Testaverde's guarantee written in doubt

September 16, 1996|By John Eisenberg

HOUSTON -- He was rolling along after the game, taking the blame and explaining his many interceptions, when it came tumbling out of his mouth.

"I'm going to guarantee the city of Baltimore and my teammates that I won't have any more days like I had today," Vinny Testaverde said.

Whoa. A guarantee.

OK, maybe it wasn't quite as dramatic as Joe Namath's guarantee of victory before Super Bowl III.

Joe was promising to play well.

Vinny was promising to play a little less poorly.

Talk about declining standards. It was a perfect metaphor for the watered-down NFL of the '90s.

Testaverde wasn't guaranteeing that he would throw three touchdown passes; just that he wouldn't throw three interceptions.

He wasn't pledging to win; just not to be so wholly responsible for losses.

Actually, it will be hard for Testaverde not to make good on his guarantee.

How can he not improve on his performance in the Ravens' 29-13 loss to the Oilers yesterday at the Astrodome?

He threw three interceptions, two in the first 13 minutes that led to Oilers touchdowns and dug the Ravens a 14-0 hole from which they never climbed out.

He wound up completing 25 of 40 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, which sounds decent, but the interceptions overruled any gains.

That's 11 turnovers by Testaverde in the past six games, dating back to the preseason.

Asked to assess his quarterback after three regular-season games, Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said: "We're giving the football up too much."

We.

Asked to assess an offense that has yet to score 20 points in a regular-season game, an offense that was outscored by the Orioles yesterday, tackle Tony Jones said, "We can't have the turnovers we're having."

We.

Testaverde is such a nice guy that no one wants to say it, but his mistakes are killing the Ravens.

He was supposed to be a new, improved Vinny this season with Marchibroda and Don Strock around to whisper in his ear, but he isn't improving at all.

If anything, he's going backward.

He was voted the AFC's Player of the Month last September, but this September he has thrown four interceptions in three games.

Not that there weren't many other culpable parties yesterday.

"This wasn't one guy, this was a total team effort," Marchibroda said. "We didn't play smart football."

True enough. The Ravens didn't get blown off the lines as they did in Pittsburgh the week before, but they committed a series of blunders.

They were found guilty of holding on the game's first two plays. An errant snap by long snapper Brian Kinchen led to a safety on an attempted punt.

Testaverde's receivers dropped several passes on third downs.

The secondary blew coverages.

It was an exercise in foolish football, and it was followed by rumblings in the locker room.

"There are some things we have to work on as a team that I don't want to discuss," Testaverde said.

"We need to start studying the game more, studying our opponents more," cornerback Antonio Langham said. "We're professionals. This is our job."

What is going on around here?

After Marchibroda's lecture about leadership last week and now these vaguely derogatory comments from Langham and Testaverde, it almost seems fair to wonder if these guys are earning their paychecks or just going through the motions.

The Oilers certainly put them to shame yesterday before 20,000 fans and 40,000 empty seats.

They're in the same situation that the Browns were in last year, playing in a city they're getting ready to abandon, but, unlike the Browns/Ravens, they haven't used it as an excuse to fall apart.

What does that say about the team formerly known as the Browns?

Just what you think it says: That the problem wasn't the move, the problem was the team.

And the problem starts with the quarterback.

In Testaverde's defense, his first interception yesterday wasn't his fault. He threw a perfect third-down pass to Derrick Alexander, but the ball caromed off Alexander and was intercepted.

The second interception was his mistake, a forced throw into coverage. A dropped pass by Alexander and a blown screen to Carwell Gardner preceded it; Testaverde admitted he was frustrated when he forced the throw.

"To do that after two bad plays is an even bigger mistake by me," he said.

The third interception was a nifty read by the Oilers' Darryll Lewis. "Guy made a good play," Testaverde said.

He stood there after the game for a good 20 minutes, patiently answering question after question without raising his voice.

Then, suddenly, the guarantee came tumbling out.

No more of this.

He promised.

A guy with a 41-65 career record as a starting quarterback.

A guy with 26 more interceptions than touchdowns in his decade in the league.

No more.

He promised.

If only it were that easy.

Pub Date: 9/16/96

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