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Quarterback Quandary

By Mark Cannizzaro
JetsInsider.com Head Writer
October 12th, 2005
The Jets didn't bring in Jay Fiedler with the intention of him ever being a starter. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
The Jets didn't bring in Jay Fiedler with the intention of him ever being a starter. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
For those of you dazed and disgruntled Jets fans who've thought about packing up the tailgating accoutrements for the season and boycotting the rest of the home games, don't stow them too far behind boxes in the garage or basement.

The Jets' season is not over.

Forget about the loss of Chad Pennington for the moment. Pennington, with all due respect to a player who was still not 100-percent after his offseason shoulder surgery, didn't exactly have the Jets' offense humming while he was in there.

As it was, there were rumblings from many places that backup Jay Fiedler should have been playing before he, too, was lost with a shoulder injury.

Vinny Testaverde, if he's protected by the offensive line the way he was against the Buccaneers, can lead the Jets into the end zone. The offense is going to get better with Testaverde behind center with each week he prepares and plays, because his arm is still as strong as most quarterbacks out there and because he has talented receivers to throw to.

And, let us not forget Curtis Martin, whose resume is too good to overlook the fact that he's going to find a rhythm before long. Testaverde's ability to throw the ball down the field opened up lanes for Martin to run on Sunday. It's just that the Jets were playing the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL in the Buccaneers.

We promise this: Martin will be Martin again soon.

And when that happens, the Jets will be at least close to whole again offensively.

Their opponent Sunday, the Bills, rank 31st in the league in run defense but are 11th overall. So the Jets expect another low-scoring affair.

"Vinny as a guy coming off the couch, did a good job,'' Edwards said. "There are a lot of guys now sitting on couches wanting tryouts. Vinny's a veteran and he did a good job and the line did a good job of protecting him. He wasn't perfect, but we made some plays that we had to make where in the previous two weeks we lost we didn't make those plays.''

Edwards cautioned about any overly-euphoric feelings coming from the win last week, saying, "When you win a game you gain confidence, but we also have a long way to go offensively. We're not out of the woods at all. We made a couple strides, but we have to do a lot better than that. The problem these guys have is they face another good defense (in Buffalo).

"We can't lose our edge on defense. We have to play good defense, because it will be low scoring again.''

****

If you're mildly alarmed by rookie kicker Mike Nugent missing two field goals he should have made last Sunday against the Buccaneers, don't be anything but mildly concerned.

The kid should be all right.

We're not making excuses for him, but he hasn't exactly had a lot of chances _ only seven attempts in five games. He, too, is a rookie. He's a confident, not cocky guy and is better than he showed Sunday.

He was too good for to long at Ohio State to let one bad game adversely affect the next kick.

The bottom line for Nugent and the Jets is this: With the close, low-scoring games they're playing, the they cannot afford missed field goals, certainly not from 40 yards and not even from 48, which is not at all out of Nugent's range.

The Jets, who are offensively challenged at the moment, need every point they can get.

Herman Edwards said he planned to speak to Nugent to reassure his confidence.

"He'll be fine,'' Edwards said. "He's trying too hard. His rhythm was a little off. He just needs to slow down and don't press. The good thing is if you get anything out of that (the misses) didn't hurt us from winning the game.

"He's going to miss some kicks but he's going to make some, too. Kickers go through this sometimes. He's a young kicker and he's a good kicker. He'll make the kicks. One thing I do know: When we get in field goal range he's the only guy we've got out there kicking.''

****

A few thoughts about Pennington and his injury.

He emerged on Monday to speak publicly for the first time since he was hurt more than two weeks before and explained that the reason he didn't want to speak to reporters was because he didn't know what his prognosis was and didn't want to answer every question with an "I don't know.''

He wouldn't have had to. The reporters who cover the team regularly, when an interview request was made on a day Pennington was in the building, made it clear to team officials that we just wanted to convey his state of mind to readers and fans who hadn't heard anything from the face of the franchise.

We knew we couldn't ask any medical questions and that was made clear. We could hear about all of that once surgery was complete. But Pennington could _ and should _ have come down to speak to reporters.

As both a leader on this team and a player who's been treated fair to the letter since he arrived here by reporters, it was a responsibility (albeit a small one compared to most on his docket) to speak to the fans through reporters not to mention a courtesy to some people he works with on a regular basis.

That said, Pennington expressed both optimism about his prognosis _ arthroscopic surgery this time instead of reconstructive line last time _ and defiance about competing for his starting job with an outsider next year and about renegotiating his contract.

"I expect the Jets to do that,'' Pennington said of the Jets bringing in another quarterback. "I know that when I'm fully healthy, I can compete with anybody. The competition doesn't care me or bother me.

"It's in the best interests of the organization to make sure every position is solidified. That's why we brought Jay in this year to make sure that if something happened, he would be right there to take over, and it just so happened that he got hurt, too.''

It should be noted, however, that bringing Fiedler in this past offseason and bringing in someone else this coming offseason are completely different scenarios. Fiedler was brought in to be Pennington's backup, as a safety net in case something happened or Pennington wasn't ready.

According to highly-placed sources inside Weeb Ewbank Hall, Fiedler is not considered by the club to be an answer as a full-time starter.

Though it's too early to get a true handle on the market and who'll be available, the Jets could try to pry Billy Volek away from the Titans, where he played extremely well in offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's system. The problem there is that Volek just signed a new deal before this season and the salary cap ramifications would be aplenty even if the Titans were willing to part with him, which is unlikely in itself.

Getting either Drew Brees or Philip Rivers might be ideal if they could get one of those shaking free out of San Diego. Patrick Ramsey can probably be had out of Washington at some point and Chris Simms in Tampa Bay, who's unproven, could be an option _ as could someone from college (did someone mention Matt Leinart?).

A big question here is who wants to come here not knowing for sure he'll be the starter. If Pennington is healthy again you know damn well Herman Edwards is going to give him every possible opportunity to win the job _ as he should. But that might severely handcuff the Jets regarding who'll come here to compete without knowing he has a job.

One thing no one can deny about Pennington is that hes a team player. No one is rooting harder for Vinny Testaverde to make this a magical season than Pennington.

"There's not a better Christmas present that I could have this year than to watch our team go into the playoffs and win the championship,'' he said. "That would just be the story of the year in the NFL. I think it would be a great story. That's what I'm pulling for and that's what I'm rooting for.

"I have been fortunate to know Vinny for a long time and I know what type of quarterback he is,'' Pennington went on. "I know what type of person he is. I'm excited for him. So, this to me would be the icing on the cake for him to be able to come back and help lead our team to a championship.

"For all you book writers out there, you can't write a better book than that. That's a great story. So, that's what I'm rooting for and I'm rooting for him, I'm rooting for our team. Our team has been through a lot, faced a lot of adversity, and to be able to bounce out of out of this situation would be a good thing for Jets fans. And it would be a good thing for our organization to show how tough we really

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