Testaverde's vision isn't 20-20, but 21-23 is fine with Browns

December 27, 1993|By John Strege | John Strege,Orange County (Calif.) Register

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was not a Steel Curtain certainly, more of a thin veil through which Vinny Testaverde apparently could glimpse the future.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback dismantled the Los Angeles Rams' defense yesterday, establishing in the process an NFL record from which he concluded the best is yet to come.

"It's exciting to come in and finally put a game all together," he said. "It's good to know we're going to have a pretty good team next year."

The Rams' defense likely will prove to have been easier to read than the Browns' future, but forgive him his euphoria. Testaverde had just completed 21 of 23 passes, an NFL-record 91.3 percent, that provided the impetus for the Browns' 42-14 victory against the Rams on a gray Sunday at Anaheim Stadium.

The Browns limited Jerome Bettis of the Rams, who came into the game as the NFL's leading rusher, to 56 yards on 16 carries. That cost Bettis his lead, with Emmitt Smith, who gained 153 yards for Dallas, taking over with 1,318 yards to Bettis' 1,283.

Testaverde erased the record of 90.91 percent (20 of 22) set by Cincinnati's Kenny Anderson on Nov. 10, 1974, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win their first of four Super Bowls. Testaverde produced the record against a team that played down to its 4-11 record.

"I was told a long time ago," Testaverde said, "there's very little difference from the best team in the league to the worst team. Whether you're 2-12 or 12-2, on any Sunday any one of those teams can win."

Besides, a team has to have something on which to build, and so the Browns have Testaverde and a performance that, for the moment anyway, has attached forgotten to gone in describing former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar.

"Lately, Vinny's been on every week," said receiver Keenan McCardell, who caught two touchdown passes. "When he's on, it helps us. He's been doing the job. You've got to say our offense has been clicking the last three weeks."

However anemic the opponent, it was a memorable performance for Testaverde, a former Heisman Trophy winner attempting to derail the notion that he might be a journeyman quarterback.

"I'm not looking to prove to anybody anything," he said. "I'm just looking to prove to myself that I gave my best performance every week. The last three weeks I really feel like I'm seeing everything. I feel I've been playing the best football I have since I've been in the NFL."

That includes six seasons with Tampa Bay, which permitted him to leave via free agency. He signed with the Browns, for whom he was to back up Kosar. When Kosar was released, the Browns entrusted their future to Testaverde.

"The last three or four weeks we're starting to come together as a team," Testaverde said. "We're starting to really understand our offensive philosophy. We kind of changed some things when Bernie left. We struggled offensively through the first half of the season, but the last couple of weeks we've started to get a feel for what our offensive philosophy is."

Testaverde completed 13 passes in a row at one point, six in a row at another. Of his two incompletions, one was thrown away intentionally.

"Somebody told me I was 19 of 21," he said. "If I was 19 of 21 I knew I had the record."

Testaverde obviously is more adept at accumulating stats than keeping them inasmuch as 19 of 21 would have fallen short of the record. He ought to have known better; he flirted with the record a year ago.

"Actually, I had the record last year in Tampa," he said, "but my last pass was incomplete."

Testaverde completed 22 of 25 passes against Green Bay in '92.

He had an opportunity for the record to evade him in this game, too. On a third-and-15 play in the fourth quarter, he was forced from the pocket and ran out of bounds for a 3-yard loss, rather than throwing it away.

His coach, Bill Belichick, knew only that "he'd only missed one or two passes." He also knew enough to keep the victory and Testaverde's performance in perspective.

"I thought Vinny did a nice job in taking what the defense gave him," Belichick said. "Vinny played a fine game."

COMPLETE FEAT

Vinny Testaverde set an NFL record for completion percentage in a game, connecting on 21 of 23 passes in the Browns' 42-14 rout of the Rams. Highest percentages (20 or more attempts):

Quarterback .. .. Co.-Att. .. Pct. .. Yr.

Testaverde ... .. 21-23 .. .. .913 .. '93

Ken Anderson . .. 20-22 .. .. .909 .. '74

Lynn Dickey .. .. 19-21 .. .. .905 .. '81

Steve Young .. .. 18-20 .. .. .900 .. '91

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