HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Benched? Vinny Testaverde has been there.
In fact, through his winding 16-year career, Testaverde has dealt with almost every situation an NFL quarterback can face.
He's been the first overall pick in the draft and struggled with horrid teams in Tampa. He's been a free agent -- twice -- and landed on clubs he led to the playoffs, the Browns and the Jets.
Testaverde once was among the most durable of players but has had two significant injuries in the last four years. But possibly the biggest hurt has come when he's been told to take a seat to let a younger quarterback play.
On Monday, the 38-year-old Testaverde was demoted by Jets coach Herman Edwards. New York is spiraling, having lost three straight games by a combined 102-13 score. The offense has been anemic, plagued by poor blocking, an ankle injury to star running back Curtis Martin and indifferent performances by wide receivers.
So Testaverde takes the first hit.
''It starts at the top and moves down,'' said Testaverde, who will be replaced by Chad Pennington. ''It's the way to get the players' attention.
''I was in this situation in Cleveland. We were not winning (in 1995). I was the AFC player of the month and was benched.
''I remember asking Bill Belichick in Cleveland, 'Why are you making me a scapegoat in all this?' And in his words, he said, 'I can't change the left guard and get a spark. I've got to change the quarterback,''' Testaverde said.
This latest downer in Testaverde's career came unexpectedly, considering his strong 2001 season.
Not only did he lead the Jets to a 10-6 record and into the playoffs while directing a conservative, run-oriented offense, but he had only 14 interceptions, down from a league-high 25 the previous year.
Testaverde also stood out as a leader, most notably after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A native New Yorker, he insisted he would not play on the weekend following the attacks, and he garnered full support from his teammates. He lobbied the NFL Players Association to take a strong stand against playing if the league opted to continue as scheduled.
And then he helped the Jets relieve some of their salary cap woes in April when he signed a restructured five-year deal that paid him $4 million this season, about $5 million less than his previous contract called for.
Testaverde also looked sharp in training camp and during a 4-0 preseason, then helped the Jets to a 37-31 overtime win at Buffalo in the regular-season opener. But ever since, the club's offense has disappeared.
Now so has Testaverde's starting job.
''I don't think you can pinpoint it ... on Vinny,'' Pennington said. ''Sometimes you don't get it done as a team and right now it's a team effort, from the quarterback down to the other positions.''
Testaverde often has been at the center of the blame game, sometimes rightfully so. He struggled from his first day as a starter in Tampa Bay, and in his six seasons there rarely showed the skills that made him the 1986 Heisman Trophy winner. He had trouble reading defensive coverages and often forced his passes.
When the Bucs allowed his contract to expire, he headed to Cleveland in 1993, taking advantage of the new free-agency rules. Generally a backup that year, Testaverde became the starter in '94 and guided the Browns to an 11-5 mark and into the playoffs.
He got off to another good start in '95, being selected AFC offensive player of the month for September. Two months later, he was benched for Eric Zeier.
Then came another upsurge in his career, followed by a fall. Testaverde made the Pro Bowl as Baltimore's starter in 1996, but was gone after the '97 season, joining the Jets as a free agent.
Originally expected to back up Glenn Foley, Testaverde instead earned the job with some inspired play. Under coach Bill Parcells, Testaverde had by far his best year, and the Jets made the AFC title game.
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