Relax Jets Fans, this man is no Rick Mirer
I've been listening to sports talk radio the last two days and Jets fans are once again doing their best Chicken Little impressions in light of our latest disaster, the demise of Boy Wonder Pennington. I would like to take this opportunity to ask that we all please take the handguns out of our mouths and let's try to maintain a sense of calm.
I do realize it's in our nature to be pessimistic. Good things always seem to be right in our grasp and then snatched away in a flash when you're a Jets fan. Thoughts of Gastineau hitting Bernie Kosar out of bounds and Victor Green blowing coverage on Ed McCaffrey begin dancing in my head every time something like this happens. But everyone just take a deep breath - hold it in - good - and release - good. Now, let's re-group for a moment.
Is losing Pennington a blow to this team? No doubt. Is the season over? Not a chance. I'm quite confident with Vincent Testaverde leading the way. And all Jets fans should be too.
I've heard it all since Sunday morning: Vinny's done. Vinny can't run Hackett's offense. Vinny makes bad decisions. Vinny's old and Vinny was benched last year and Vinny can't move, yada yada.
Granted, Vinny is no longer the Vinny circa 1998 and he can be maddeningly frustrating at times. But I feel a hell of a lot more confident today than I did when Rick Mirer took over in '99.
I mean, my God, the man is better then 90% of the back-ups in the NFL and would be a starter on several teams. Do you think the Atlanta Falcons are feeling positive knowing Doug Johnson (who?) will be starting for almost half the season?
Injuries and dangerously long pre-seasons are a part of the 2003 NFL. You need a quality backup in this league. That was the whole point of giving Testaverde a boatload of money to stay as a Jet for several years and eventually accept a backup role. And that was also the point of not dealing him to Dallas or anyone else looking for an experienced vet.
The man is capable of winning games and if you put things in perspective and look at all the so-called "negatives", things could be a lot worse:
Age: not a factor. He's in tremendous shape for an athlete his age. Testaverde has always been a workout warrior and remains in tremendous physical condition. This is not a 40 year-old Johnny Unitas trying to revitalize an already finished career. He's in as good a shape as any QB in the NFL and a year of holding the clipboard has put a new spring in his old step. Plus 17 years in the NFL is has certainly taught him enough about playing in the NFL.
Mobility: he has none. Zero. It's no big secret that he's a virtual fence post in the pocket, but Pennington isn't exactly Michael Vick either. The offensive line will have to step up and make sure he's protected with enough time to sling it. That may be easier said than done, but that's the way it is.
Bad Decisions: everyone always thinks Vinny is a pick-off waiting to happen. True, he has been known to make some questionable judgment calls over the years, but when you put him in a suitable playing environment with enough time to read and react, Vinny is as good as anyone. And he is a leader who has the respect of this team. This is the same man who led a beaten Jets team back from the dead on Monday night against the 'Fins. Bad decision-making aside, I can count on one hand the number of QBs in this league who could have done that.
2002 Benching: Vinny was indeed awful last year and it was quite obvious he and Hackett were not on the same page. Frankly, it seemed like they were playing in two different stadiums at certain points last year.
That being said, it also wasn't Vinny giving up 30 points and more per game or who couldn't run the ball or pass block. That entire first part of the season was a losing team effort. Not to dismiss anything that Pennington did last year because he is the real deal, but Chad certainly benefited by the fact that the whole team was beginning to gel as soon as he took over.
Pennington saved Hackett's job. Now it's Hackett's turn to save this season by making sure he adapts to Testaverde's style and not vice versa. Vinny is not suited to play a pure West Coast offense, so plays must be drawn up accordingly (are you listening, Paul?). A simple offensive scheme with lots of downfield throwing and a healthy dose of the Curtis/Lamont Jordan tandem will do the trick, and I think Vinny will respond.
Remember this: no one throws a better deep ball than Testaverde. The big knock on Pennington this offseason was that he doesn't have the arm strength to take advantage of big playmakers like Santana Moss. Well guess what kids, ol'Vinny does. Bombs away...
Vinny has accepted the back-up role and he knows that if Pennington comes back this year (and don't kid yourself, it's a big if, despite the "12 weeks" spin from Herman Edwards), he goes back to the sideline. But in the meantime, whatever happens, I think we've got more than a "puncher's chance" with the homeboy from Elmont.
This season isn't over, folks - it's just beginning. Welcome back, Vinny. Now get to work....