2005-09-30 / Sports

Vinnie And The Jets Just The Same Ol’ Song

By John J. Buro


Three games into the new season and the New York Jets are already facing the equivalent of 4th and long. It was bad enough they had to endure a bitter 26-20 OT loss to the Jacksonsville Jaguars on Sunday. But the potential season-ending injuries to both starting quarterback Chad Pennington [torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder] and Jay Fiedler, his back-up [dislocated right shoulder] forced the team to hit the panic button.

“I don’t anticipate either of them being back this year,” Herman Edwards said after Sunday’s heartbreaking defeat. “I’ve never been in the situation where you lose the No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks in a span of a few plays.”

The hierarchy –in need of a back-up for third-string QB Brooks Bollinger, who is expected to start against the Baltimore Ravens’ vaunted defense this weekend- searched elsewhere for help. Actually, that’s not entirely true. On Monday, the team received a call from an old friend. On Tuesday, they called Vinny Testaverde back.

Aware of Edwards’ dilemma and still itching to play, the 41 year-old Testaverde had called to offer his services. Initially, he was told the team was more likely to sign a quarterback who had been part of an NFL training camp over the summer. Testaverde had last played for the Dallas Cowboys in 2004, when he threw for 3,532 yards, with 17 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions.

Within 24 hours, however, the Jets had flip-flopped and sealed the deal with a team playbook and a one-year contract for $750,000 [the league minimum], in addition to a $25,000 signing bonus.

It was clear that the ageless Testaverde, who played with the Jets from 1998-2003, was their best opportunity for a winning season. “Vinny has been here,” Edwards noted. “He’s a good fit for us. There’s a comfort zone and we had a great relationship.

“He will be our second quarterback. We are looking for a third and will have one soon.”

Edwards knew his options were limited. But, he is secure with who he is getting. Testaverde’s resume includes 44,475 passing yards and 268 touchdowns. It also includes 255 interceptions and a severe lack of mobility. Yet, the 18-year veteran just may succeed in Mike Heimerdinger’s offense because it focuses on a viable passing attack; his greatest asset is the ability to throw downfield with accuracy.

Testaverde, the number one pick of the 1987 draft, had started in 57 games during his Jet career. The Elmont, Long Island native had also played with Tampa Bay [1987-1992], Cleveland [1993-95], Baltimore [1996-1997], before rejoining Bill Parcells, another former coach, in 2004.

“I’m anxious, excited, happy and nervous,” Testaverde said as he was re-introduced to the New York media. “But, if I didn’t have high expectations, I wouldn’t come back.”

Bollinger, a Wisconsin graduate, has only seen one stretch of NFL action since being drafted in 2003 with the 201 st overall pick. During Week 11 against the Arizona Cardinals, he entered when Quincy Carter was injured on the game’s third play. Bollinger completed 5-of-9 attempts for 60 yards and ran for two yards before Carter returned in the second quarter. Testaverde had emerged as The Chosen One from a list that had reportedly included Doug Johnson, Jesse Palmer and Jonathan Quinn, in addition to Carter, who started three games for the Jets last season.

Dr. James Andrews, the noted Birmingham, Alabama orthopedic surgeon, who performed Pennington’s February surgery had earlier warned that the injury-prone quarterback may have only aggravated a pre-existing condition, –namely the scar tissue from the operation. In fact, the tear in his rotator cuff is different than the prior occurrence.

The Jets had banked their future on Pennington, even after he broke his wrist during the 2003 pre-season. He inked a seven-year contract extension worth $64 million before the start of the 2004 season.

There are already some people within the organization who are skeptical about Pennington’s future, either with the team or in the league. Pennington could not throw downfield, which further allowed the Jaguar defense to gang up on Curtis Martin.“He gave us the best chance to win the game,” Edwards stated. “I had reservations [about sending him back in], but he was able to still do some things.” Bollinger, for one, will now like to do some things.

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