Jon Gruden and the Bucs bring their perfect 4-0 record to the Meadowlands this Sunday.
Two weeks ago, QB Vinny Testaverde was sitting on his couch in his Oyster Bay Cove home watching the Jets lose to Jacksonville. In that game, QB Chad Pennington and QB Jay Fielder both were injured and two days later Testaverde was signed to backup Brooks Bollinger. After Bollinger struggled in last week’s loss to Baltimore, Testaverde was named the starter this week and the Jets hope he can lead resurge a struggling offense starting Sunday when the 1-3 Jets host the 4-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets rank 28th in the NFL in total offense with 245.3 yards per game.
“I’m excited about it,” Testaverde said about starting. “It is a little mind boggling. I wasn’t going to play at all, my career was over and I was going to retire. Here I am getting ready to take a snap on Sunday. Life is funny sometimes. It throws you some curves when you least expect it and you have to role with those punches it throws you and go with it.”
The last time Testaverde took the field was Jan. 2 with Dallas. It won’t be easy for Testaverde and the Jets to get the offense going against the top defense in the NFL in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs are first in run defense (61.5 ypg) and third in passing defense (158.8 ypg). DE Simeon Rice leads a solid defensive line with three sacks. The Jets offensive line has given up 14 sacks this season and with the immobile Testaverde behind center, the o-line needs to make sure they protect him. “You can’t put any more emphasis on the pass protection than to protect the football and protect the QB,” C Kevin Mawae said. “What are you going to do? Put a 10-man protection and nobody is going out? You can mass protect, but you’d only have one or two guys out in a route so who would you throw the ball to. It’s not going to be a juristic overall change that you guys are looking for. Its things that we’re going to do that will help this team win games. We’re not going to stack 10 of our guys in the box so Vinny can throw a pitch and catch to one other guy on the field.”
Tampa’s strength lies in their linebackers with MLB Shelton Quarles (41 tackles) and WLB Derrick Brooks (31 tackles). In the secondary, CB Ronde Barber has 30 tackles. The Buccaneers have forced 10 turnovers this season.
Brooks talked about why his team has been able to have success early on. “Right now we are a pretty healthy football team,” Brooks said. “Secondly, we’ve made some plays at the end of ball games; wins with a pass. We have had some good fortune also. Underlying all those things is we’ve really been working hard. One big thing that we’re doing this year, that’s been mentioned in the past, is respecting the way we work., the competition in practice.”
Testaverde said his biggest concern is going to be adapting to the speed of the game. “It should be to everybody because I haven’t’ played in eight months,” Testaverde said. “Again, I have to go back to my experience and rely on that. Hopefully that will be good enough to carry me through. I can’t get overwhelmed with everything, I have to adjust it all, stay relaxed and go have fun. That’s the bottom line, and in doing that, try to win a game.”
After leading the NFL in rushing last season, there were high expectations for RB Curtis Martin. He has yet to live up to them with just 226 yards on 82 carries for a 2.8 average per carry. Martin has been playing banged up with a knee injury and is probable for this week. Despite Martin playing hurt, backup RB Derrick Blaylock has only carried the ball 18 times this season. “As a team we expect Curtis Martin, in my opinion is one of the top five running backs in this league,” Brooks said. “He’s been doing this at a high level for a long time. If they expect to get their season to get turned around it is going to have to start with number 28. We’re going to have to stop him on Sunday.”
If the Jets can get the running game going, then they will be able to open up the passing. Edwards talked about why the Jets running game has struggled. “I think it’s not finishing off blocks and staying with the blocks,” Edwards said. “Staying with the hold and trusting that hold is going to be there. All those things you have to do to be consistent at running. We’ve done it in practice now we have to do it in the game. We have to do it when it’s live.”
Martin was asked about the teams confidence level earlier this week. “I think we’re pretty good,” Martin said. “I don’t think we went in the tank or anything. I don’t think anyone lost hope. We go into every game with the same amount of fire that we went from the beginning of the season coming out of camp. Everyone still believes that we can still win it, that we can still turn it around.”
Edwards said there is a possibility rookie RB Cedric Houston could see time this week. “I think he’s a good zone runner,” Edwards said of Houston. “I think he’s got some power behind his pads when he runs. He’s a guy that doesn’t have a lot of experience. He’s a rookie, hasn’t really played in a game. We’ve got him up again. Obviously he can be a factor for us a little bit in certain situations because B.J. is hurt.”
One player who hopes to benefit from Testaverde is WR Wayne Chrebet, who has only seven catches for 68 yards this year. “We have great chemistry out there,” Chrebet said. “We always have since he first got here. It’s so apparent in the couple practices that we’ve had together; hopefully it carries over to the game. I hope that I’m one of those receivers that make him as comfortable as possible.”
Martin feels that playing Testaverde will give the offense a spark. “We need a spark, we need it,” Martin said. “Our defense, we feel like they’re playing their butts off and on offense we’re not upholding our end of the bargain. We have to do something, and that’s in the passing game, the running game and every phase of the offense, we’re just not getting it done.”
Edwards said overall the offense has to play much better. “We have to block well, catch the ball, be able to run the ball,” Edwards said. “You can put in the quarterback, sounds real good, but you have to play well around him. People have to play around him well, make the quarterback successful.”
If the Jets hope to have a shot against Tampa, then the Jets defense needs to come up big. Last week, the Jets came up with two turnovers but the Jets were only able to manage three points off of them. LB Jonathan Vilma leads the team with 57 tackles, 28 more than teammate S Kerry Rhodes.
