Jets’ Win Gives Breather But Not Total Relief Just Yet
A season that began with Super Bowl dreams has morphed into a nightmare, one that doesn’t show signs of ending anytime soon. Through five weeks, including Sunday’s 14-12 win over previously unbeaten Tampa Bay (4-1), the Jets (2-3) have started three quarterbacks (Chad Pennington, Brooks Bollinger and Vinny Testaverde) and played four (Pennington, Jay Fiedler, Bollinger and Testaverde). The offense had only managed 40 points—as a whole, the Jets have scored 47 points— and ranked among the NFL’s bottom feeders (28th out of 32 teams) coming into the Buccaneers game. This is especially embarrassing for the Jets, considering that new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was the mastermind behind the Titans’ high-powered attack, and he vowed, when he met the New York media for the first time, that the Jets would be an attacking, high-powered offense.
Instead, the Jets have resembled what they were under former offensive coordinator—and current Bucs coordinator—Paul Hackett: An overly cautious unit that plays not to lose the game. That philosophy has cost the Jets two wins in the last three weeks (against Jacksonville and Baltimore).
Sunday was no different, as the Jets’ coaching staff streamlined the offense for Testaverde. Elmont’s favorite son was efficient, completing 13-of-19 passes for 163 yards. He spread the ball around to five different receivers, led by Laveranues Coles’ six catches (89 yards).
“The guy has been good for so long,” Coles said, when asked if he was surprised by Testaverde’s performance on Sunday. “Just give him the time and the opportunity to make plays (and he will). He’s playing chess; ‘You just go down, run a route, get open’ and he’s going to find you.”
Coles wasn’t the only Jet impressed with their new, old quarterback. To a man, they all raved about the job Testaverde did.
“Vinny did a good job of coming in. You are talking about a guy who was sitting home (and) he came in and got us off the carpet,” marveled Head Coach Herm Edwards. “He made some good throws in the passing game.”
Especially in the second half. Down 9-7 at the start of the third quarter, the Jets came out and Testaverde masterfully mixed passes with runs, leading to a Curtis Martin one-yard touchdown run. Testaverde completed all three passes he attempted, totaling 32 yards. His passing opened things up for running back Curtis Martin, who finished with 23 carries for 59 yards and both Jets’ touchdowns.
“Vinny is a stallion” Martin raved. “He’s a leader and he’s been with us before, so we all trust him. One thing I always appreciated about Vinny (was and is) is his willingness and desire to compete. He is still out there getting the job done.”
The Jets needed Testaverde to be as good as he was in the second half, simply because they played awful football in the first half. Three times, the Jets had three-and-outs. Three times the Jets fumbled the ball, recovering only once. By all rights, they should have been out of the game.
However, Tampa Bay was just as overly cautious as the Jets were, relying on four Matt Bryant field goals rather than attempting to score touchdowns. That strategy cost Tampa dearly in the fourth quarter.
Down 14-9 and following a Ronde Barber interception, the Bucs had first and 10 from their 14 yard line. Tampa drove 74 yards in 12 plays, before settling on a 30 yard Bryant field goal. However, Hackett’s offense never really challenged the Jets’ defense; rather they continually counter-punched instead of going for the knockout. The drive was aided by a phantom roughing the passer call on Jets’ All-Pro Defensive End Shawn Ellis (See notebook for more).
Testaverde, for all intents and purposes, ended the game by playing keep-away and draining time off of the clock. Following the kickoff, Testaverde and the offense ran six plays in 2:42 before punting the ball, leaving Tampa one minute to get into field goal position.
Tampa, who used up all of its timeouts while the Jets were killing the clock, inexplicably had Griese throw the ball over middle, and time ran out.
To a man, the Jets realize time is running out on their season. They also realize that if they are still alive for a playoff berth in the tough AFC.
“We needed a win against a good football team,” said Edwards. “We have a lot of things to do where we need to improve; we are by no stretch out of the woods. There are a lot of things we need to do better.
“But we needed a win.”
Well, they have the win. The question is: Can they build on it?
While Vinny Testaverde received the praise for Sunday’s 14-12 win over Tampa Bay, there was an unsung hero: The defense. Donnie Henderson’s crew held the Buccaneers to four Matt Bryant field goals, three of which came in the first half. That is especially significant when you consider that Tampa held onto the ball for 22:50.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” said cornerback Ty Law, who picked off a Brian Griese pass in the second quarter. “We also thought we were pretty good ourselves; (and) we played our scheme properly and came away with a victory.”
In the fourth quarter, Shawn Ellis was flagged for one of the most outrageously bad personal foul penalties in recent history. Ellis chased Tampa quarterback Brian Griese out of the pocket and barely grazed the former University of Michigan star. After taking the vicious blow, Griese did a reverse somersault, landing spread-eagled in front of back judge Billy Smith. Smith penalized Ellis for roughing the passer, which led to Bryant’s fourth field goal. After the game, Ellis blamed himself, “It was big; I shouldn’t have done it. The refs are all about the quarterbacks; they break out if a quarterback breaks his arm and (stuff). I should have been smarter than that.”
Sunday might have been Doug Jolley’s coming out party. The tight end out of BYU caught three passes for 46 yards. In the previous four games, he only caught four passes for 33 yards. “It was nice (to get the ball). Vinny dropped back—Vinny looked great—and hit the open man,” said a grinning Jolley.