Work in Sports
What We Learned
Three things we know after the Jets-Buccaneers game
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
TAMPA, Fla. -- Pulling the biggest upset of this young NFL season, and shutting up the chatty Keyshawn Johnson in the process, the New York Jets pulled their fourth-quarter Houdini act on unbeaten Tampa Bay Sunday. Here are three things that we learned from New York's 21-17 victory:
1. Vinny Testaverde struggled mightily Sunday in the Jets' dramatic comeback victory, showing once again why running back Curtis Martin is New York's most valuable player. All Martin did was rush for a game-high 90 yards on 18 carries, catch seven passes for 27 yards and one touchdown, and throw, yes, throw the game-winning last-minute 18-yard scoring pass to receiver Wayne Chrebet. But don't look for the Jets to turn over the fulltime quarterback duties to Martin any time soon.
New York worked on Martin's halfback option pass on Thursday and Friday this week. The execution apparently left something to be desired.
"[The media isn't] out there at practice, but Curtis isn't the best passer in the world," Chrebet said. "The first time we ran it, it was pretty ugly. I was just standing there waiting for it. It was like a duck. But they worked with him a little bit."
Martin said he last displayed such versatility in high school, when he used to run the halfback option "all the time."
"Yeah, they actually laughed at me [in practice]," Martin said. "That play was like the joke of the week in practice. The first time we ran it I rolled out and threw it and it just wobbled and wobbled. Everybody was like, 'Quack, quack, quack.' I just told them, 'Y'all just wait until the game. I'll get it done in the game.'"
That he did. Even though he was racked with indecision right up until he threw the pass.
"In practice I wasn't sure I was going to throw it with my glove on or my glove off," Martin said. "So in the game, I don't know if you were able to see it, but I was trying to sneak my glove off a little bit. When the ball was snapped I just dropped it on the ground."
2. The Jets' comeback and first-ever 4-0 start aside, New York is a team with a potential quarterback problem. Testaverde had by far his worst game as a Jet, throwing three interceptions, missing badly on many others, and being benched briefly in the fourth quarter in favor of Ray Lucas.
Testaverde looks stiff and awkward at times, as if he still doesn't have full confidence in his surgically repaired Achilles tendon, and he scattered-armed the ball all over the field Sunday. Yes, he orchestrated the Jets to a third fourth-quarter comeback victory in four weeks, but he failed to get New York into the end zone until 1:54 remained. He finished 22-of-42 for 181 yards, with three interceptions and one touchdown.
For Testaverde, it was turn back the clock day at Raymond James Stadium. He played six brutal seasons for the Bucs, and some of his blunders Sunday were vintage Vinny, circa 1987-92. Time after time with those bumbling Bucs, an ill-advised Testaverde pass would wind up in the arms of the enemy, breaking Tampa Bay's back at the worst possible moment.
It looked like it happened again late in the third quarter, when Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber stepped in front of a pass intended for Dedric Ward and returned it 37 yards for the touchdown that made it 17-6.
Understandably, the Jets coach, Al Groh, stood behind Testaverde after the game, saying he was their guy through thick and thin. He said he planned to return Testaverde to the game after giving Lucas one series, and that the only thing that matters to him is the bottom-line victory.
"I feel like the fourth quarter belongs to me," Testaverde said. "And I've proven that over and over this year, again and again. It turned out the way we wanted, with a win. It didn't go the way we wanted it to, but we hung together as a team and came out on top in the end."
Still, Testaverde hasn't truly looked sharp all season and can't continue to play at this level and not court disaster. The Jets have a bye this week and can content themselves in their 4-0 start. But they can't ignore the questions surrounding Testaverde.
3. Take that Tampa Bay Super Bowl talk down a notch. At least this week. The Bucs looked very mortal against the Jets, and it started with shaky quarterbacking from second-year man Shaun King. After Tampa Bay scored a three-game team record 93 points in starting 3-0, King regressed against New York.
He was just 9-of-17 for 135 yards, with two interceptions and one touchdown, a spectacular one-handed 3-yard scoring catch by tight end Dave Moore. King tossed his first two interceptions of the season, snapping his streak of 85 attempts without a pick, and inadvertently proved his critics correct: The Bucs, even with their suffocating defense, can be beaten if they get only mediocre quarterbacking.
King misfired repeatedly to his receivers, failing to get Keyshawn Johnson into the game at any point. Johnson finished with just one catch for 1 yard, and that came on a shovel pass that could double as a pitch. Throw in fullback Mike Alstott's key fumble, with 1:39 remaining, and the Bucs offense melted down with an 11-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Bucs entire offense appeared sluggish and thrown off their game by the heavy pre-game and first-quarter rains, but the burden of responsibility rests heaviest on King. Tampa Bay didn't look like it would have to win games 13-10 this season, as they have in recent years. But against the Jets the old Bucs surfaced.
Tampa Bay at 3-1 finds itself in second place in the NFC Central, a half-game behind idle Minnesota (3-0). Whether or not the Bucs needed a wake-up call on their road to the Super Bowl, it came in Week 4 against the Jets. How they and King respond will be closely watched.