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Perhaps everything will work out after all.

It doesn't seem probable. It sounds more like a pipe dream than reasonable speculation.

But then, wasn't the whole Vinny Testaverde saga one of the more improbable sports stories of 1998?

So why couldn't Rick Mirer become the Vinny Testaverde of the 1999 Jets? Why couldn't he revive a fading career and lead the Jets out of an early season hole and deep into the postseason, the way Testaverde did a year ago?

At least one person who hasn't contemplated jumping off the top of Giants Stadium this week thinks it could happen.

"Rick's a good quarterback and he's been in some bad situations," New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "Maybe you'll see last year's Vinny will be Rick Mirer. He'll come in and light it up with a good offense."

Keep in mind that Bledsoe feels sort of a kinship with Mirer. In 1993, Bledsoe joined the Patriots as the top overall pick of the NFL draft. Moments later, Mirer joined the Seattle Seahawks as the second overall choice.

Bledsoe has gone on to a mostly successful career with the Patriots. Mirer is on his fourth NFL team and second since the start of the preseason.

Not since his rookie debut with the Seahawks has Mirer been at the center of so much attention. But it is for all of the wrong reasons. Mirer is not viewed as the Jets' savior. He is expected to create a huge mess in place of Testaverde, who suffered a season-ending ruptured Achilles' tendon in the Jets' season-opening loss to the Patriots.

Consider that, after replacing punter/backup quarterback Tom Tupa in the fourth quarter last Sunday, Mirer completed only four of 11 passes for 28 yards and threw two interceptions. On Sunday night, he is being asked to lead the Jets against the redemption-driven Buffalo Bills before a sellout home-opening crowd in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"It's not going to be perfect right away," Mirer admitted. "I don't think anybody could come in here and pick up where a Pro Bowl guy left off."

Of course at the start of last season, when the Jets were 0-2, no one gave Testaverde's health a second thought. Before the brilliant performance that landed him in the Pro Bowl and the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, he was considered a big-time bust after failed stints with Tampa Bay, which made him the No. 1 overall pick in 1987, and the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens.

Mirer had a good rookie year with the Seahawks, but hasn't done a thing since. He was a major bust in Chicago, which gave up a first-round pick to get him from Seattle. The numbers paint a dreadful picture: a 20-34 career record as a starter and a 41-to-64 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio.

Mirer began the summer as a third-stringer in Green Bay. Then, last month, he joined the Jets in a trade that was meant to provide insurance at QB after Scott Zolak was dumped and young Ray Lucas showed during the preseason he was far from being ready.

"I can't look back and say I'm really proud of a lot of statistics," Mirer said. "But I can say I've been in hard situations and I survived them, or I moved on to other ones. I'm here now, which is a good thing for me.

". . . This is the best opportunity I've had."

The Jets' coaches have faced two major challenges this week. One is preparing Mirer for his first start on a team whose players and coaches he is still getting to know. The other is adjusting an offense that no longer has a strong-armed, drop-back, pocket-passing quarterback at the controls. Mirer's arm is decent, but his greatest asset is his mobility. So the Jets' offensive brain trust has been busy devising a scheme that is friendly to a bootleg QB whose best hope for success, like Bills QB Doug Flutie, comes from making plays on the run.

Jets coach Bill Parcells acknowledges Mirer has yet to give the team any reason to feel confident he can fill its massive void.

"All we've seen is part of a preseason game with Rick," Parcells said. "To say we really know for sure what's going to happen, we don't know. All we can do is prepare him the best we can to be successful and see if we can't give him the right support.

"I think he's a bright young man. I don't think the mental part of the game will be a problem for him. And he does have experience in this league. No, he hasn't been with teams that were very successful, but I can look back at Vinny Testaverde a year ago and say pretty much the same thing.

". . . Now, coming up there, playing this team in this set of circumstances, that won't be easy for him. But that's the only way we can approach it."

Harder still is the fact Mirer won't have all of the weapons Testaverde had at his disposal last year. No. 2 wide receiver Wayne Chrebet is out five more weeks with a broken foot he suffered in preseason. Tight end Eric Green might miss Sunday night's game with a neck injury. Talented running back Leon Johnson is out for the season with a knee injury he suffered last week.

However, Mirer still has Pro Bowl receiver Keyshawn Johnson and a home-run threat in Dedric Ward, who moved into Chrebet's spot. He also hs Curtis Martin in the backfield.

"It is a very talented group and it's a successful offense," Mirer said. "I'm still unaware of what some guys can do . . . right now, I'm just trying to put the ball where it's supposed to go."

Is the pressure of such a crucial game too much to handle?

"It could be if I let it," Mirer said. "I can't make it bigger than it is or make it impossible to handle because it's something I have to handle."
Running back Thurman Thomas, who is expected to miss at least six games with liver and kidney bruises, and offensive guard Joe Panos, who continues to be bothered by a bulging disk in his neck, are among the Bills' inactives for Sunday night.

Offensive guard Victor Allotey and rookie linebacker Keith Newman also are inactive.

The rest of the list will be announced just before kickoff.

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