tampabay.com

Testaverde comes off couch to hand Bucs first loss

The Bucs struggled both on offensive and defense against the 41 year-old quarterback.

By RICK STROUD
Published October 9, 2005


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Good thing Vinny Testaverde has only been with the Jets for two weeks.

Good thing the 41-year-old quarterback didn't have a whole training camp or more than eight practices before he faced the 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 to the Jets Sunday.

Two weeks ago, the only drives Testaverde directed were the ones to chauffer his kids to class. But without taking a snap for nine months, he was still good enough to school the Bucs.

Testaverde 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 passing yards came in the second half when the Jets took the lead for good by taking the third quarter 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. You know what I mean? 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 only able to muster four Matt Bryant field goals Sunday to fall to 4-1.

Playing without rookie running back Cadillac Williams, still suffering from a left foot sprain and hamstring injuries, 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 passing for 226-yards with no touchdowns, was sacked three times and threw another killer interception.

With the Bucs leading 6-0, Griese's pass sailed over the head of receiver Ike Hilliard and was picked off by Ty Law, who returned it 43-yards to the Tampa Bay 8-yard line. 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 watching Jets quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler go down within seven plays of each other against the Jaguars.

In a weird way, by holding the ball for 23 minutes in the first half and only leading 9-7, they kept Testaverde rested for the second half.

"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, were flagged 12 times for 87 yards Sunday. In part, it's why the Bucs had 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 run by Martin on fourth down. 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, we've got to hit the field a lot better than we did. 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 own 14-yard line to the Jets' 18. But on third-and-10, his completion to Hilliard was 4-yards shy of the first down marker, forcing the Bucs to settle on 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," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "That's what they were trying to stop. Our thought process was throw the ball to Ike. We knew he would be open. Maybe he could get eight or nine yards and be in a fourth-and-1 and we could go for it at that point."

But Testaverde connected on a huge third down pass to Laveranues Coles, forcing the Bucs to use all their time outs. Griese's last-ditch effort died 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.