The ageless Vinny Testaverde gave the Jets the shot in the arm they needed Sunday against Tampa. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
What a difference a week makes. The New York Jets 2005 season seemed on the brink of extinction with last week's Brooks Bollinger experiment. Two weeks after both Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler went down with season ending injuries - there was little hope that these quarterback-less Jets could survive a game, let alone a season. Sure, the defense was top notch, but at 1-3, who could quarterback this team back to the postseason? Enter Elmont's proudest son, Vinny Testeverde.
Only Hollywood could conjure up a script so unbelievable and so unpractical in theory. A scenario so far from reality just over two weeks ago. A story that gives Jet fans hope once again for a super ending to this improbable season. Elmont's proudest son, Vinny Testeverde (13-19, 163 yards, 1 int) was instrumental in writing the first chapter of this tale.
With a stifling, unrelenting defensive effort and RB Curtis Martin's two touchdown performance helping the cause greatly, it was Vinny's presence that secured the Jets' 14-12 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Jets' 2nd victory of 2005. On the Jets first offensive play from scrimmage - Testeverde hit old friend WR Laveureneus Coles (6 rec., 89 yards) with a 31 yard strike, setting the tone that this Jets' offense would not be locked down in its' usual conservative shackles. For the first time all season the Jets had a passing offense that their opponents had to respect and even fear.
With the threat of the pass established, Martin (23 carries, 59 yards, 2 TD's) finally scored his first touchdown on a two yard plunge to give the Jets a 7-6 lead in the 2nd quarter - following CB Ty Law's 42 yard interception return set it up. The Bucs took a 9-7 lead into half time, but Testeverde was just getting started.
After the intermission, Testeverde marched the Jets down the field as if it was 1998 all over again. The Jets held the ball for 5:55 to open the 2nd half as Vinny was 3-3 for 32 yards on the drive. Martin capped the 10 play, 59 yard drive with his 2nd rushing touchdown to give the Jets a 14-9 lead. Testeverde later led a 14 play, 46 yard drive that lasted 8:26, but that possession ended in K Mike Nugent's second missed field goal of the game.
Although the Jets didn't score, the fact that they dominated time of possession in the 2nd half helped the Jet defense rest for the stretch run. It was during this stretch run where Testeverde was his most valuable.
The Bucs had cut the Jet lead to 14-12 when Testeverde made two vital plays.
With 3:54 left, the Jets took over at their own 25 yard line - and after two runs gained six yards - had to convert a 3rd and 4 to keep their drive going. After a time out, Testeverde reared back and fired a ball between two defenders - right into Coles for a 17 yard gain and a fresh set of downs. This was important as it forced the Bucs to use all of their time outs.
With 2:00 left, it was perhaps the pass that Vinny didn't throw that was just as important. On a 3rd and 10 from the Jets 48 yard line, Testeverde slid down and lost six yards - voluntarily. Instead of throwing a pass that could either fall incomplete, which would stop the clock or be intercepted, Testeverde's heady slide took 48 precious seconds off the clock. Punter Ben Graham pinned the Bucs back to their own 10 yard line with no time outs and only a minute to work with. It was Testeverde's savvy knowledge of the game situation and time management which helped the Jets secure this much needed victory.
Testeverde showed all of his positive qualities on this day. Poise, arm strength, experience and leadership. It was an amazing performance, especially considering he had just six practices with the team. Testeverde never got down even as the Jets tried to give the game away at times (WR Jerrico Cotchery fumbled punt and muffed punt, K Mike Nugent's two missed field goals, Two interceptions wiped out by penalties). He led the Jets to a season saving win, which was huge on so many levels.
If the defense keeps playing as well as they have, and the running game starts to open up, Testeverde legitimizes these Jets as contenders for the division crown.
With the entire AFC East within one game, this division is truly up for grabs. The Jets next opponent - the Buffalo Bills - also won a game with a new starting quarterback (Kelly Holcomb). The Bills, also at 2-3, boast a similar strong defense and will be at home for this contest.
The road ahead will not be easy - but with Testeverde back under center, there is once again hope for greater things in this young season, which seemed so doomed just two days ago.