HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Vinny Testaverde took the blame when the New York Jets started so poorly last season.
Instead of pouting, he handed the quarterback reins to Chad Pennington and kept his head up, hoping for another chance. That opportunity is here, and Testaverde wants to make the most of it.”If you stick around long enough you will have opportunities,” Testaverde said.
And boy, has he stuck around. The 39-year-old Testaverde enters his 17th season feeling rejuvenated and ready to guide the Jets back to the playoffs. Perhaps he wants to make up for what happened in 2002.
The Jets started 1-3, and Testaverde went to the bench.
“The quarterback takes the good shots, he takes the bad shots,” offensive coordinator Paul Hackett said. “Vinny stood up and said, ‘OK, we need to change.’ How he handled himself is what this team learned about him. It’s time for us now to do it like he did it.”
He took the demotion with class, endearing himself to coach Herman Edwards and the rest of the team.
“He took the bullet for everyone last year,” Edwards said. “And he came back the next day and helped Chad. He is a great guy to have around here for our players to see that when things happen like that you have to continue to be a pro.
“I just feel we owe it to Vinny now.”
Yet questions still surround Testaverde, especially with Pennington out for 12 weeks. Pennington broke and dislocated his left wrist against the Giants and was released from the hospital Sunday.
But he’s not expected to rejoin the team until next week, following the death of his father-in-law, who passed away Sunday following a long battle with cancer.
As for Testaverde, he hasn’t played much in the preseason, seeing his most extensive action after Pennington got hurt Saturday. He turns 40 in November and hasn’t had much time to work with Curtis Conway, who signed in March.
“People talk about my age, but everybody believed the world was flat at one time,” Testaverde said. “If people believe a 40-year-old quarterback can’t get it done — time will tell.”
Hackett said it will take time for the offense and receivers to adjust to Testaverde.
He said Testaverde and Pennington throw completely different balls, and Testaverde is quicker with his delivery because he can read defenses faster. There also will be some adjustments to suit Testaverde.
But Wayne Chrebet believes everything will be just fine offensively.
“He’s been preparing since he was made No. 2 last year,” Chrebet said. “He’s throwing the ball better than ever.”
Hackett also is concerned with the depth at the position. Rookie Brooks Bollinger is the No. 2 quarterback for now, and the Jets signed free agent Todd Husak on Monday.
Bollinger won’t play in the Jets’ preseason finale at Philadelphia on Thursday after spraining his left knee in the game against the Giants. Testaverde is expected to play only one series against the Eagles.
Elvis Grbac turned down an offer to come out of retirement to sign with the Jets. Husak was the Jets’ No. 3 quarterback last season and was expected to report to the team Tuesday.
“It’s extremely difficult to put Brooks Bollinger in the position of being No. 2 for a playoff contending team,” Hackett said. “I am concerned. Exactly how we are going to go about dealing with that, I don’t know.”
The Jets could wait and see who’s cut before signing someone else. General manager Terry Bradway said they were not interested in trading for Browns backup Tim Couch, set to make $6.2 million in 2003.
For now, they are content with relying on Testaverde. And who knows? This could be another career resurrection.
In 1998, Testaverde replaced Glenn Foley and had his best year, throwing for 29 touchdowns and 3,256 yards. He also took the Jets to the AFC title game.
“You always feel you have to prove yourself over again,” Testaverde said. “Jerry Rice said it best. If he’s saying it, the rest of us have to as well.”