History of the New York Jets
This article details the history of the New York Jets American Football Club.
Originally known as the New York Titans, the team played home games at the Polo Grounds. But they had trouble attracting crowds despite fielding respectable teams that finished .500 (7–7) during their first two seasons. After a 5–9 season in 1962, the team's future was in doubt. It was saved from bankruptcy by a group headed by MCA head Sonny Werblin and Leon Hess, who bought the team from Harry Wismer on March 13, 1964.
After Werblin and Hess took over, the team was renamed the New York Jets as they planned to relocate from the Polo Grounds to the New York Mets' Shea Stadium one year later. Shea Stadium lies so close to LaGuardia Airport that the sound of jets roaring overhead was a common sound heard during games played there. The team's colors were also changed from blue and gold to kelly green and white, which also were the colors of Hess' gasoline stations.
Exactly one month after the sale of the team, the Jets hired Weeb Ewbank as head coach. Ewbank had won back-to-back NFL championships in 1958 and 1959 with the Baltimore Colts, and was one of the most respected coaches in the game.
Hess eventually bought out his partners, and retained sole ownership until his death. His estate sold the team to Johnson & Johnson heir Robert Wood Johnson IV in 2000.
Glory years: 1965-1969
In 1965, the Jets signed University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath, who chose to sign with the Jets over the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that held his NFL rights. Namath's contract was for a then-record $427,000 annual salary. The confluence of signing Namath, as well as the Jets' moving into brand-new Shea Stadium, the Giants' poor performance since 1964, and the AFL's brand-new deal with NBC, helped to make the Jets the hottest football team in New York and one of the most popular teams nationwide. The Jets drew spectators both at home and on the road (in fact, they outdrew their entire 1962 season attendance in their first game at Shea Stadium alone) and, perhaps as much as any other factor, Namath's undisputed success with the Jets led to the landmark merger of the AFL with the NFL, to finally be consummated in 1970.
The Jets improved steadily on the field after Namath's arrival. In 1967, Namath led the Jets to an 8–5–1 record, their best record yet. Namath reached a milestone by passing for 4,007 yards in 1967, a 14-game season, making him the first-ever professional quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. This was especially remarkable considering that at the time, 3,000 yards passing was considered an excellent year.
In 1968, the Jets would reach the pinnacle of their existence and provide the moment that would indicate the AFL's coming of age. Under Namath's guidance, the Jets rose to the top of the AFL, defeating the Oakland Raiders in a thrilling AFL Championship game, 27-23. The win qualified them to represent their league in a game that was being referred to for the first time as the Super Bowl (and referred to retroactively as Super Bowl III). They were pitted against the champions of the NFL, the Baltimore Colts. At the time, the AFL was considered to be inferior to the NFL, and most people considered the Jets to be considerable underdogs and treated the Jets as such. That would change three nights before the game while Namath was being honored by the Miami Touchdown Club as its Player Of The Year. Namath took exception to a heckling Colts fan and used that moment to lament the lack of respect his team had gotten to that point. He then said "The Jets will win Sunday. I guarantee it." His audacious remark proved correct, as the Jets created one of the greatest upsets in football history by defeating the Colts 16–7. This victory showed that the AFL was capable of competing with the NFL.
The 1968 season also saw the Jets involved in one of the most notorious incidents in television history, an incident that would change the way television networks carried sporting events for decades to come. On November 17, 1968, just before 7:30pm Eastern time, the Jets scored late to take a 32–29 lead over the Oakland Raiders with 1:05 left. NBC cut to a commercial, and then everywhere but the West Coast showed the movie Heidi, a show which NBC had promoted extensively for the sweeps period. Outraged fans bombarded NBC headquarters in New York with phone calls demanding the game be restored; so many phone calls were made that they eventually knocked out the NBC switchboard. Even though a decision was made to carry the game to conclusion, this decision could not be communicated, thus resulting in the movie starting on schedule.
Fans' ire was further fueled when they discovered that NBC's cutting away from the game denied them from seeing live a dramatic finish. On the Raiders' second play from scrimmage on the next drive, Daryle Lamonica threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Smith, giving the Raiders a 36–32 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Earl Christy of the Jets fumbled at the 10 yard line, which the Raiders' Preston Ridlehuber converted into another touchdown, ultimately giving the Raiders a 43–32 victory. Much of the country learned of this final outcome only via a bottom-of-screen crawl line shown during the movie. This incident, dubbed the Heidi Game, resulted in most television networks and sports leagues amending their television policies to ensure that games in progress would be broadcast to their conclusion, no matter what, even if it meant delaying or canceling the rest of the network's lineup, and even if the game's outcome seemed assured.
