Vinny Testaverde buried all the bad memories Sunday.
File away that miserable Fiesta Bowl. Forget those losing years in Tampa Bay. In the first do-or-die game of his NFL career, Testaverde passed for 268 yards and one touchdown, avoiding the mistakes that had become his trademark and leading the Cleveland Browns past the New England Patriots 20-13 in an AFC wild-card game.
Testaverde silenced the critics who warned that his fiveinterception performance in the national title game eight years ago was a sign of things to come.
“It doesn’t matter what people think,” he said. “I know what my teammates think.
“We’re in it together, and that’s the way it’s going to be throughout the playoffs.”
The Browns, in their first playoff game since 1989, backed Testaverde with a defense that occasionally made New England’s Drew Bledsoe look like the 22-year-old he is, not the Pro Bowl quarterback he became this year.
Bledsoe was intercepted three times, including twice in the fourth quarter as he was trying to bring the Patriots back.
The victory set up the third meeting of the year between Cleveland and the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, next Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won both regular-season games.
“This was the biggest game of my career, and next week will be even bigger,” Testaverde said. “I am satisfied with the way I played and with the way the team played.”
Bledsoe had one last shot at tying the game after the Patriots recovered an onside kick at their 36 with 1:28 to play. But after getting one first down, the ex-Washington State QB threw four straight incompletions from his 48, disappointing New England in its first playoff appearance since 1986.
“The turnovers obviously killed us,” Bledsoe said. “That’s something we’ve been through all year. The first interception, I just let it go and it kind of took off on me. It came out of my hand wrong. The other two were tipped. That happens, and it’s unfortunate for us, because it made the difference in the ballgame.”
Testaverde completed 20 of 30 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown, hitting 11 in a row at one point.
More importantly, he threw no interceptions - in stark contrast to his last huge game, that fiveinterception performance for the University of Miami as it lost the national championship to Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.
It was a game that haunted the Heisman Trophy winner ever since; questions about it inevitably were raised this week as Testaverde prepared for his first playoff game in eight pro seasons.
With Sunday’s game tied 10-10, Testaverde completed all four passes on a 79-yard drive capped by Leroy Hoard’s 10-yard scoring run, putting the Browns ahead to stay 17-10 with 2:21 left in the third quarter.
Matt Stover added a 21-yard field goal with 3:36 left, capitalizing on Eric Turner’s 28-yard return of Bledsoe’s third interception.
Bledsoe, however, brought the Patriots down the field quickly, setting up Matt Bahr’s 33-yard field goal with 1:30 to go.
Bahr then kicked the ball out of bounds for a penalty on his first onside kick try, and the Patriots gave the Browns some nervous moments by recovering the next one - until New England’s last shot died at midfield.
Browns 20, Patriots 13
New England 0 10 0 3 - 13
Cleveland 3 7 7 3 - 20
Cle-FG Stover 30, 7:20.
NE-Thompson 13 pass from Bledsoe (Bahr kick), 4:12.
Cle-Carrier 5 pass from Testaverde (Stover kick), 7:57.
NE-FG Bahr 23, 14:30.
Cle-Hoard 10 run (Stover kick), 12:39.
Cle-FG Stover 21, 11:24.
NE-FG Bahr 33, 13:30.
NE Cle First downs 20 22 Rushes-yards 16-57 34-125 Passing 246 254 Punt Returns 2-5 1-1 Kickoff Returns 5-99 3-70 Interceptions Ret. 0-0 3-47 Comp-Att-Int 22-51-3 20-30-0 Sacked-Yards Lost 1-10 2-14 Punts 4-42 3-38 Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-1 Penalties-Yards 3-21 4-25 Time of Possession 24:18 35:42
RUSHINGNew England, Croom 9-35, Thompson 4-16, K.Turner 1-4, Bledsoe 2-2. Cleveland, Hoard 17-66, Byner 10-30, Testaverde 5-19, Metcalf 2-10.
PASSINGNew England, Bledsoe 21-50-3-235; O’Neill 1-1-0-21. Cleveland, Testaverde 20-30-0-268.
RECEIVINGNew England, Brisby 6-83, Coates 6-79, Thompson 4-33, Timpson 2-20, C.Brown 1-21, Burke 1-8, K.Turner 1-7, Croom 1-5. Cleveland, Jackson 7-122, Alexander 5-69, Hartley 2-17, Byner 2-16, Carrier 2-13, Hoard 1-25, Kinchen 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALSCleveland, Stover 50, 49.
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