Skeptics kept telling the New York Jets they needed a No. 1 receiver to replace Keyshawn Johnson.
They had one all along in Wayne Chrebet, who caught two touchdown passes from Vinny Testaverde in the final 6:25 Monday night as the Jets beat the New England Patriots 20-19.
Give Him the Damn Ball
“Just give me a chance,” Chrebet told Testaverde before the winning 28-yard TD pass with 1:55 left — a fitting turn of Johnson’s phrase: “Just throw me the damn ball.”
“This is a huge win for us and sets us up for the whole season,” Chrebet said.
John Abraham and Shaun Ellis, selected with first-round picks the Jets got for Johnson and as compensation for allowing Bill Belichick to leave to coach the Patriots, combined on two sacks that ended New England’s last shot.
Tuna Helpers Square Off
This game was billed in New York and New England as the “Tuna Helper Bowl,” — Belichick and Jets coach Al Groh, both in their first years, spent much of their apprenticeship under Bill “Tuna” Parcells.
Belichick was Parcells’ designated successor but asked out after spending one day last January as Jets coach. For most of the game, Belichick’s knowledge of New York’s offense seemed to stifle the Jets (2-0).
But he had some residual admiration at the end.
“Vinny made some great throws, Wayne made a couple of great catches,” said Belichick, who could have been on the opposite sideline.
“I give them credit. At the end they came up with more plays than we did.”
Pats Take Early Lead
New England built up a 12-7 lead on four field goals by Adam Vinatieri and extended it to 19-7 on Drew Bledsoe’s 4-yard TD pass to Eric Bjornson with just under 10 minutes left.
That seemed to energize the Jets, who drove 85 yards in 10 plays to score on Testaverde’s 2-yard TD pass to Chrebet. Fullback Richie Anderson had five catches for 78 yards on that drive.
New York got the ball back with 2:28 left.
On the first play, Testaverde hit Dedric Ward for 44 yards, then threw from 28 yards out to Chrebet, who caught the ball at the 3 and dove into the end zone with 1:55 remaining.
The 2-point conversion failed, but New England (0-2) went nowhere. Abraham and Ellis combined on one sack of Bledsoe, and Abraham got another on fourth down.
“As I was leaving the field, I kept thinking about how fortunate we were to draft Ellis and Abraham,” Groh said.
The Jets moved the ball only once during the first half, going 74 yards on 12 plays on their first possession, scoring on Testaverde’s 4-yard pass to Fred Baxter. Despite his three TD passes, Testaverde was just 16-of-37, although he did throw for 291 yards.
Vinny Shows His Rust
Testaverde continued to show signs of rust from last year, when he tore an Achilles’ tendon in the first half of the first game with the Patriots and missed the rest of the season. At one point, he threw six straight incomplete passes, hit Chrebet for 28 yards, then was sacked and threw two more incompletions.
Meanwhile, the Patriots plugged along between the 20s, getting field goals of 32, 35, 30 and 33 yards from Vinatieri.
Two were set up by punt returns of 31 and 38 yards by Troy Brown, who had a 66-yard TD return and a 39 yarder last week. A third was preceded by an interception that Antonio Langham returned 24 yards to the New York 14. But the Patriots never got close to scoring a touchdown on any of those threats.
New England drove from its own 26 to the New York 11 with the opening kickoff of the second half. But Vinatieri’s field-goal attempt went wide left.
Bledsoe completed 25 of 43 passes for 229 yards but just the one touchdown.
The rest of the scoring was Vinatieri and that made the difference.
“We need to get the ball in,” Belichick said. “We were down there plenty of times. We’ve got to come up with more points.”