The Jets enjoyed another excellent season in 1969, winning the AFL's Eastern Division with a 10-4 record, but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional playoffs.
The Jets did not live up to expectations after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The Jets' first game in the NFL was also the first-ever Monday Night Football game, a 31–21 loss to the Cleveland Browns. In their 1970 NFL season Joe Namath broke his wrist in October and was unable to play for the rest of the season, with the Jets finishing 4–10. Another injury to Namath before the 1971 season submarined the Jets that year as well, with Bob Davis and Al Woodall leading the team to a 6–8 record. Namath was back for the 1972 season, leading the injury ravaged team to a respectable 7–7 and earning a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl Team for leading the NFL in several passing categories (as an example of how good Namath was, in 1972 he passed for 496 yards and 6 touchdowns on 15 completions against the Colts and 403 yards against the Raiders on Monday Night). After another disappointing season in 1973 in which Namath was hurt again and was replaced by Al Woodall and Bill Demory en route to a 4-10 record, coach Weeb Ewbank retired. After Ewbank's departure, Charley Winner coached the Jets in 1974, and the Jets had a late surge to finish the season 7–7 and Namath earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year. In 1975, the Jets would finish only 3–11 as John Riggins become the first Jet ever to gain more than one thousand yards rushing in a season (1,005), making the Pro Bowl. Riggins would leave the Jets to join the Washington Redskins the following year, and Winner was replaced by Lou Holtz, who had been head coach at North Carolina State University. Unfortunately for Holtz, his coaching style was not ideally suited for the NFL. He only won 3 of 13 games as Jets coach before leaving with one game left in the season to resume his college coaching career at the University of Arkansas.
Namath's career mirrored the Jets after the AFL-NFL merger became final in 1970. He missed much of the 1970, 1971, and 1973 seasons due to injuries, most notably to his ravaged knees, which robbed him of his mobility and much of his effectiveness. He would not throw more touchdowns than interceptions in a season after the merger, and in fact only had two post-merger seasons (1972 and 1974) where his performance could have been classified as reasonably successful. (The Jets also had relative success in those years as well, finishing 7–7 both years.) After a terrible 1976 season in which Namath only threw 4 touchdown passes against 16 interceptions in 11 games, Namath was waived by the Jets when a trade couldn't be worked out to facilitate his move to the Los Angeles Rams. He would play only four games for the Rams before announcing his retirement at the end of the season, at the relatively young age of 34. Although Namath would make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was widely acknowledged that he made it on his performance through the 1969 season, for his role in leading the Jets to a victory in Super Bowl III, and for his being a transcendent icon, the likes of which pro football had not seen.
After Namath's departure, Walt Michaels was hired for the 1977 season and stayed with the team for six years. In Michaels's first year, the Jets finished 3–11 for the third straight year. However, the Jets were rejuvenated for the 1978 season, with unheralded quarterback Matt Robinson replacing Richard Todd and throwing for 2,000 yards and the team finishing 8-8. The Jets were actually 8-6 after the first 14 games and had a chance at a playoff berth, but they lost their final two games. Richard Todd again took over under center for the 1979 season and did even better, but the Jets again finished 8–8. Todd imploded with a 30-interception season in 1980, and the team went down with him, finishing 4-12, last place in the AFC East. The lowest point was a 21-20 home loss to the then 0-14 New Orleans Saints, which was the Saints' only win of the season.
The 1981 season was the Jets' first winning season since joining the NFL. They contended for the division with the Miami Dolphins for much of the season before clinching a playoff berth on the final day of the season. The Jets would finish 10–5–1 and make the playoffs for the first time since 1969 on Todd's 3,231 yards passing and 25 touchdowns, most of them to Wesley Walker and Jerome Barkum. A late comeback in their first playoff game, against the Buffalo Bills, was stopped when Todd threw an interception deep in Bills territory in the final minute, and the Jets were eliminated.
One of the Jets' bright spots for the 1981 season was their defensive line. Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko anchored the "New York Sack Exchange" and combined for more than 40 quarterback sacks. The line also featured Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam.
