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Desperate Jets bring back Testaverde

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (Sept, 27, 2005) -- Vinny Testaverde was plopped on his couch, watching his beloved New York Jets and, like millions of other fans, could hardly believe his eyes.

In a span of seven plays on Sept. 25, not one but two quarterbacks went down, starter Chad Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler. Out for the season. Both of them, with shoulder injuries.

There was only one thing to do.

"I called Herm and said, 'I am here in whatever capacity you need me,' " Testaverde said. "To be a teacher ... or to play, to be a starter or a backup. I want to get this team back on track to where everybody expects it to be. Whatever that role is ... I feel in a good enough position to do that."

Suddenly, 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde is back in the NFL.

"I'm excited, happy, nervous, anxious, all those feelings about playing for the Jets again," he said.

With Pennington and Fiedler gone with shoulder injuries, Testaverde likely was signed to back up untested Brooks Bollinger. Considering Bollinger's inexperience and the way Pennington and Fiedler were battered in a 26-20 overtime loss to Jacksonville, seeing Testaverde behind center soon -- a cruel joke a week ago -- isn't farfetched at all.

"Right now, Vinny is not starting, he is not running out of the tunnel in Baltimore being the starter," coach Herm Edwards said. "He is going to be standing next to me. Brooks is starting. From there, we will see."

What Edwards and Testaverde saw against the Jaguars was something they might never see again in the NFL.

Pennington came out of the game late in the third quarter with a tender right shoulder, but went back in when Fiedler dislocated his right shoulder after six plays. Pennington, who underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in February, had little on his throws, and an MRI exam Sept. 26 revealed another tear in the rotator cuff.

Pennington and Fiedler were on the same flight to Alabama to see Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedist who repaired Pennington's shoulder earlier this year.

"It's tough. I anticipate he will be out for the season," Edwards said of Pennington. "I've never been in the situation where you lose the No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks in a span of seven plays."

That means it's Bollinger and Testaverde against the Baltimore Ravens' rugged defense on Oct. 2. Bollinger has thrown nine passes in his career, all against Arizona in a victory last season when Pennington sat out.

The overall No. 1 pick in the 1987 draft, Testaverde was with the Cowboys in 2004, but was not in an NFL training camp this summer.

Still, the Jets thought of him after learning the severity of their quarterbacks' injuries -- just as Testaverde was thinking of his old boss Edwards, who promoted Pennington over him in Game 5 of the 2002 season.

"I thought maybe the organization and Herm might want me to be to here," said Testaverde, who led the Jets to the 1998 AFC title game and was with them from '98 through 2003.

Edwards said it would be unfair to expect Testaverde to master much of the playbook by Oct. 2. But Testaverde's familiarity with the organization and many of the offensive players -- receivers Laveranues Coles and Wayne Chrebet, center Kevin Mawae, tackle Jason Fabini -- made him the right fit.

Whether he fits as a starter will be determined during the next few weeks.

"We're doing a little scrambling, the two-minute drill," Edwards said. "If something happens to Brooksie, who else is going to play? You can't cancel."

Edwards said there were no second thoughts about having Pennington begin the season, or return to the game against Jacksonville. Team doctors cleared him both times, the coach said.

There must be questions, however, about Pennington's future. In addition to two torn rotator cuffs in less than a year, he broke his left wrist in the 2003 preseason. He never had the strongest arm in football -- it pales in comparison to Testaverde's gun, for instance. And now he has a reputation of being brittle.

That's why the Jets signed Fiedler, an accomplished backup with a history of success as a starter with Miami.

Now, they're gone and a man who will turn 42 in November might wind up taking their place.

"The circumstances are what they are," Testaverde said. "I just have to rely on my experience of the last 18 years. I am confident I can help this team."

AP NEWS
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