QB will hand reins to Pennington

Updated: October 23, 2003, 1:04 PM ET
Associated Press

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- When it comes time for Vinny Testaverde to head to the bench Sunday, he will go graciously and quietly.

Testaverde knows he is once again the backup quarterback for the New York Jets. Though Testaverde will start against the Philadelphia Eagles, Chad Pennington is healthy after breaking his left wrist in the preseason and is set to enter the game sometime in the first half.

"I don't want anybody to think that I'm happy about being a backup because the fire burns in me to be a starter and to play every play for this football team," Testaverde said Wednesday. "But I also want to be a team player and do what's best for the football team."

In a rare move, coach Herman Edwards decided to bring Pennington back slowly from his injury rather than throw him in after nine weeks off. Barring a major setback, the starting job will be Pennington's to have once he enters the game against the Eagles.

Though Testaverde will always consider himself a starter, he knew he would eventually make way for Pennington.

"Chad is the quarterback here and he's going to play when they feel like he's ready to step in and start again and that's the reality of it," Testaverde said. "What I say wouldn't make a difference, so I'd just rather be on the same wagon as them than try and fight against it."

Testaverde, three weeks shy of his 40th birthday, was pressed into service at the end of the preseason. He had accepted his role as the backup last season, when he was benched in favor of Pennington following a 1-3 start.

With little time to get ready, Testaverde struggled in his first few games. But in his last two games, Testaverde has played his best football of the season and engineered two victories.

Against Buffalo, he threw three touchdown passes in a 30-3 win.

And in Houston last week, he led the game-winning, 86-yard drive in the closing minutes of the 19-14 comeback victory over the Texans.

His teammates have been impressed with what he has been able to do and are not worried about how he will handle returning to the bench.

"If Vinny handled last year, he can handle anything," running back Curtis Martin said. "The true man in Vinny, the true leader the true warrior in Vinny stepped up more than ever last year when he had to sit down. To me that was one of greatest things, I've seen Vinny do, the humility he had in that situation and the way he handled it. I don't think is difficult for him at all."

Edwards acknowledged this is a unique situation but knows it will work out because he has two quarterbacks who know how to win.

"It takes two strong-minded individuals to do it this way and you know that, and you have to take both of their strengths," Edwards said. "This is the best way to do it."

Testaverde said he has never seen a plan like this before in his 17-year career but "you stick around long enough, there's a first for everything."

Edwards wants to bring Pennington off the bench for several reasons. First, he does not know whether Pennington is in condition to play an entire game. He also does not want Pennington to let his emotions get the best of him.

After all, Pennington said, "I'm like a volcano, ready to erupt."

Also, if anything were to happen to Pennington, Edwards wants Testaverde to be warmed up when he goes back into the game. Testaverde is not as effective when he is coming off the bench cold.

No one seems to be worried about interrupting the offensive flow when the change is made. And Testaverde is not worried about going back to the sideline.

"I haven't looked at it as being hard to accept," Testaverde said. "I just look at it as doing my job."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press