In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Jets finished 6–3, despite losing Joe Klecko to a devastating knee injury in an early-season game at New England. An offense led by that season's leading rusher Freeman McNeil and the continued improvement of quarterback Richard Todd, helped compensate for the loss of their best defensive player and the Jets shaky special teams play (Pat Leahy missed 5 extra points). In the first round of the playoffs, McNeil ran for over 200 yards as they upset the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, 44-17. The Jets then defeated the top seeded Los Angeles Raiders, 17-14, in a game that saw a lot of turnovers on both sides, and a career game from Wesley Walker. The Jets then traveled (their sixth straight road game) to face the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game. The game was proceeded by a series of storms that turned the Orange Bowl into a nasty mud pit. During the storms, Miami Coach Don Shula famously refused to cover the Orange Bowl field with a tarpaulin. This move favored the straight-ahead running style of Miami's running back Andra Franklin over McNeil's "stutter-step" in which he eluded tacklers rather than hit them head on. In what was dubbed the "Mud Bowl", neither team could manage much offense (both teams gained less than 200 yards) but at the end of his best season, Todd threw five interceptions, the last being an embarrassing screen pass deflected and returned by linebacker A.J. Duhe for a costly 4th quarter touchdown as the Jets fell to the Dolphins 14-0. Walt Michaels was forced to resign after the game and took a job in the short-lived USFL.
Joe Walton was the new coach for the 1983 season, and he led the team to a 7–9 season. After the 1983 season, the Jets lease with the city for the use of Shea Stadium had expired, and the Jets would need to cut a new deal. However, the renewal deal was highly unfavorable to the Jets, including terms such as that the Jets could not play a home game until the Mets' season was over, which would have forced the Jets to play at least the first month of the regular season on the road. The Jets had faced onerous lease terms at Shea for some years before then; often the Mets would use their status as the stadium's primary tenant to force the Jets on long road trips early in the season.
Essentially evicted from Shea, in 1983 the Jets reached an agreement with the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority to play their home games at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey beginning in 1984.
Move to the Meadowlands
By the late 1970s, Shea Stadium had become run down. Ill maintained (pipes would often burst in the restrooms in cold weather), with poor sightlines for many football seats, and with a low (by NFL standards) seating capacity, it was a poor football facility. The fact that the Mets were the primary tenant meant that the Jets were barred from playing preseason games there, and could not play at home until the Mets finished their season. In 1973, as the Mets made the World Series, the Jets were forced to move an expected home game against the Steelers to Pittsburgh, playing their first six games on the road (and finishing with only six home games).
In 1978, the Jets sought to move to the Meadowlands. Lawsuits were filed by both the team and the city. The suits were settled, and the team was permitted to play one home game at the Meadowlands in 1978, and would be allowed to play two September home games at Shea each year. Significant improvements to the stadium by the city were promised (but were never carried out). In exchange, the Jets promised to remain at Shea through the 1983 season.
By 1983, it was clear the Jets would move once their obligation ended. Compared with 1978, there was relatively little fuss or controversy, and the Jets duly left for New Jersey for the 1984 season.
Despite admittedly being the second tenant at the Meadowlands, the stadium was at the time considered one of the best in the NFL and allowed the Jets to realize revenue streams and flexibility they would not have realized if they had remained at Shea Stadium. It also enabled the Jets to sell over 15,000 more tickets to each game and to better leverage the New York area fan base and corporate support. For their part, the Giants welcomed the Jets, as the Jets presence at the Meadowlands would eventually enable both teams to gain improvements and upgrades to the facility that the Giants may not have been able to secure by themselves.
However, the stadium was painted in the Giants' red and blue color scheme, with decidedly temporary-looking modifications for Jets games, including stadium employees waving enormous Jets flags at the back of each end zone and a flimsy, windblown Jets mural covering the blue inner stadium wall. Moreover, the Giants had a tremendous head start in attracting fans close to its New Jersey home, whereas the Jets' fan base remained on Long Island. Without rail service between Long Island and New Jersey Turnpike Exit 16w (the nondescript wetlands area where the Meadowlands is located) Jets fans faced a difficult trek through several layers of dense New York Metro-area traffic on game days.
