Good thing Vinny Testaverde has been with the Jets for only two weeks. Good thing the 41-year-old quarterback didn't have a whole training camp or more than eight practices before he faced one of the NFL's unbeaten teams and the league's No.1 defense. Imagine how much worse he could've made life for the Bucs than he did in their 14-12 loss Sunday to the Jets.
Two weeks ago, the only drives Testaverde directed were the ones to chauffeur his kids to class. But without taking a snap for more than nine months, he was still good enough to school the Bucs. Testaverde, the No.1 overall pick by the Bucs in 1987 who played for them until 1992, didn't have to do much. The Bucs made sure of that. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 163 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
But 120 of those yards came in the second half, when the Jets took the lead for good by taking the kickoff and driving 59 yards for the winning touchdown. "I'm happy for Vinny," Bucs quarterback Brian Griese said. "He's been around for a long time, and he's been around for a reason. He's a great quarterback. He's proven that. And I'm just happy for him. It's a great story. I hope the Jets go on and do great things with Vinny because he's one of the good ones."
Say this for the Bucs: They weren't about to ruin a good story. Despite holding the football for all but 15 plays in the first half, the Bucs were able to muster only four Matt Bryant field goals to fall to 4-1. Playing without rookie running back Cadillac Williams, still suffering from a sprained left foot and a hamstring injury, the Bucs offense was never in synch.
Williams' replacement, veteran Michael Pittman, was held to 46 yards on 13 carries. Without a consistent rushing attack, Griese struggled to go 27-of-42 for 226 yards and no touchdowns. He was sacked three times and threw another ill-timed interception. With the Bucs leading 6-0 in the second quarter, Griese's pass sailed over Ike Hilliard and was picked off by cornerback Ty Law, who returned it 43 yards to the Tampa Bay 8. That set up the Jets' first touchdown, a 2-yard run by Curtis Martin.
The Bucs did what they could to make the job easy for Testaverde, who was sitting on his couch in Long Island, N.Y., watching Jets quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler get hurt within seven plays of each other against the Jaguars on Sept.25. In a weird way, by holding the ball for 22:50 in the first half but leading only 9-7, the Bucs helped Testaverde.
"In practice, he was really good. But what I think helped him, believe it or not, was that we only had 15 plays (in the first half)," Jets coach Herman Edwards said. "So he wasn't tired. I was more worried about the fourth quarter. If we played the game we were trying to play, if we would've played 20-30 plays in the first half, then in the fourth quarter, he would've been tired."
Instead, it was the Bucs who looked gassed in the second half. Tampa Bay, which entered the game third in the NFL in penalties, was flagged 12 times for 87 yards Sunday. One, Nate Lawrie's hold that negated Pittman's 16-yard run, contributed to the Bucs holding the ball for just three plays in the third quarter. The Jets took the second-half kickoff and drove 59 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead touchdown, a 1-yard dive by Martin on fourth down. That came three plays after a late hit moved the Jets to the Bucs 9. The big play was Testaverde's 16-yard pass to tight end Doug Jolley on third and 1 from midfield. "The lesson for us, we came out flat," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "We didn't come out and take the field after playing such a good first half ... missed tackles, a couple guys out of their gaps. We just didn't play good that first drive."
The Bucs still had two chances to win. Griese completed four passes to move his team from its 14 to the Jets 18. But on third and 10, his completion to Hilliard was 4 yards shy of the first down, forcing the Bucs to settle for Bryant's fourth field goal. "We knew they were going to be in a very soft defense, very difficult to try to throw the ball vertical into the end zone," coach Jon Gruden said. "Our thought process was throw the ball to Ike. We knew he would be open. Maybe he could get 8 or 9 yards and be in a fourth and 1 and we could go for it at that point."
On the ensuing series, Testaverde connected on a huge third-down pass to Laveranues Coles, forcing the Bucs to use their remaining two timeouts. After a Jets punt, Griese's last-ditch effort ended with Joey Galloway being tackled at the Jets 34 as time expired. Testaverde, who was welcomed with a standing ovation, held his youngest daughter in his arms in the end zone as the final television interview ended. "No, I've never been around a team who has a 41-year-old quarterback who was taking their kids to school and then all of a sudden, he's a starter in your fifth game," Edwards said. Good thing he isn't 42 for another month.
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 10 October 2005