Foley waits in wings for Jets Despite win in relief, backup remains No. 2


HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- First he turned all those heads and helmets in the game. Then the debate came.

Should he become the starter, starting with the Ravens game Sunday? The fans were polled. The columnists weighed in. Everybody was talking about him, or wanted to talk to him.

Glenn Foley never had a week quite like last week.

The New York Jets' backup quarterback had come out throwing strikes in relief of Neil O'Donnell in the second half at home against the New England Patriots on Oct. 19. Foley didn't stop until he had rallied the Jets from a nine-point deficit to a 24-19 victory.

"It's been hectic," Foley said. "The phone has been ringing off the hook. I think I've got a lot more friends now."

But the thing that he wants and still doesn't have is the starting quarterback job.

Coach Bill Parcells gave that back to O'Donnell, a Maryland alumnus, last Wednesday without explanation, ending the three-day quarterback controversy that was the talk of New York -- at least for the time being.

"I'm not going to tell you what my thinking was," Parcells said. "I'm just telling you O'Donnell is starting and Glenn will be ready to go."

So throwing half of a perfect game wasn't enough for Foley. But if O'Donnell didn't fully realize it before, he does now.

He can produce or he can sit -- his choice.

"Bill told me in our meeting that he doesn't want me looking over my shoulder," O'Donnell said. "But he said if we need another spark, the same thing is going to happen."

The Jets, who had their bye week Sunday, came without sparks last year. O'Donnell played only the first six games because of injuries, and Frank Reich and Foley didn't catch fire in his place. ,, The team finished 1-15 under coach Rich Kotite, who paid by being fired.

This year, the Jets are 5-3 and have gone from worst to tied for first in the AFC East under Parcells.

And O'Donnell wants to be the designated driver on the road toward the playoffs. After all, he did drive the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago before taking a five-year, $25 million free-agent payday with the Jets.

"It's his decision," O'Donnell said. "It's his football team. We're sitting in a good situation right now.

"I'm not going to cause any sparks or smoke over that. I'm just going to take care of what Neil O'Donnell can do. I look at the big picture. I look at what we have to do now in the last eight games of our season to play in January."

The play of O'Donnell, 31, the last two months has been somewhat inconsistent, mirroring the play of his offensive line, mirroring his running game, too.

An eighth-year pro, he has completed 56.6 percent of his passes. He has 12 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, but eight of the touchdowns came in two games. The Jets have scored only three touchdowns in his past 27 possessions.

O'Donnell stood at just six of 15 passing for 59 yards after the first half against the Patriots when Parcells inserted Foley.

This year, the $300,000 backup out of Boston College has turned the corner, especially with passing accuracy. He sparkled in the preseason with a passing rating of 123 and guided the team to 62 points in 7 1/2 quarters.

Foley is 27, in his fourth season as a pro, and still waiting. And it's hard still to be waiting when he's so sure he can play.

His numbers leaped right off the stat page in his second appearance of the season. Foley, 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, a seventh-round pick in '94, was 17 of 23 for 200 yards, with one touchdown and three touchdown drives and no interceptions. He completed 14 consecutive passes.

Then came the news that it was back to the sideline. Foley tried to hide his hurt that day, but some of the frustration and a bit of the bitterness still sneaked through.

By the next day, though, he was saying: "You can't forget about what's happened in the past. Neil's been really successful. Naturally, I want to play. But Neil's won an AFC championship. He's gotten us to this point. He's the guy. It's his team. It's always been his team."

A poll conducted by one of the New York tabloids clearly showed the fans want it to be Foley's team. He won by more than a 2-1 margin in the vote to name the starter against the Ravens.

"None of that matters," Foley said. "None of that is important. What's important is what's good for the team and what Coach Parcells wants."

And for the moment, Parcells wants O'Donnell to start and Foley to wait.

"Both guys have shown they can do the job for us," center Roger Duffy said. "We're in a win-win situation there. We have total confidence in whoever's in there."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: New York Jets

Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Jets by 5 Series: First meeting

Jets at a glance

Last game: Defeated New England, 24-19, Oct. 19.

Series: First-ever meeting with the Ravens.

Who's hot: The 5-3 Jets under Bill Parcells. The team, which had a bye last week, woke up Tuesday morning to find itself in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East standings. Running back Adrian Murrell is third in the NFL in producing first downs (47) and is eleventh in the league in rushing with 669 yards and four touchdowns on 168 carries. Wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet have combined for 45 catches for 663 yards and four touchdowns. Veteran linebacker Marvin Jones had 15 tackles against the Pats and has a team-leading 68 tackles (50 solos).

Who's not: Quarterback Neil O'Donnell, who was replaced by Glenn Foley in their win over the Patriots. Defensive leader Pepper Johnson suffered a season-ending ruptured tendon in his left quadriceps. Punter Brian Hansen is returning from a sprained knee he injured against Miami.

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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