Despite the move to Giants Stadium, the Jets organization made the decision to not change the team name to reflect the new location of its home stadium. This mirrored the decision made by the Giants in 1976 when they moved, and originated from the fact that, although the stadium was in New Jersey, the team continued to represent all of Metropolitan New York and the Tri-State area. Furthermore, despite being in a different state, the Jets' new home was closer to Times Square and midtown Manhattan than Shea Stadium was, as the crow flies—although considerably farther from the team's Long Island Hofstra University offices and training facilities.
In 1984, their first season at their new home, veteran quarterback Pat Ryan would start, 1983 first round draft pick Ken O'Brien would eventually take over at quarterback; but the team stumbled to a 7–9 record. In 1985 O'Brien threw 25 touchdowns (including 7 to Mickey Shuler and 5 to Wesley Walker) with only 8 interceptions, and four different rushers combined for 18 touchdowns on the ground. The Jets made the playoffs with an 11–5 record, and hosted their first playoff game in 16 years; however they were defeated in the first round by the eventual AFC champion New England Patriots 26–14.
The Jets looked to improve on that mark for the 1986 season, with the team winning 9 straight games to start the season at 10–1. Wesley Walker caught 12 touchdowns, with second-year player Al Toon catching 8. The team slid through December, losing five straight to finish 10–6. Pat Ryan was named the starting quarterback for the playoffs, and they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs handily in the first round. However, a late collapse in Cleveland against the Browns in their divisional playoff matchup led to a double-overtime winning field goal by Mark Moseley would deny the Jets a berth in the AFC Championship game. Late in the Cleveland game, one of the most infamous plays in Jets history occurred when Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar threw an incomplete pass on 2nd down and 24, but the Browns were awarded a first down when Mark Gastineau was penalized for roughing the passer, giving them a first down at the Browns 33, from where they would get first a touchdown and then in the closing seconds of regulation a game-tying field goal.
In 1987, the Jets again stumbled through December, but this time they missed the playoffs with a 6–9 record. Gastineau shocked the team by retiring midway through the 1988 season to tend to the health of his then-fiancee,actress Brigitte Nielsen. In spite of Gastineau's sudden departure, the Jets finished 8-7-1, short of a playoff spot in the competitive AFC wild-card race. A highlight of their 1988 season was their defeat of the New York Giants in the final game of the season, thus denying the Giants a playoff berth. The team went into a tailspin in 1989, finishing 4–12 and resulting in the firing of coach Joe Walton. Walton had been unpopular for many years and had to endure frequent chants of "Joe Must Go" during home games, especially during the final 1989 season.
After the 1989 season, the Jets hired[Dick Steinber] from the New England Patriots to be the franchise's General Manager. As a Patriots executive, Steinberg had helped lead the Patriots to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1985. Prior to Steinberg's arrival, the Jets did not have an individual primarily and directly responsible for the on-field product. One of Steinberg's first moves was to hire Bruce Coslet, offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals as head coach. Coslet's offensive schemes had helped lead the Bengals to the 1988 Super Bowl where they very nearly defeated the San Francisco 49ers. Steinberg and Coslet let most of the key players from the 1980s go and built from scratch. Ken O'Brien was on the downside of his career, and the team finished 6–10. In 1991, with Brad Baxter tallying a career-high 11 rushing touchdowns, the Jets improved to 8–8, winning their season finale against the Miami Dolphins to earn a trip to the playoffs. At the same time, they denied the rival Dolphins a trip to the playoffs. Despite their modest regular season record, the Jets played a close game against the Houston Oilers in their opening-round playoff game, losing 17–10.
After their successful 1991 season, Jets fans expectations were high. Coslet chose second-year quarterback Browning Nagle as their starter over Ken O'Brien, which came as somewhat of a surprise at first, but Nagle had shown some promise and seemed to be ready to take the job. Unfortunately for the Jets, Nagle was not up for the job and the Jets disappointed fans with a 4–12 finish. The year was marked by a near-tragedy in November when defensive lineman Dennis Byrd was temporarily paralyzed when he collided with teammate Scott Mersereau in a home game against Kansas City. Thanks to what -- at the time -- was a relatively untested steroid treatment, Byrd was able to walk again in a matter of months.
After the 1992 season, having again identified the quarterback position as a position of need, the Jets traded a third-round pick for longtime Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason. Coslet and Esiason worked together in Cincinnati successfully and the hope was that they could continue that success with the Jets. Although a mid-season winning streak gave Jets fans hope, they missed the playoffs at 8–8 with a loss to Houston in their final game. Coslet was fired as head coach and replaced by Pete Carroll.
