Originally created 09/23/04

Testaverde gets passing grade so far with Dallas



IRVING, Texas - Vinny Testaverde could be retired now, maybe even starting a second career in the high-paying, tackle-free world of broadcasting.

But he just couldn't imagine himself in a suit instead of pads, not when he thought he could still help an NFL team. So he reunited with his former coach Bill Parcells in Dallas to compete for the starting quarterback job.

Good call, Vinny.

Two games into the season, Testaverde is entrenched as the Cowboys' starter, and he's the NFL's passing leader with 677 yards. Having already earned the admiration of teammates, fans and team owner Jerry Jones, next up is the chance to impress a national audience on Monday night.

While Testaverde is leery of the Washington Redskins and their blitzing defense, there's another aspect of the game that concerns him.

"It's past my bedtime," he said Wednesday, smiling.

With his 41st birthday looming, Testaverde is having fun using his age as a punch line. He thinks it has been an asset on the field, too.

"We assume people are going to blitz us because we have an old quarterback," Testaverde said. "But if you're able to make plays when they blitz, then people will stop blitzing. I'd say we've hit probably 90 percent already. ... I can only remember one incompletion."

No, that last line wasn't a joke about a foggy memory. In fact, what Testaverde remembers from the past 17 seasons in the NFL is a big reason why he's thriving now.

Knowing how to take care of his body has enabled him to make the most of an arm Parcells says will be NFL-caliber for another 20 years. His understanding of the game made it easier for him to take over when incumbent Quincy Carter was surprisingly cut four days into training camp.

It also helps that he's secure enough in his relationship with Parcells to stand up for himself when getting chewed out, such as after he threw interceptions on three consecutive late drives in a close game against Cleveland last Sunday.

Having thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns in his career, Testaverde also has learned how to shake off bad passes and come back with a gem - like the deep ball to Terry Glenn that moved the Cowboys from their 26 to the Browns 37 at the 2-minute warning, a play that went a long way toward sealing the victory.

It's also telling that Parcells trusted Testaverde enough to call that play under those circumstances.

"I'm confident he can throw that ball pretty much all the time," Parcells said.

Fans who were booing after the third pickoff went back to cheering. Testaverde said he understood how they felt.

He also said, "Thank you, defense," realizing how much he would've been to blame if Dallas had blown that game.

While Parcells already had faith in Testaverde, Jones is gaining it quickly.

Jones is so thrilled that he's making comparisons with 1998 - only not to the Jets who came within a game of the Super Bowl thanks to Testaverde, Parcells and another current Cowboy, Keyshawn Johnson, but to that year's Dallas team, the last featuring Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith in their prime.

"He's playing at a very high level, exceeding my expectations," Jones said. "We've got somebody who, with time and guys open, can throw the ball accurately. I'd certainly like to have a couple of them back from last week, but that happens to everybody."

The Cowboys never expected to throw 85 passes over the first two games. But they were trying to play catchup against Minnesota in the opener, then Cleveland came out stacked against the run.

Parcells would like to run more, but he's glad to know he can rely on the passing of Testaverde, the blocking of his line and the receiving of Johnson, Glenn, Antonio Bryant and emerging tight end Jason Witten.

"I think we have some weapons," Parcells said. "I think we can spread the field."

With 355 yards against the Vikings and 322 against the Browns, Testaverde became the oldest player in league history with consecutive 300-yard games.

Testaverde might savor his accomplishments one day, maybe even while broadcasting a Cowboys game. Now, though, he's more concerned with figuring out why all his long drives have produced just four touchdowns and two field goals.

"Yards are great," he said. "Points are better."

Spoken with experience.