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JETS 14, BUCCANEERS 12

Jets find a seasoned savior in Testaverde

Veteran QB's return boosts NY past Bucs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- More than anything, Vinny Testaverde wanted to make his teammates believe in him.

He did that and more yesterday. The 41-year-old Jets quarterback looked comfortable in the pocket, guiding two scoring drives and getting rousing cheers in helping the Jets beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 14-12.

Two weeks ago, Testaverde was on his couch in Long Island watching starter Chad Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler go down within minutes. He phoned coach Herman Edwards to offer his services. Now Testaverde has given his team a renewed confidence, and perhaps saved the season from ruin.

''My goal was to get the guys to believe in me, so we can get the season turned around," Testaverde said. ''I think they believe in me. I believe in them."

Going into the game, the Jets (2-3) had one win and were on their fourth starting quarterback of the season. The offense was in a shambles. A year that started with so much promise was on the brink of disaster. But Testaverde took command the moment he stepped on the field.

The Meadowlands crowd welcomed him back with a standing ovation.

''It sent chills through me," Testaverde said. ''I wish I could express how I felt. I had goose bumps all over when I went out on the field."

Testaverde finished 13 of 19 for 163 yards with an interception, but got plenty of help. Curtis Martin rushed for his first two touchdowns of the season, and the defense harassed Brian Griese and the rest of the Bucs (4-1).

Tampa Bay played without injured running back Carnell ''Cadillac" Williams because of foot and hamstring injuries, and could never generate anything offensively. Michael Pittman, who filled in for Williams, finished with 13 carries for 46 yards, while Griese was 27 of 42 for 226 yards with an interception.

The Jets had three sacks and limited Tampa Bay to 285 yards despite 71 plays. That averages to 4 yards a play. Tampa Bay was 2 of 14 on third down and also committed 12 penalties for 87 yards. Matt Bryant was the lone bright spot with four field goals.

''They got after us early," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. ''We had sacks in our first five or six passes. That will knock any quarterback out of rhythm."

Still, the Bucs had a chance in the end. They forced the Jets to punt with one minute remaining but ran out of time trying to get into field goal range.

The day might have been meant for Testaverde, in his second stint after his first ended following the 2003 season. He spent last year in Dallas, but was out of football for nearly nine months before putting on the familiar green and white.

''He made a couple of good throws for a guy who has been home eating potato chips," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said.

It took a while for the Jets to take their first lead of the game. On the first possession of the second half, Testaverde expertly led the Jets down the field, going 3 of 3 for 32 yards on the series.

But it wasn't easy. The Jets went for it on fourth and goal from the 1. Martin plunged in to put the Jets up, 14-9. Martin finished with 59 yards on 23 carries.

The lone miscue of the day for Testaverde nearly cost the Jets. Barber intercepted a hurried Testaverde in the fourth quarter, and Tampa Bay converted the turnover into points when Bryant kicked a 30-yard field goal with four minutes remaining.

But that was as close as it would get.

Early on, the Jets failed to give Testaverde much help. Two interceptions were called back because of penalties, including one late in the second quarter.

New York capitalized on its lone takeaway in the first half, but there were some fireworks. After Ty Law returned an interception 43 yards to the Bucs' 8, Martin carried for 3 yards. That's when Barber swung at Kevin Mawae but inadvertently hit umpire Butch Hannah in the eye.

Rather than getting ejected, Barber was given a 15-yard personal foul penalty. The Jets scored one play later, when Martin ran in from 2 yards.

Now the Jets hope to use the victory for momentum for the rest of the season.

''It's a big win for us after what we went through the last couple weeks," receiver Wayne Chrebet said. ''It's a step in the right direction."

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