One of the big reasons that Tampa Bay is 4-0 is because of rookie running back Carnell “Cadilac” Williams, who set a rookie record rushing for more than 100 yards in each of his first three games. Williams, the fifth overall draft pick out of Auburn this year, has ran for 447 yards. However, Williams was injured in last week’s win over Detroit and is questionable with an injured hamstring and foot strain.
If Williams can’t go or is limited, RB Michael Pittman will handle the majority of the duties. Pittman is solid out of the backfield, catching nine passes for 116 yards and a touchdown this year.
QB Brian Greise has been ok, completing 73-of-116 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns. But he has also thrown six interceptions.
The Bucs are excellent on third down, converting 47.6 percent of the time, second in the league.
WR Joey Galloway has 17 receptions for 316 yards and three touchdowns and Michael Clayton has 17 catches for 196 yards.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden would not give any bulletin board material in a conference call with the New York media this week. “We are concerned by the Jets,” Gruden said. “We think they are a much better football team then their record indicates and I’m sure they feel the same way.”
Despite the Jets being 1-3, Martin feels the Jets can still turn it around. “The good thing about this team is that some how we always seem to find a way to climb from beneath the mud and make things happen,” Martin said. “That’s what we’re looking to do right now.”
PENNINGTON UNDERGOES SURGERY: The Jets announced that QB Chad Pennington had arthoscopic surgery on his injured right shoulder yesterday. Pennington will begin rehabilitation and therapy immediately. The Jets said they remain optimistic Pennington will be ready for the 2006 season. “He’s fine. He’s upbeat. He’s good,” Edwards said of Pennington. The most likely next move will be putting Pennington on IR but “that hasn’t been determined,” Edwards said.
RETURN OF HACKETT: The game Sunday will mark the return of Paul Hackett, who was the Jets offensive coordinator from 2001-2004. Hackett is the QB coach in Tampa. “He has helped us a lot,” Gruden said. “He just hasn’t been involved with the QB, he’s been involved with the entire football team. I consider him to be a great coach and a great teacher.” Hackett denied all interview requests this week.
-The game will also mark the return of TE Anthony Becht who spent the first five years of his career with the Jets before leaving for Tampa Bay as a free agent. Becht has six receptions for 31 yards this year.
EDWARDS FACING FORMER TEAM: Herman Edwards was the Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Backs coach for Tampa Bay from 1996-2000 and Sunday’s match-up will be the first time Edwards is facing his former squad. “You have relationships with players,” Edwards said. “Those relationships haven't changed. Ronde (Barber) was up this summer with his wife. His wife is actually coming to the game. I still have some relationships with those guys. They're playing good. I'm happy for them. They're playing good. They had some down years after they won the Super Bowl.”
-The Jets lead the all-time series with Tampa Bay, 7-1 and won the last game, 24-17 on Sept. 24, 2000 in Tampa Bay as Curtis Martin completed a flea flicker pass to Wayne Chrebet for the winning score.
-Each Friday, the Jets coaches give black jerseys to the players who have practiced the best during the week. DT James Reed and S Oliver Celestin earned them today. “That comes from his maturing and where he’s come from as far as growing up and understanding how important it is to practice,” Edwards said of Reed earning the black jersey.
KEY MATCHUP: LT Adrian Jones vs. DE Simeon Rice. Jones is starting his second career game at left tackle as Jason Fabini will be the starter at RT. Rice one of league’s premier pass rushers and already has three sacks this year. Jones needs to make sure Rice doesn’t get near Testaverde so Testaverde has time to make reads and complete passes.
THREE THINGS THE JETS MUST DO TO WIN
1. Protect Testaverde The offensive line has given up 14 sacks this year and if the 41-year old Testaverde is going to be successful and survive the game, then he needs the o-line to keep the Bucs defense off of him.
2. Produce Turnovers The Jets defense kept the team in the game last week against Baltimore and still the Jets couldn’t win. The Jets are just +1 in turnover ratio this year. If the Jets defense can come up with a turnover or two then the Jets will have a good chance to win.
3. Convert on Third Downs The Jets have completed just 35% on third down this year. They need to keep drives alive.
PREDICITION It won’t be easy for the Jets and the game plan will be kept simple for Testaverde. If they Jets can get the running game going early, they can go to the air later. They need to score early. The offense will show some signs of life but facing the league’s number one defense is just too tough of a task and the Jets fall to 1-4.
Buccaneers 17 Jets 10
LB Eric Barton (ankle) did not practice this week and is questionable. If he can’t go, LB Mark Brown will start in his place for a second straight week. T Jason Fabini (knee), RB Curtis Martin (knee), and WR Justin McCareins (back) all practiced today and are probable.
-FB B.J. Askew (ankle): Out
-QB Chad Pennington (shoulder): Out
-QB Jay Fiedler (shoulder): Out
-LB Eric Barton (ankle): Questionable
-T Jason Fabini (knee): Probable
-RB Curtis Martin (knee): Probable
-WR Justin McCareins (back): Probable
-S Jermaine Williams (thumb): Questionable
-RB Carnell Williams (foot/hamstring): Questionable
-T Anthony Davis (shoulder): Probable
-S Dexter Jackson (hamstring): Probable
Game time is 1 PM Sunday. Local TV is Fox 5. Local Radio is 1050 ESPN AM. Be sure to check back to Jets Insider.com after the game for a recap and exclusive game photos.