As the 2019 season is only days away the angst, fear, and excitement consume the Jets’ fan base. What awaits us at the other end? A pleasant surprise of 11-5? A stunning disappointment and yet another year of bottom feeding and inconsequential Jets football come Thanksgiving? I, for one, choose to be optimistic (at least for now).
While the anticipation is killing me, like any other Jets fan, I expect that this season will be a good one. Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m not saying they’ll be hosting the Lombardi Trophy, but what I am saying is that I think fans will be watching competitive Jets football in December. Right or wrong, let’s take a stroll down (the positive side of) memory lane, and look at the top 5 Jets teams of the past 25 years and conjure up some hope that the 2019 Jets can duplicate one of them…
The Rankings (based solely on nothing else but my own opinion. Feel free to debate me):
#5 – 2009
9-7 / Wild Card Berth / Lost in AFC Championship Game
At first glance, this ranking may seem low. This team did go to the AFC Championship and shocked the world on their way. However, in the big picture, this team was somewhat mediocre for a good part of the season until a late December/January (and extremely fun!) run. Rookie QB Mark Sanchez came out of the gates hot along with a fiery Rex Ryan defense and led the Jets to a 3-0 start. But Sanchez fell to typical rookie form and the team struggled midseason to a 4-6 record, before turning it on and winning 5 of the last 6 (including a gift from Indianapolis in week 16) to win a wild card berth. From there, they beat Cincinnati on the road in round 1 and shocked the Chargers on the road in the divisional round, before ultimately faltering in the second half to Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The Jets jumped out to a 17-6 lead before halftime and then Peyton did what Peyton does. The rest is history.
The Verdict: A magical run (playing with house money) falls short. The number one ranked rushing attack and overall defense simply wasn’t well-rounded enough to beat Peyton Manning in Indy. A firm ranking at #5.
#4 – 2002
9-7 / AFC East Division Champion / Lost in Divisional Round
This was a roller coaster year. Coming off a playoff berth and a wild card loss in Oakland in 2001, Vinny Testaverde started the year as the Jets’ quarterback yet again and led them to a wild week one win over Buffalo (thank you, Chad Morton!). Following that, the Herman Edwards led team struggled mightily over the next four weeks as the offense became stagnant and seemingly couldn’t gain a yard. Enter Chad Pennington. The Rhodes Scholar from Marshall takes over for an injured Vinny T in a tough Jacksonville loss, but shows enough promise to win the starting job. The 1-4 Jets, behind the young kid at QB, get themselves to 7-6 and within reach of the playoffs, but a leaping Wayne Chrebet fumbles late in Chicago trying to hurdle the entire Bears defense to seemingly crush the Jets amazing run. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Somehow, the Jets manage to go into Foxboro the following Sunday night and beat the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots (as Laveranues Coles rolls into the endzone), and the Patriots, with only a puncher’s chance at the playoffs, do the Jets a favor in the following week by beating the Dolphins in week 17 to open the door for the Jets to win the division. Chad & Co. answer by demolishing a very good Packers team at home, 42-17, on their way to the AFC East Crown (and the last one Jets have seen). The Jets continued the momentum by smacking the Colts in the Meadowlands 41-0 in the wild card round, but their season ends in Oakland yet again as they lose to the Raiders 30-10.
The Verdict: This one (like many of them) felt like something more. Chad Pennington had an incredible year, with 22 TD’s and only 6 interceptions and setting the (then) record for completion percentage in a season at 68.9%! This still wasn’t enough, but it was a very good team on both sides of the ball that could have competed with the Jets’ best! A worthy #4.
#3 – 2004
10-6 / Wild Card Berth / Lost in Divisional Round
Curtis Martin stole the show this season. At 31 years old, Martin became the oldest Running Back in history to win the rushing title. He won it by ONE yard, gaining 1,697 yards. The Jets had a balanced offense and a solid defense, and were consistently good throughout the year and, despite missing Chad Pennington for a few games, were 9-3 entering the last quarter of the year. They finished 10-6 and a wild card, and won a crazy game in San Diego in overtime (anyone remember Eric Barton?). The next week, the Jets went to Pittsburgh to play a 15-1 Steelers team led by rookie Ben Roethlisberger. The Jets fell down early 10-0 before storming back to take the lead 17-10 late. The Steelers tied it up at 17, and Doug Brien misses two field goals in the final two minutes of regulation. The game goes to overtime as the Jets lose 20-17 in a game that they absolutely should have won… twice.
