Ravens made right call on Testaverde

October 28, 1998|By John Eisenberg

Who looks the worst in the wake of Vinny Testaverde's astounding resurgence? Call it a draw between the team that released him, the columnist who blamed him for all the Ravens' problems other than their high ticket prices (blush) and the fans who scorned him.

We're all in the lead in Vinny's Last Laugh Derby.

When you finish wiping the egg off your face, pass that towel over here, please.

As the same, old Ravens stumble along at 2-5 with an offense deader than the NBA season, Testaverde is 4-0 as a starter for the Jets and first in the AFC in passing with 11 touchdowns and one interception. (Please faint here.) He bears no resemblance to the dark cloud who won eight of 28 starts for the Ravens over two seasons.

But does that mean the Ravens erred in giving up on him after last season? No.

Would they be 5-2 instead of 2-5 if he were still around? We'll never know for sure, but it's highly doubtful.

Not that he doesn't deserve credit for raising his game and making the most of his latest chance to save his career. He's a good soldier who deserves the good fortune.

But as fans in Tampa, Cleveland and Baltimore know, he has a habit of promising more than he delivers. Let's see how far the Jets really go with a quarterback who has won one playoff game in a 13-year career. It's still early.

And as for wishing that the Ravens had him back, please understand that the Jets have surrounded him with the kind of quality support he wouldn't get here.

He has a Pro Bowl-caliber running back to hand off to, and that's just what he's done; Curtis Martin has gained more than 100 yards in each of the Jets' past four games.

He also has one of the NFL's top head coaches, Bill Parcells, a Hall of Famer whose conservative system has produced three Super Bowl appearances and two wins.

Testaverde doesn't have to carry the offense or win by himself. He just has to hand off, complete a few third-down passes and not trip over his shoelaces.

Compare those forgiving circumstances with the ones he'd face if he were still with the Ravens -- playing behind a leaky offensive line, handing off to a fledgling halfback and trying to win for a desperate coach in the last year of his contract.

Testaverde isn't built to thrive in those conditions.

The line's problems alone probably would have spelled trouble for him. His replacements, Eric Zeier and Jim Harbaugh, have faced a steady, harrying rush all season. Testaverde tended to panic under such pressure. That's when he made mistakes.

Maybe he would have handled it better this year, but who believes that?

He's thriving with the Jets for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest is the lack of pressure. His linemen are protecting him, and Martin's success forces opposing defenses to back off the pass rush and play honestly.

It's the opposite of the situation Zeier and Harbaugh are in. It's a situation in which a quarterback can prosper, particularly one with as much ability as Testaverde. Remember, he completed 596 passes for 7,148 yards in two years with the Ravens, throwing 51 touchdowns to 34 interceptions. His first year was markedly better, but those are terrific numbers.

Why did the Ravens dump him? Because of elements you can't quantify with numbers. He wasn't a leader, which the team needed. He made numerous mistakes in key situations. His teammates lost faith in his ability to win close games.

Sure, he took too much blame for some of those close losses. The defense also made mistakes late in games. The defense gave up key touchdowns. It wasn't Testaverde's fault that he couldn't always clean up the defense's mess.

But he still created plenty of his own messes, enough that the Ravens saw no alternative to letting him go. And you can blame them for a lot of moves, but not that one.

Yes, it looks bad now that Testaverde is winning and the Ravens aren't getting much from their quarterbacks. But let's see what Harbaugh does when he isn't injured. And remember, the Ravens weren't winning with Testaverde as it was.

In the end, they needed a new start as they moved to Camden Yards. Fairly or not, they saw Testaverde as a wellspring of bad vibes.

Now Testaverde is sticking those vibes back up everyone's noses, laughing loud and last -- for now, at least. It's almost funny, that's what it is. He needed a new start, he got it and he's doing a lot with it. Just give him his due, he's earned it.

But don't sink to thinking he could have saved the Ravens' season. The fans wouldn't have let him even walk on the field, much less taken a snap. And he wouldn't have had nearly the same support. Priest Holmes instead of Curtis Martin?

It's not nice to say, but as much as Testaverde is the toast of the Big Apple now, he'd probably just be toast if he were still here.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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