If you call for Vinny's head, then you're not using yours

November 04, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

You say Vinny Testaverde drives you crazy; we can't argue.

You say he'll never lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl; we can't argue.

But if you say Vinny must go, you're clueless about the state of quarterbacking in the NFL today.

"I've seen a lot of games on TV the last couple of weeks, seen a lot of guys in the league making an awful lot of big mistakes," Ted Marchibroda said yesterday.

The Ravens coach wasn't making excuses. He was just trying to keep things in perspective, which is difficult to do with a quarterback as mistake-prone as Testaverde.

You say Vinny breaks your heart; we can't argue.

But the truth of the matter is, Testaverde is still one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL.

He's not Brett Favre or Drew Bledsoe, not Steve Young or John Elway. But he's as good or better than most other quarterbacks in the league.

Dan Marino is fading. Neil O'Donnell is about to become a $25 million backup. Troy Aikman is 4-5, the same as Testaverde.

Sorry, there just aren't many elite quarterbacks left in an era of expansion, free agency and blitzing defenses.

The quarterback play is as mediocre as the overall play.

And Testaverde is better than mediocre.

"Like all other quarterbacks, he has off-days, off-moments," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "But I have great confidence in Vinny Testaverde leading this team.

"Last year was no fluke. Thirty-three touchdowns, [4,177] passing yards, you can't do that with mirrors. And he's on pace to do even more this year."

Actually, Testaverde is on pace to throw fewer touchdown passes but for more yards. Still, his 49 touchdown passes since 1996 rank second only to Favre's 58.

Even if you consider his statistics a lie, few quarterbacks could run a two-minute drill as effectively as he did for the tying score in Sunday's 19-16 overtime loss to the New York Jets.

Disgruntled Ravens fans need to get over it: Testaverde is signed through 1999, Eric Zeier isn't a viable option and the team isn't going to draft Peyton Manning.

The Ravens can't get rid of Testaverde, unless they want to take another Andre Rison-type hit under the salary cap. And they don't want to get rid of him, knowing how difficult it would be to find someone better.

"Vinny, under the circumstances, did a fine job [Sunday]," Marchibroda said. "He brought us back when he had to. The thing we have to get away from is Vinny making the crucial mistake."

Alas, that might be difficult, considering this is Testaverde's 11th NFL season and his pattern of misfortune dates to the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, when he threw five interceptions against Penn State.

Testaverde can play terrific football for 59 minutes, but it's that other minute everyone remembers. It's that other minute when he's truly dangerous, when the dreaded Vinny moments occur.

Take Sunday.

Testaverde threw for 288 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to tie the score with three seconds left. But what play stood out most? The third-quarter interception he threw from his knees, leading to a Jets field goal.

Marchibroda initially blamed receiver Jermaine Lewis for failing to come back for the ball, saying: "That would have happened if [Testaverde] had been standing up."

Upon further review?

"It's a pass he should not have thrown," Marchibroda said.

Testaverde agreed.

"That was a bad decision," he said. "I just have to be more aware of trying not to make plays out of bad situations.

"The instinct is to make a play. That's not always the best and smartest decision, as I found out [Sunday]."

Marchibroda, however, says Testaverde actually is playing better than he did last season, playing more within himself.

He has thrown 10 interceptions, but only one in the past three games. He also has fumbled eight times the past four games, and lost the ball twice.

Part of that, obviously, was due to the rain at Washington and New York. But overall, Testaverde said, "my decision-making has been much better."

Modell evidently agrees -- he supported former coach Bill Belichick's decision to bench Testaverde in 1995, but rallied to the quarterback's defense yesterday.

"It's wrong for anyone to indict him for [Sunday]," Modell said. "This isn't a tennis match where he's standing on the baseline double-faulting. Then you could single him out, say he's the problem.

"A lot of elements go into winning, including special-teams coverage, defensive schemes, defensive alignments when you have to put pressure on the quarterback.

"It's not all Vinny. Vinny Testaverde is a quality quarterback, one of the best in the NFL today."

L That might be damning with faint praise, but it's the truth.

You say Vinny never wins, and we can't argue.

But if you say Vinny must go, you aren't watching the NFL very closely.

Better than Vinny?

Vinny Testaverde doesn't remind anyone of Johnny Unitas, but if you could trade him for another NFL quarterback to finish the season, which one would you want?

Quarterbacks you'd take over Vinny: Troy Aikman, Dallas; Drew Bledsoe, New England; Mark Brunell, Jacksonville; John Elway, Denver; Brett Favre, Green Bay; Brad Johnson, Minnesota; Warren Moon, Seattle; Steve Young, San Francisco.

Quarterbacks who are comparable to Vinny: Jeff Blake, Cincinnati; Kerry Collins, Carolina; Trent Dilfer, Tampa Bay; Jeff George, Oakland; Elvis Grbac, Kansas City; Stan Humphries, San Diego; Dan Marino, Miami; Steve McNair, Tennessee; Kordell Stewart, Pittsburgh.

Quarterbacks you wouldn't take over Vinny: Tony Banks, St. Louis; Chris Chandler, Atlanta; Todd Collins, Buffalo; Ty Detmer, Rodney Peete, Philadelphia; Jim Harbaugh, Indianapolis; Gus Frerotte, Washington; Danny Kanell, Giants; Erik Kramer, Chicago; Scott Mitchell, Detroit; Neil O'Donnell, Jets; Jake Plummer, Arizona; Danny Wuerffel, Heath Shuler, New Orleans.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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