Off the field, the Jets also enjoyed a boost in their local profile when WFAN-AM, one of the highest profile stations in the country, acquired the radio rights to the Jets. Although WFAN had contracts with other New York-area professional teams, they lacked a contract with a pro football franchise, and when WCBS-AM decided to not renew the sports rights packages they had acquired, WFAN took advantage of the opportunity to cover the Jets. The strength of the clear-channel WFAN signal, as well as the fact that the Jets would be carried on a dedicated sports-radio station with a rabid and loyal following, gave the Jets a broader reach and visibility with their potential audience that they had not enjoyed previously.
Optimism was high for the 1994 season when the Jets started the season 6–5 and played Miami on November 27. The Jets won a number of dramatic games, including a thrilling home overtime win against the Denver Broncos. However, the season was defined by the game against the Dolphins, and specifically a play from Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. After the Jets had dominated the Dolphins for much of the afternoon, Marino fooled Jet defender Aaron Glenn into thinking that he would spike the ball to stop the clock, then threw the winning touchdown to Mark Ingram with less than a minute left for an improbable victory. The play came to be known as "The Fake Spike," and ultimately would prove an unrecoverable blow to the Jets' momentum. The Jets would lose their last four games, finishing the season 6–10, last place in the AFC East. Carroll was fired after only one season and replaced by former Philadelphia Eagles coach Rich Kotite.
Unfortunately, Kotite (a former Jets assistant) proved to be an even worse hire than Carroll. During Kotite's two-year term in New York, the Jets won only four games: a 3–13 record in 1995, and 1–15 in 1996, in both cases the worst in the NFL. Having lost his last seven games as the Eagles' coach, Kotite finished his NFL head coaching career with a 4-35 record in his final 39 games; one of the worst prolonged stretches for an NFL head coach in history. The only good thing that came out of Rich Kotite's tenure with the Jets was the development of a small school college receiver named Wayne Chrebet. Chrebet, who went to Hofstra, went on to be a fan favorite for the Jets, wearing his famous number 80.
1997 - 2000: Bill Parcells era
After the 1996 season, the Jets would go on to enjoy a sort of resurgence in relatively short order. New England Patriots coach Bill Parcells, fresh off of leading the Patriots to a Super Bowl, left Foxboro to take the Jets' coaching job for the 1997 season. Parcells was attracted not only by a return to the New York area, where he had enjoyed his greatest success with the Giants, but also by the opportunity to both coach and have full control over personnel decisions. Parcells had craved this dual role in New England, and was quoted as saying that "if (he) cooks the meal, (he) should be able to buy the groceries."
The draft picks the Jets received set the stage for a quick turnaround in the late 1990s, most notably Keyshawn Johnson, a wide receiver from USC who was picked #1 overall in the 1996 NFL Draft. The pick of Johnson not only gave the Jets a skill position player they desperately needed, but an on-field identity and swagger the team had lacked since the days of Joe Namath. The results were immediate. Neil O'Donnell, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, threw for 17 touchdowns in his only full year as the Jets' starting quarterback, and Adrian Murrell ran for 1,000 yards. The Jets finished 9–7, but missed the playoffs, in part because of a somewhat curious call by Parcells against the Detroit Lions. Parcells had Leon Johnson throw a halfback option, which was intercepted. After that play, Barry Sanders took over the game and went over the 2,000 yard rushing mark on the year. Overall, the Jets enjoyed an eight game turnaround and quickly won back the respect of the league and their fans.
Looking to build on his 1997 success, Parcells traded for Patriots running back Curtis Martin and signed Baltimore Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde as free agents in time for the 1998 season, which turned out to be the most successful for the team since the 1960s. At Parcells' urging, the Jets also reverted to their classic logo and uniform style, although with a darker shade of green. Parcells said that when he was a young coach, he would see the successful late-60's Jets practice in those uniforms, and Parcells associated that uniform and logo with those of a successful team.
