While the Jets may have found that their magic bag of fourth-quarter tricks was lying on the Buffalo sideline last Sunday, Gang Green’s 23-20 loss proved once again that coach Al Groh‘s club isn’t out of any game until the clock reads 00:00. But even more curious than the Jets’ ability to dig themselves out of a deeper grave each week is the manner in which they seemingly sleepwalk through three quarters of uninspired play only to rebound in the fourth as if they were still playing in the offense-happy AFL. “When you watch Vinny Testaverde early in games, he just doesn’t seem to have a rhythm going as a passer, and it’s killing the entire offense,” observes Todd McShay, managing editor of the War Room, a football think tank. “But he finally gets his sea-legs underneath him and the offense gets rolling. It’s almost like you see a light switch turn on later in the game.”
With four of their six victories coming in the final three minutes—or later—the Jets bear a striking resemblance to perhaps the most fourth-quarter-dependent team of this generation, the 1980 Cleveland Browns. Dubbed the “Kardiac Kids,” those Browns played 10 of their games into the final two minutes or later before the proverbial fat lady could start humming. “We were very good at going about our business when everybody else was falling apart,” says then Browns QB Brian Sipe, who now designs custom homes from his office near San Diego. “Quite often I felt like defenses just gave us the game. If we just kept our cool and stayed about our business—and were methodical—it really wasn’t about doing great things, it was just about executing.”
Unlike Testaverde, whose league-best 128.3 fourth-quarter passer rating helps obscure a disappointing overall rating of 74.3, 22nd in the NFL, Sipe enjoyed an all-around MVP season, posting six 300-yard games and 30 touchdowns in 1980. Like the Jets, though, Sipe’s Browns had trouble early in games. “I think we were pretty average in talent, so on any Sunday, there was really no chance we were going to dominate any team,” remembers Sipe. “But I found that with the prevent-defense, which you don’t see until late in the game, it got easier to throw the ball, because the defensive backs were playing a little bit softer.”
According to McShay, Testaverde is using the same strategy this season. “Testaverde has trouble throwing when under pressure,” says McShay. “So when teams back off into more of a prevent mode is when Testaverde has time to sit in the pocket, find his receivers, and make throws. If I were a defensive coordinator, I wouldn’t take the pressure off until the final whistle blew—no matter what the score.”
Although each comeback seems more improbable than the previous one, Sipe believes each comeback is also easier than the previous one. “After we’d done it a few times the team settled into it, and it was very simple for me to get the team into a routine at the end of the game where they just expected and anticipated that things were going to happen. It’s kind of like the gunslinger in a duel—it’s the guy who flinches first who’s got the problem and we just didn’t flinch.” With four late-game “kills,” Vinny and the Jets haven’t flinched much either; they may katch the “Kids” yet.
• Jockbeat would like to take this opportunity to have a hearty chuckle at the expense of Sports Illustrated and its preseason World Series pick, the Boston Red Sox. Nice one, guys. . . . • With his new two-year contract extension magnanimously provided by George Steinbrenner, Roger Clemens‘s $50,000 fine from MLB amounts to just .0032362 of his yearly $15.45 million salary. That’s proportional to a $97 fine for someone earning $30,000 a year. . . . • Jockbeat has learned that the city is planning a parade up Fulton Avenue in downtown Brooklyn for the Mets in early February. . . . • Mets catcher Mike Piazza was spotted on the Giants Stadium sideline Sunday, adorned in an Eagles team jacket. It seems that the Rocket’s favorite target is a friend of former Giant and current Philadelphia punter Sean Landetta. It’s not the first time Piazza has attended a New York sporting event and rooted for the other team. Last year, he was seen at the Garden rooting for the L.A. Kings as they visited the Rangers. When Giants radio announcer Bob Papa noticed Piazza Sunday, he told his listeners: “Looks like he’ll be on the losing side again.” The Giants won 24-7. . . . • October 28’s Daily News reported on the hacking of the Yankees’ official Web site: “Early-rising fans who visited Yankees.com to bask in the glory of Thursday night’s World Series victory instead saw an offensive phrase about the Yankees and a closeup of a man mooning the camera.” Less diplomatic journalists—like, say, Jockbeat—might also have noted that the gentleman’s anus was broadly dilated and that the Technicolor colonoscopy allowed the innocent visitor to sightsee all the way to Poughkeepsie. We happily report no polyps. . . . • We here at Jockbeat feel for the Yankee Stadium-bound D and B trains, which were horribly slighted during the Subway Series.
Contributors: Paul Forrester, Ramona Debs, Blake Zeff, J.A. Lobbia, Brian P. Dunleavy, Brian Parks
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman