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One for the aged

Testaverde's return sparks Jets to much-needed win

Posted: Sunday October 9, 2005 10:21PM; Updated: Monday October 10, 2005 12:39PM
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Vinny Testaverde
Vinny Testaverde had just 163 yards and an interception, but he ended the Jets' two-game losing streak.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was old-timers' day at the Meadowlands on Sunday, and the New York Jets were gracious enough to invite Vinny Testaverde back for the festivities.

To be honest, they even went a bit further than that. They up and started the soon-to-be 42-year-old quarterback, less than two weeks after rescuing him from babysitting duties at home in nearby Elmont, N.Y.

Testaverde went out Sunday against unbeaten Tampa Bay and returned the favor, maybe, just maybe, rescuing a Jets' season that had looked all but lost.

"I've never been around a 41-year-old guy who was taking his kids to school and all of a sudden he's a starting quarterback,'' said Jets head coach Herman Edwards, whose team gutted out an ugly but much-needed 14-12 victory over the Bucs, despite starting a third different quarterback for the third week in a row.

"We knew it wasn't going to be pretty at times," said Edwards, "But Vinny did a good job coming in. You're talking about a guy who was sitting [at] home. He comes in and kind of got us off the carpet. Gave us some life.''

With injured quarterback Chad Pennington out for the season and rendered a cheerleader on the sideline, and last week's starter, Brooks Bollinger, back in his accustomed reserve role, the Jets were once again Testaverde's team, and New York once again seemed like his town. Just like it was for most of his first go-round with the Jets, from 1998-2003.

And everybody on hand was loving it. They gave him a standing ovation when he hit the field in the pre-game, and they were chanting his name during the national anthem. And that was just his own teammates.

"I'm in awe of the things he can do,'' said Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet, who could barely contain his glee over Testaverde's triumphant return. "He was out there smirking in warm-ups, like he knew something we didn't know.

"He's done it for us so many times before. He just gives us a little swagger, a little confidence. It really was the same old Vinny. He just has that way about him.''

Jets fans dragged their old Vinny No. 16 jerseys out of mothballs for the occasion, kind of the same way Testaverde himself was unexpectedly taken out of storage and put back on display. That it came against Tampa Bay, where Testaverde started his 19-year NFL journey in 1987 as the No. 1 overall pick, was all gravy.

"I feel great -- after that win,'' said Testaverde, who spent the 2004 season as the starter in Dallas, but went unsigned all offseason. "It was a great homecoming. I couldn't have asked for anything more than the way it went.''

It went pretty roughly for Vinny and the Jets in the first half. New York had the ball for just 7:10 of the opening half, and ran just 15 plays to Tampa Bay's 48. Testaverde was just 3 of 7 for 43 yards in the first half, and the Jets mustered only three first downs. But New York hung in there, trailing just 9-7 at the break, and Testaverde hit 10 of his last 12 passes on the day, for 120 yards -- 32 of them on the 10-play, 59-yard third-quarter touchdown drive that wound up providing the Jets with the game-winning points.

"It doesn't shock me that he could come in here and practice two weeks and do what he did today,'' Chrebet said. "I'm not stunned, but yeah, it was something. I know this, it's a step in the right direction for us. That was a 4-0 team.''