The Verdict: This was Herman Edwards best team of his tenure. They had it all – a great run game, a sneaky good passing attack and a solid, all-around defense. If Doug Brien doesn’t miss one of those kicks the Jets are going to New England to try to take down the Patriots. This team holds a steady spot at #3 overall.
#2 – 2010
11-5 / Wild Card Berth / Lost in AFC Championship Game
What can I say? This felt like THE year (I feel like I’ve said this before). The Jets were fun. They had swagger. They took that Rex Ryan bravado and it echoed through their entire team. Sanchez, in his second year, showed promise. He limited the interceptions, and he got the ball in the hands of his playmakers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. The run game was still dominant behind newly acquired LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. The defense was stout and would impose their will on opposing offenses. Despite a week one loss to Baltimore, the Jets got themselves to 9-2 (their best record ever at that point in the season) and into a showdown with New England on Monday Night for first place. I think we all remember how that game went down. The Jets fell into the proverbial quicksand (thanks, Shane Falco – google it) and got slaughtered 45-3 in what was then dubbed the Monday Night Massacre. However, the Jets didn’t falter in typical “same ol’ Jets” fashion. They finished 11-5 and found themselves in the playoffs yet again. In the wild card round, they avenge their previous postseason loss and beat Manning in Indy. They take a trip to Foxboro and avenge the week 13 Monday Night Massacre and beat Belichick and Brady in what was, for any Jets fan born after 1969, the greatest win of our lives! They go on to Pittsburgh in what felt like destiny, and lose because of an insurmountable first half hole they dug themselves into. So close. Another painful way to lose in the postseason in a year that felt like it was meant to be. Do I sound like a broken record yet?
The Verdict: There could be some debate for this team to be #1. I truly believed this was their year. If it weren’t for a defense falling asleep in the first half against the Steelers, the Jets could have very well hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 2011.
#1 – 1998
12-4 / AFC East Division Champion / Lost in AFC Championship Game
In my opinion, this is clear cut. This team had it ALL. They were well coached (Parcells, Weis, Belichick). They were skilled and versatile on offense (Curtis Martin, Keyshawn Johnson, Wayne Chrebet). Vinny Testaverde, officially taking over for Glenn Foley in week 6, had a stellar year, throwing for 29 TD’s and only 7 interceptions. The Jets were aggressive. They were smart. They did everything right and this team looked good. The Jets got themselves to 6-3, and after a fluke loss in Indianapolis to rookie QB Peyton Manning, they won their last 6 games on their way to the AFC East Title. With a win at home against Jacksonville in the divisional round, the Jets head to Denver to take on John Elway and the defending champion Broncos. The Jets, in a tough fought first half, found themselves ahead 10-0 in the third quarter. Victor Green, the longtime Jets safety, fell asleep on a deep pass to Ed McCaffrey down the middle and the rest is history. It fell apart from there, and the Jets lost 23-10 in what should have turned into their first Super Bowl appearance in 30 years.
The Verdict: There is no doubt in my mind that the Jets would have beaten Atlanta in Super Bowl 33. There is also no doubt in my mind that this team would have beaten any other Jets team in the last 25 years. It had it all: Great coaching, a balanced, aggressive offense and a strong defense. 1998 was a fairy-tale year, and it should have ended as such.
Wild rides. Crazy wins. Heartbreaking losses. Fun (yes, I said it, it was fun) seasons. Can the Jets return to those winning ways? Only time will tell. As the 2019 season draws nearer, the optimism around this team grows. Can Sam Darnold and Adam Gase lead us to the promised land? Let’s not go crazy. But maybe they can get the Jets back to something the fans have been sorely missing for the past eight miserable seasons: playoff football and a chance to feel special one more time.