Past glory haunts Vinny and Bledsoe

This week’s NFL lineup presented Sunday viewers with a titanic battle, the likes of which the league had not seen in sometime. No, I’m not referring to the match-up between the 5-0 Jets and Pats, but rather the contest between their two former quarterbacks, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe. It wasn’t the type of competition any quarterback would want to be a part of. It was really to see who was the most washed up. This is a sad article to write; my buddy Steve still wears his New England No. 11 jersey during important Pats games. Though I must admit, it’s now more of a good luck charm than a symbol of idolatry as it was once upon a time.

Admittedly, as one of the league’s top 10 passers this season at age 41, Vinny Testaverde doesn’t seem to be in much of a rut — except by past Vinny Testaverde standards. Even though Vinny has a seemingly substantial six-game total of 1,609 passing yards, he has the lowest number of touchdowns (six) in the top 10. Zoom out to the top 15 and, minus Kurt “Right time/right place/right team — I swear I didn’t sell my soul” Warner, Testaverde is tied with Trent “See: Kurt Warner” Green for fewest touchdowns.

With Dallas suffering from a 2-4 record, ol’ Vinny can’t hide behind the “Tom Brady clause,” which stipulates, and I paraphrase: “If many of your record-setting team’s wins are secured by genius two-minute drills that you manufacture, then you’re the undisputable best ever.” It gets worse for Testaverde. As Bill Parcells first told him when he signed with Dallas, “Do you want the bad news?”

The bad, ahem, make that worse news, is that by losing against the Green Bay Packers this past weekend, Vinny successfully let Brett Favre off the hook as another one of the quarterbacks who every Sunday squares off against his younger, better self. Despite being played at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are nearly invincible, Sunday’s match-up looked like a fairly even one. Despite Favre’s arm (which can never, never be counted out at Lambeau) and Ahman Green’s rushing prowess, the rocky start that put Mike Sherman’s Packers at a 2-4 record left cheese-heads puzzled.

Also, there’s just been something special about seeing Testaverde back with Parcells this season. There was something about the way quarterback and coach came together so well in New York back in 1999 that made you hope that the same chemistry would rejuvenate the Cowboys. Back when Testaverde signed with Dallas, it didn’t seem entirely implausible that a team that went 10-6 last year would become a legitimate playoff team (i.e. a team that actually wins once they make it to the playoffs). However, Sunday’s game only served to further drive the fork into Testaverde’s back and the nail into Dallas’ proverbial coffin.

Up in Buffalo, Bledsoe continues to be taunted by the past that long ago hinted he may one day pass the pigskin in the same stratosphere as John Elway. His long passes had the potential to win games. But then Drew started getting sacked — a lot. New Englanders, like my knowledgeable Uncle Jimmy, blamed it on the lousy offensive protection of Bledsoe. New Englanders had suffered for so long with the Pats that everyone wanted to believe it was anyone’s fault but Bledsoe’s.

“I’m telling ya,” Uncle Jimmy remarked one day during a particularly bleak game back in 1997, “It’s not Bledsoe! It’s those turkeys on the offensive line who are hired to protect him!”

Enter Tom Brady, and suddenly many of “those turkeys” turned into Super Bowl champions.

In Buffalo, it seemed like a new start for Bledsoe. Factor in the addition of New England hero Lawyer Milloy, and a 31-0 thumping of their former team to kick off last season, and it seemed Bledsoe could be rising from the Foxboro dead. But then Bledsoe went on to complete only 58.2 percent of his passes, Buffalo went on to a 6-10 regular season and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.

However, the Drew Bledsoe wishing well was not empty yet. This season brought a healthy Willis McGahee to the league for the first time, and as for Drew, many hoped he could ride McGahee’s fast feet through a successful season. Apparently, that plan went for broke as Buffalo has gotten itself off to a 1-5 start and Bledsoe has already slipped to a 57.2 percent completion percentage. To make matters worse for the Bledsoe believers, aside from the hideous 20-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens this past Sunday, most of the Bills’ other losses have been decided by margins equal to a field goal or less. Facts like that make it clear why New England kept “Mr. Two-Minute Drill” Brady and got rid of Bledsoe.

Watching Sunday’s game between the Jets and the Patriots, I noticed how Chad Pennington and Tom Brady successfully danced around in the pocket in a way their predecessors couldn’t even imagine doing right now. With Bledsoe, the opposing team’s entire defense could be on the sidelines and you’d still be wincing in anticipation of the obligatory sack that would come immediately after the ball was hiked. Does the guy even know how to scramble? And can he do it successfully? Watching Pennington and Brady, there was a sharpness in their craft, an alertness, if you will. Come to think of it, I think what’s made Bledsoe and Testaverde look so old lately is the absence of that alertness. They’ve lost both the youthful ability to think in the pocket and the hunger in their eyes. And sadly enough, the loss of these factors has nothing to do with age.

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