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Sunday, October 26, 2003
Updated: October 28, 5:26 PM ET
Late interception costly for Jets

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Herman Edwards knew he left himself open for criticism by doing something Vinny Testaverde has never seen in his 17-year NFL career.

After three series of Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Testaverde was involved in his first pre-ordained benching to mark the return of Chad Pennington.

"I was just making sure that Vinny had a good flow going," Edwards said. "The first time we talked about it, we actually let Vinny go another series. I wanted to get Chad in there and get him going, and I told Vinny that something could go wrong or if something should happen, you be ready to go back."

Even though Pennington played well his first game since shattering his left wrist in the preseason, it didn't go well enough to increase the Jets winning streak to three games. Pennington was clearly rusty even though he completed 14 of 24 for 154 yards.

Chad Pennington
Pennington
On the key play of the fourth quarter with the Jets leading, 17-14, Pennington put too much air on a long throw to Santana Moss. The extra hangtime on the pass enabled safety Michael Lewis to cut in front of Moss and make an interception. Seven plays later, Donovan McNabb hit Jon Ritchie for a 4-yard touchdown pass, dropping the Jets to 2-5.

"It's devastating because the team and the coaches put the faith and trust in you to lead the team, and the game came down to one play, and I didn't make the play," Pennington said. "It allowed the Eagles to get back into the game. Lewis made a great play on it and I made a bad throw, and that's that."

Maybe the Jets were getting greedy by calling the long pass, but they felt lucky. Earlier in the game, Testaverde hit Moss with a 60-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker where the receiver was wide open. However, not all their gambles paid off.

It was second-and-1 at the Eagles 45-yard line. Eleven minutes remained in the fourth quarter. Edwards and offensive coordinator Paul Hackett thought they would go for the jugular. Unfortunately, they cut their own throats.

"He is very good at play-action," Lewis said. "A lot of times, you can be aggressive and try to come up in the box and you get beat. You just have to read the keys and react. I thought they would run it, but I saw the ball on Pennington's hip. He tried to lead the receiver a little bit, but I was able to cut in front of him."

The interception was devastating because the Eagles responded with 10 points in the next two possessions to win the game.

"To me, it was just a bonehead play," Pennington said. "To me, there was no way around it. When you play a game, and you're ahead and the momentum's your way, you almost have to play not to lose in that instance. You have to make sure that it's either the receiver catches it or it's an incompletion. I gave the defense a chance by underthrowing. I don't attribute that to rust. I made those throws in practice. It's real simple."

But this wasn't a simple transition at quarterback for the Jets. Testaverde came out smoking. He completed seven of 11 passes for 112 yards and had a 127.8 quarterback rating. More importantly, he put 10 points on the scoreboard in his first two possessions.

Enter Pennington with 5:37 left in the second quarter and the Eagles ahead, 14-10.

The one interception was not a bad read. It was a bad throw. Then I made another bad throw that could have been another interception, but they dropped it. It had nothing to do with rust. I've worked too hard to be rusty.
Jets QB Chad Pennington

"No, I didn't try to talk Herm into keeping me in," Testaverde said. "I knew the situation going into the game. Did I want to stay in the game? Of course, I'm a competitor. I never wanted to come out in the beginning when it was mentioned to me. But it's not my decision. The only thing I can do is go out and try to make plays when I'm asked to do so."

To Pennington's credit, he moved the football. He had an 11-play, 70-yard drive to the Eagles 20, but Moss fumbled after an ill-timed pass behind the line of scrimmage.

"I felt good with the reads," Pennington said. "I felt I was seeing things. The one interception was not a bad read. It was a bad throw. Then I made another bad throw that could have been another interception, but they dropped it. It had nothing to do with rust. I've worked too hard to be rusty."

Edwards isn't going to second guess his decision. Though he wouldn't initially say Pennington is his quarterback for next week, he said Pennington would start if he's healthy.

Pennington felt good though he acknowledged not being 100 percent comfortable.

Pennington may be back, but the season is in about as bad a shape as his left wrist was earlier. The Jets are 2-5. Defensive end John Abraham, who had 3½ sacks in the first half, may be lost for weeks with a groin injury.

"It hurts," Abraham said. "This season has been up and down for me, and I felt like I was finally on a good track. I felt I was playing well today. I really don't know if I can play next week."

"That is our fastest guy on defense," defensive tackle Jason Ferguson said. "We really needed him out there."

Edwards felt the Jets needed Pennington, too, but he didn't pull out this victory.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.