TOJ Fan Friday – #FlashbackFriday, Todd Bowles vs. 80s Jets

TOJ Fan Friday: Jonathan Payton throws it back to Todd Bowles and the Redskins versus the New York Jets in 1987

On Fridays throughout the year we are going to publish an article from one of our fans/regular readers of the site. We want to hear from you and hopefully source a few new regular contributors. Jonathan Payton submitted today with an article about the New York Jets in the 1980s when they faced Todd Bowles and the Washington Redskins. If you are interested in submitting an article for next Friday, send an e-mail along to JoeC@TurnOnTheJets.com!

The New York Jets and the Washington Redskins. John Riggins The Laveraneus Coles/Sanatana Moss trade. Kicker John Hall. Art Monk (for one season in New York). And now, most importantly, former Washington defensive back and current Head Coach of the New York Jets, Todd Bowles.

Gang Green’s Head Coach played against the Jets in the fourth ever regular season meeting between the two franchises at RFK Stadium in Week 7 1987. It was an important week in the history of the National Football League and a significant moment for the two franchises who would finish the game heading in different directions, one towards the Super Bowl, the other embarking on a decade of underachievement.

The New York Jets began the 1987 season again among the AFC favorites to claim a playoff birth for the third season in a row. The seasons of ’85 and’86 were two of the best in franchise history but they’d fallen over the finish line into the post-season in 1986 after losing the last 5 games of the season having stood at a league best 10-1 at one point. This combined with the painful double overtime Divisional Playoff defeat to the Cleveland Browns having been up by 10 points with 4 minutes remaining gave the Jets impetus to start the 1987 season fast. Which is what they had done. Victories over the Bills and Patriots gave the Jets a perfect 2-0 start to kick on and amend the demons and badly timed injuries that had crept in towards the end of the previous year. It was all looking good for the Jets. And then the players went on strike.

It was to be a seminal moment for the tenants of Giants Stadium, the beginning of the end for the perennial playoff, Super Bowl contending Jets team of the early and mid Eighties. Gang Green would not see another 9 win season until Bill Parcells took over 10 years later though of course no one knew it at the time. Week 3’s slate of games were cancelled and then in one of the worst decisions in the history of the league the NFL owners arranged to replace the striking players with a bunch of off-the-street ‘scabs’. For week’s 4-6 replacement players played out the schedule. Some players did break picket lines, famously Mark Gastineau on the first day of replacement player practice resulting in alleged scuffles amongst Jet teammates. He had the support of his other defensive linemen Marty Lyons and Joe Klecko who were all on some of the best money in the league. In Week 6 backup quarterback Pat Ryan joined them was starting for the mostly scab version of the Jets. The NFLPA eventually called off the strike and by the time the real players were allowed to returned back to work in Week 7 the Jets had found their record had turned from 2-0 into 3-2. Had Pat Ryan not crossed the picket line for the Dolphins game in Week 6 it’s arguable that the Jets would have resumed with a losing record.

The Redskins on the other hand had come out of the strike rather well. Having been 1-1 when the players walked out, the returning Washington players found a record of 4-1 waiting for them. Interestingly the Redskins were the only team that didn’t have a single player cross the picket line.

At RFK Stadium the fans were pretty brutal to the returning Washington offense. Having never really taken to Jay Schroeder since Joe Theismann’s career was ended through injury, the RFK crowd would chant “We Want The Scabs’ when Schroeder misfired or threw an interception, due in part to the success of scab quarterbacks . The Jets offense would also struggle for a lot of the game with Free Safety Todd Bowles successfully rotating to Wesley Walker’s side to remove New York’s deep threat (Walker ended the game with no receptions) and restrict O’Brien to short and intermediate throws all game. The Jets in fact started the game in 13 personnel (Mickey Shuler, Rocky Klever and Billy Griggs as tight ends) but it was Al Toon that provided most of the passing outlet.

The Redskins defense was built around the fearsome defensive line of Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Dave Butz and Darryl Grant and they would cause havoc all day. Ken O’Brien, who was known to hold onto the ball too long on occasion, would be sacked 7 times and hit all afternoon. With those monsters up front, serviceable linebackers, a future Hall of Famer in Darryl Green playing man to man often on the Jets best receiver there’s definitely certain parallels with the team Bowles played in and the one he coaches now.

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Washington opened the scoring in the 2nd quarter. Gary Clark ran a go route, faking inside he beat Jerry Holmes in man coverage with no safety help and Schroeder found him with a 20 yard pass down the right side of the endzone. The Jets would respond with 13 unanswered points culminating in a 15 yard O’Brien strike to Shuler over the middle as the coverage broke down in the Redskins secondary. The Washington crowd was restless. The Jets offense drove deep into the red zone again but were unable to finish and settled for another Pat Leahy field goal to leave the score at 16-7 at the start of the 4th quarter.

On the next drive Schroeder was picked off by Jets DB Rich Miano on a poor pass down the middle intended for Clark. A Jets 3 and out sent the ball back to Washington who this time marched down the field ending in a short touchdown pass to Kelvin Bryant. A great kick return from Jo Jo Townsell gave the Jets excellent field position inside the Redskin half and they were on the edge of field goal range before the seventh O’Brien sack of the day knocked them back out of it. The Jets punted before Schroeder hit Ricky Sanders for a 39 yard bomb to take Washington inside the Jet 30. With 58 seconds remaining Ali Haji-Sheikh kicked the winning 28 yard field goal. 17-16 Washington.

With no time outs remaining the game ended with Todd Bowles defending O’Brien’s hail-mary and a 62 yard Leahy field goal attempt ending up short.

Just as in the 1982 strike shortened season, Washington would go on to win the Super Bowl that year riding a quarterback controversy all the way through into the playoffs before Doug Williams took over from Schroeder for good. The Jets meanwhile would stay in contention through inconsistent performances at 6-5 until another collapse down the stretch would see them concede an average of 34 points a game over the last 4 games to end the year bottom of the AFC East at 6-10.

A period of rebuilding for the Jets would begin the following season and over the next 11 seasons the Jets would see playoff football only once as Gang Geen would stumble from one poor decision to another over the next decade.

But if there’s any positives to take from that 1987 October afternoon in Washington it’s that the current Jets team looks a lot more like the one Todd Bowles was a part of than the one he played against.

Six years later the Jets would beat Bowles’ Redskins in a 3-0 thriller (yes just one Carey Blanchard field goal) at RFK.

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Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports