in New York. This season could be only the second time he has played all 16 games.
Pennington's proficiency is especially impressive considering Miami's offense remains a work in progress. His choice of targets is underwhelming, particularly with the loss of leading receiver Greg Camarillo due to a knee injury, and the blocking remains prone to breakdowns.
But with Pennington, the Dolphins have kept mistakes to a minimum, controlled the ball in close games and saved their best for the fourth quarter. As a result, they're in playoff contention in December for the first time since 2003.
``He lifts up our spirits like our father,'' second-year center Samson Satele says. ``He's like a dad out there. When we're out there and we're feeling down, he just gives us a little saying to get us pumped up.''
Pennington's accuracy also allows the offense to overcome deficiencies. He has completed 65.4 percent of his passes - no surprise, because his career percentage of 65.6 is the best in the NFL.
The QB meets twice a week with his receivers and also meets with his linemen. They discuss the game plan and the upcoming opponent, trying to anticipate what they might face.
``I've been in this league now for 10 years, and I have never seen it done, not like that,'' Sparano said. ``He's like the pied piper. He's just saying, 'This is what we're doing,' and they look forward to doing it.''

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