Warts and all, Testaverde's still our Vinny

September 01, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN COLUMNIST

Vinny.

One minute, he looks dynamite.

The next minute, he looks like, well, Vinny.

In Tampa, they called Vinny Testaverde the "Big Tease." Former Buccaneers coach Sam Wyche said he had the best throwing motion he'd ever seen in a quarterback. Ravens quarterback coach Don Strock echoes that sentiment.

And yet, he's still Vinny.

Our Vinny.

For better or worse.

In sickness and in health.

'Til the salary cap do us part.

Alas, Vinny committed two turnovers for the second straight week Aug. 17, fumbling at the Green Bay 22 while getting sacked, then throwing an interception at the Green Bay 12 on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter.

The turnovers were a major reason for the Ravens' 7-2 halftime deficit, obscuring the fact that their first-team offense moved the ball in the rain in its preseason test with Reggie White and Co.

Some knucklehead talk-show caller will scream that backup quarterback Eric Zeier rallied the Ravens to a 15-14 lead with 1: 06 left before the Packers prevailed, 17-15, but there's no quarterback controversy.

Let Washington argue over Heath and Gus.

In Baltimore, it's Vinny or bust.

"The important thing is, he made the right reads," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "I don't think he played quite as well as the previous two games, but he is doing the right things. Vinny will be all right. There is not a question mark or a concern there."

Marchibroda surely would like Vinny to take better care of the ball, but he wasn't going to criticize him after only three preseason games. Vinny is an above-average NFL quarterback. Marchibroda needs him. It's that simple.

Vinny completed seven of 15 passes for 77 yards in the first half, with the two turnovers. Zeier fared better against the second-team Green Bay defense, going 14-for-21 for 129 yards and two touchdowns, but it doesn't matter.

Vinny is the quarterback.

Never mind that the Ravens had the ball inside the Green Bay 40 four times in the first half, and did not score. It wasn't all Vinny's fault. It's never all Vinny's fault. But his past failures will haunt him, until he reaches the next level.

Still, it's only fair to note that one of the first-half drives against Green Bay stalled after an illegal-formation call on right tackle Orlando Brown, the Raven with the unenviable assignment of blocking White.

Another ended after rookie receiver James Roe stepped out of bounds, negating a 35-yard completion on perhaps Vinny's best throw of the night.

That's our Vinny.

Lofting a gorgeous pass one minute.

Throwing an interception the next.

Former coach Bill Belichick benched him after the Browns' 3-4 start last season, and that brilliant idea helped trigger the team's collapse.

Vinny was AFC Player of the Month in September, off to the best start of his career. And then Belichick replaced him with the rookie Zeier in October.

The veterans hated the move because Vinny was playing so well. And Zeier didn't exactly justify the move, going 1-3 as a starter.

Marchibroda won't pull the same stunt this season. He wants to restore Vinny's confidence, not destroy it.

Everyone knows the deal.

Vinny can make you dream.

And Vinny can break your heart.

True, it's only the preseason. True, Packers quarterback Brett Favre didn't look much better in the first half. But the great ones minimize their mistakes. Vinny did that better in Cleveland than in Tampa. But he's still Vinny.

In his defense, he has had nine quarterback coaches in his 10 NFL seasons, while Favre has been in the same system for five years. Perhaps Strock will provide the stability he needs. Or perhaps what you see is what you get.

The fumble came first against the Packers. White grabbed Vinny by the shoulder. Vinny tried to run right rather than step into the pocket. Gilbert Brown stripped the ball, and Sean Jones recovered.

Then came the interception. Again, Vinny faced pressure, but not enormous pressure. He under-threw Frank Hartley over the middle. Packers linebacker George Koonce reached up, and the ball was his.

"I just didn't get it high enough," Vinny said. "It was a bad throw on my part. I believe he [Hartley] would have walked into the end zone if I had gotten it over [Koonce's head]."

Vinny made similar turnovers the previous week against the Giants, failing to tuck the ball away before a fumble, throwing another ill-advised pass over the middle ("the receiver could have given him a little help," Marchibroda said).

He isn't horrible. He just isn't special, that's all.

Two years ago, he led the Browns to an 11-5 record, the second best in team history. Last year, he tied for third in the AFC with a career-high 87.8 rating, throwing 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

A poor season this year, and maybe the Ravens will get rid of him, but it's way too early for such talk. Vinny is the quarterback. Magnificent one moment, maddening the next, warts and all.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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