TOJ would like to welcome another new writer to our staff, Rob Celletti…weclome aboard! – JC
Some people love to watch players like Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu lay out an unsuspecting wide receiver, others love the rush of a long kickoff return by Brad Smith. Me? I always watch the quarterback.
I don’t just watch the quarterback when a play starts. I watch the quarterback warm up. I watch his interactions with coaches and other players. I watch his mannerisms in the huddle. If I’m lucky to be at the game, I try to read the defense along with him (not hard from row 23 of section 317 in the New Meadowlands, from which the game looks like a Google Maps satellite photo).
In my first article here at TOJ, I will look at the Jets quarterbacks that I have watched during my two decades as a fan. No, the Jets have not been blessed with an all-time great quarterback since Joe Namath. Yet, there have been bright spots sprinkled among some ugly seasons. So here they are: the Jets quarterbacks, from 1993-2010, in reverse chronological order* –
*This list only includes primary starters and completely disavows the existence of Brett Favre and the 2008 season, the year that made me believe I was going to give up on this team for life.
Mark Sanchez (2009 – present)
What you love: From a technical standpoint, Sanchez is relatively gifted. He doesn’t have the biggest arm but makes up for that with his ability to scramble, improvise and make a big play out of nothing. He’s a smart kid with the right demeanor for New York and a great work ethic, but the most important thing is his ability to perform in a big spot. Just take a look at the playoff statistics (all road games).
What you hate: Sanchez has problems with accuracy and decision-making, and the numbers bear that out. He’s completed less than 55% of his passes and thrown 33 interceptions through his first two full seasons. Though I don’t want to get into the “body language” discussion, it’s pretty clear that when things go bad for Sanchez, they can snowball rapidly. He allows his bad throws to turn into bad quarters and his bad quarters to turn into bad games.
Best season 2010 – Led the Jets to an 11-5 regular season record and a second consecutive AFC Championship Game. Threw for 3,291 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He led the Jets on three consecutive game-winning drives in the 4th quarter/overtime in weeks 9-11.
Worst season: 2009 – Sanchez’s rookie campaign was wildly inconsistent. He gave fans everything from his inspiring debut vs. the Texans to the infamous color-coded wristband. Still, Sanchez showed he could compete at the NFL level and win road playoff games.
Chad Pennington (2002 – 2007)
What you loved: Did anyone get more of a kick out of proving people wrong than Chad Pennington? He was such a fierce competitor and leader, which is what ultimately made the Pennington story so difficult to swallow for so many Jets fans. With an average-at-best arm battered by numerous injuries, Pennington kept coming back. What made that possible? His football acumen. Outside of Peyton Manning, I don’t believe there was a smarter quarterback in the league during Chad’s time. Also, did anyone throw a better fade route from the half-yard line? I kid, but Pennington was arguably (and actually IS, statistically speaking) the most accurate Jets passer of all time.
What you hated: The injuries. Pennington just couldn’t stay healthy, to the point that it became sort of laughable. The end of Pennington’s Jets career was particularly painful and unjust, as he was released so the Jets could sign Brett Favre. Of course, Chad had his revenge, leading the Dolphins to the AFC East Championship in 2008, clinching the crown against the Jets at the Meadowlands.
Best season: 2002 – Pennington burst onto the scene in relief of the aging and ineffective Vinny Testaverde. He took over a floundering 1-3 team, and even though he lost his first start, rallied the Jets to a 9-7 record and an AFC East Championship (thank you Travis Minor). The numbers were mind-boggling (in 12 starts): 3,120 yards, 22 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, a completion percentage of 68.9% and a passer rating of 104.2 (both Jets’ single-season records).
Worst season: 2007 – For the most part, the Jets had successful seasons when Pennington was healthy, but that was always the problem, wasn’t it? 2007 was the beginning of the end. Kellen Clemens took most of the snaps as the year progressed, as the Jets were just 1-7 in Pennington’s starts and finished an abysmal 4-12.
Vinny Testaverde (1998 – 2003)
What you hated: Vinny was notorious for his killer interceptions and fumbles. For his career, Testaverde threw 275 touchdowns, but also 267 interceptions, many of them complete head-scratchers that cost his team games.
Best season: 1998 – Bill Parcells acquired the 35 year-old Vinny and taught the old dog some new tricks, turning him into an efficient, nearly turnover-free machine. He threw for a single-season Jets record 29 touchdowns and completed nearly 62% of his passes. Testaverde led the Jets to a 12-4 record, the AFC Championship game, and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Worst season: 2000 – After rupturing his Achilles Tendon in 1999, shattering the Jets’ momentum coming off one of the best seasons in team history, Vinny came back at age 37 and put together some respectable games in leading the Jets to a 9-4 record after 14 weeks. But it’s hard to forget how this year ended, in complete and utter heartbreak, with three consecutive losses to the Raiders, Lions (at home) and Ravens. That loss to the Ravens, on Christmas Eve, is one of the all-time great Jet collapses, largely due to Testaverde’s implosion, in which he threw 3 interceptions and lost two fumbles.
Neil O’Donnell (1996 – 1997)
What you loved: I’ll abstain.
What you hated: Everything?
Best season: 1997 – It’s easy to focus on the negative with O’Donnell, but when Bill Parcells became the Jets’ coach, he coaxed a decent season out of his quarterback, by mostly keeping him on a short leash. If nothing else, O’Donnell stopped turning the ball over (just 7 interceptions in 460 attempts). The Jets were one win away from the playoffs after going 1-15 in the previous season.
Worst season: 1996 – Started 6 games, lost all 6 and was benched in favor of Frank Reich after an “injury” during pre-game warmups. The Jets were on their way to an infamous 1-15 season.
Boomer Esiason (1993 – 1995)
What you loved: Long Island born and bred, Boomer came home to play for the Jets after Cincinnati traded him for a third round pick. Boomer was the consummate professional and deserved better during his time in New York, as he played under three different coaches during the end of the Hess ownership.
What you hated: Though Boomer was more a victim of circumstance and suspect coaching under Bruce Coslet, Pete Carroll and Rich Kotite, he was never the All-Pro quarterback for the Jets that he was in Cincinnati. As a matter of fact, the Jets had two chances to make the playoffs with Esiason at the helm in 1993 and 1994, but their offense was downright anemic at the end of both seasons.
Best season: 1993 – Boomer made the Pro Bowl in his first year as a Jet, throwing for 3,421 yards and 16 touchdowns (the NFL was a different animal back then). The Jets finished with an 8-8 record, and even though the offense sputtered down the stretch, fans were optimistic, at least about the quarterback position.
Worst season: 1995 – Boomer went down with a major concussion and missed four games, but that’s not what sunk the Jets to 3-13 in 1995. The aging Esiason completed just 56.8% of his passes, was intercepted 15 times, and had nearly a career-low 5.8 yards-per-attempt. The Jets record was 2-10 in the games he started.
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Jets fans in terms of quarterbacks throughout the last two decades. Mark Sanchez has a few things on his side that none of his predecessors did, namely his youth and a stable coaching staff/front office/ownership situation which fully supports him. It’s now up to Sanchez and the Jets to build on the experience from his first two seasons and translate that into consistency, more wins, and a Super Bowl.