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NFL / WEEK 4

Chrebet's the Key for Jets

Pro football: He makes game-winning catch as New York stuns Tampa Bay, 21-17, by scoring 15 points in 62 seconds.

September 25, 2000|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TAMPA, Fla. — At the end Sunday in Raymond James Stadium, it was so quiet you could hear Keyshawn Johnson's jaw drop.

Finally.

For seven days, Johnson talked and talked while Wayne Chrebet worked and worked.

For 58 minutes Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played dominating, give-no-quarter defense while the New York Jets played ugly, give-it-away offense.

But with two minutes to play and trailing 17-6, their quarterback already pulled once from the game, the Jets pulled off one of the more astounding turnarounds in their history, scoring 15 points in 62 seconds to pull out a 21-17 victory in front of a shocked sellout crowd of 65,619.

"The hotter the fire, the harder the steel," New York Coach Al Groh said of the furious finish.

Here's how the Jets managed to remain unbeaten at 4-0 and hand Tampa Bay its first loss after three victories:

* Jet quarterback Vinny Testaverde connected with running back Curtis Martin on a short pass out of the backfield. Martin elbowed his way free of two defenders and high-stepped into the end zone.

Tampa Bay 17, New York 12. Time remaining: 1:54.

* Testaverde took the snap from center on the two-point conversion attempt, calmly surveyed the defense and found Laveranues Coles alone at the back of the end zone.

Tampa Bay 17, New York 14.

* On a second-and-seven at the Buccaneer 23-yard line, Mike Alstott, trying to run out the clock, fumbled after gaining a yard when hit by linebacker Marvin Jones. Safety Victor Green recovered.

Time remaining: 1:39.

"I fumbled the ball and let my teammates down," Alstott said. "There is nothing else I can possibly say."

Said Green: "I was fortunate enough to get the ball. When it landed in my arms, I hung on for dear life.

"With a guy like Alstott, who is always giving that second and third effort, we know we can get in there and try to get the ball off him."

* On a second-and-four from the Tampa Bay 18-yard line after the fumble recovery, Testaverde handed to Martin, who took a few steps to his right, stopped and threw a wobbly, halfback option pass into the end zone.

Chrebet, a step ahead of defender Damien Robinson, had to wait as the ball floated through the humid Florida sky, looking more like a blimp than a pass.

"They laughed at me all week in practice when I tried that pass," Martin said. "I was the joke of the week. They gave me a lot of quack, quacks. But I told them, 'You all wait until the game. I'll get it done.' "

When Martin heard the call in the huddle, he knew he couldn't throw the ball while wearing a glove on his right hand, the glove he always wears when carrying the ball. So, as Testaverde called signals at the line, Martin wiggled the glove loose.

And, as he moved in for the handoff, Martin dropped the glove to the turf, hoping the Buccaneers wouldn't notice.

On the receiving end, Chrebet watched and waited.

"I kept saying, 'Please, just give him time to throw,' " Chrebet said. "When he did, the ball was hanging up there so long, I figured I had to go up there to get it."

That he did, clutching it to his chest as he came down just out of reach of Robinson.

The extra point by John Hall followed.

New York 21, Tampa Bay 17. Time remaining: 52 seconds.

* The Buccaneers' last chance ended when Jet linebacker John Abraham wrapped his arms around Tampa Bay quarterback Shaun King, who fumbled the ball.

Abraham fell on it.

Time remaining: 44 seconds. Hope remaining: None.

"We're all right," insisted Tampa Bay Coach Tony Dungy afterward. "We're professionals."

The Buccaneers had gotten the lead the Dungy way, with tight defense and conservative offense.

They had scored on a 22-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica, a three-yard touchdown pass from King to tight end Dave Moore and a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Ronde Barber.

They intercepted three Testaverde passes and held the Jets to 296 yards.

Until the big finish, New York's contribution to the scoreboard had been Hall's field goals from 41 and 27 yards.

Groh had pulled Testaverde for the offensive series before the Jets' first touchdown.

In the week preceding the game, it had not been a battle of undefeated teams as much as the Keyshawn Johnson Show. Johnson, traded to the Jets in the off-season, had renewed his feud with Chrebet, whom he had once called, the "team mascot."

Of Chrebet, Johnson said earlier this week, "He's a flashlight. I'm a star."

But after catching the winning touchdown pass, Chrebet maintained his determination to stay away from a public battle with Johnson.

"My motto is, be seen not heard," Chrebet said.

Johnson also tried to take the high road.

"They're a good football team," he said. "They had the heart to fight back and they just did their job. I'll sleep on it tonight and just let it go."

Was he frustrated by losing to his former team?

"No, not at all," Johnson said. "This will help the people of New York and the tabloids."

Chrebet's final line: Two catches, 32 yards, one game-winning touchdown.

Johnson's final line: One catch, one yard, no touchdowns.

It was left to Groh to have the final word.

"The power of 46 flashlights," he said, "can be a pretty powerful thing."

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