Parcells high-profile personnel moves paid immediate dividends. After starting Glenn Foley in the first couple games Parcells went to Testaverde who ended up throwing 29 touchdowns, Martin ran for 1,287 yards and 8 touchdowns, while both Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet had 1,000 yards receiving. The Jets won 10 of their last 11 games and finished the season 12–4, setting a team record for wins in a season. After a first-round by, the Jets beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in their divisional home playoff game, winning 34–24 on a game-ending interception by Keyshawn Johnson. The playoff game was the first home playoff game the Jets had since 1986, when they defeated Kansas City 35-15 in a wild-card game. Although New York enjoyed a 10–0 lead in the third quarter of the AFC championship against the Denver Broncos, Testaverde threw two late interceptions and Denver running back Terrell Davis burned the Jets for 167 yards and a touchdown as the Broncos won 23–10.
The Jets' hopes for the 1999 season were dashed in their first game against the New England Patriots, when, on the first play of the second quarter, Testaverde ruptured his Achilles tendon. Backup QB Rick Mirer took over, quarterbacking the Jets to a 4–6 record, after which Ray Lucas took over. Lucas lost his first two starts but after won his next 4 to give the Jets an 8–8 record.
Before the 1999 season, Leon Hess, longtime owner of the Jets, died at age 85. Hess had hired Parcells, and Parcells' role under the new ownership was unclear. As had happened when Parcells was in New England, the ownership that hired him soon was succeeded by new ownership. Despite new owner Woody Johnson's desire to keep Parcells as head coach, Parcells stepped down as head coach at the season's end. However, he remained the team's Chief of Football Operations.
Parcells' handpicked successor, Bill Belichick, resigned after one day on the job (infamously writing on a note "I resign as HC of the NYJ")and ended up taking the head coaching job with the Patriots. The Jets would eventually receive a first round draft pick for Belichick's rights. After Belichick's departure, Parcells promoted longtime assistant Al Groh from linebacker coach to head coach for the 2000 season. Once Al Groh became Jets head coach the first move was to trade Keyshawn Johnson to the Tampa Bay Bucs for a first round pick. Rumors cirrulated New York, that Groh didn't want to handle a guy like Johnson who had such a strong persona. Keyshawn made a comment before the Jets traveled down to Florida to face the Bucs that he was like a star in the sky and Wayne Chrebet, his former teamate, was like a flashlight. In the game down in Tampa, Chrebet went on to out-play Johnson, scoring a touchdown on an option pass from Martin to win the game for New York. For the rest of the year Chrebet was known as the Green Lantern. The Jets won 6 of their first 7 games, capped by the biggest comeback in Monday Night Football history against the Dolphins. Down 30–7 entering the fourth quarter, the Jets exploded for 30 points in the last 15 minutes, and John Hall kicked the winning field goal in overtime. It came to be known as the Monday Night Miracle". It was the highlight of the season, but they only won 3 of their last 9 games, finishing at 9–7 and out of the playoffs. Behind the scenes, the Jet players, because they felt overworked and fed up with Groh's militaristic style, staged a near-mutiny against their coach. Groh resigned after his first season to coach the team at his alma mater, the University of Virginia. Parcells would also leave the organization after the 2000 season, to be replaced by Kansas City Chiefs executive Terry Bradway.
2001–2005: Herman Edwards era
Under new coach Herman Edwards, who was the assistant head coach and defensive backs coach under Tony Dungy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jets were streaky through the 2001 season in a highly competitive AFC East. The team managed to salvage a wild card playoff berth with a 53-yard game-winning field goal against the Oakland Raiders in the final minute, forcing a rematch with the Raiders in the opening postseason game. The results were different, however, as Oakland running back Charlie Garner sealed the game with an 80-yard touchdown on third down to extend the Raiders' lead to 38-24 with 87 seconds left. During that play, many Jets fans felt that safety Victor Green was held to allow Garner to break through the line, but no penalty was called. In the end, the point became moot, as the Jets were unable to move the ball subsequently.
The AFC East proved to be even more competitive in 2002, with all four teams in the race well into December. Testaverde was benched early in the season with the team at 1-4, and replaced with Chad Pennington, who proved to be the spark the Jets needed. Pennington threw 22 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions, and a final-week win over the Green Bay Packers, coupled with a Patriots win over the Dolphins, gave them the AFC East title at 9-7. The Jets cruised through the opening playoff game with a 41-0 blowout of the Indianapolis Colts, but collapsed in the second half against the eventual AFC champion Raiders in the divisional playoff.
The Jets lost several players to free agency in the off-season, many to the Washington Redskins; these players were known as the "Jetskins", including starting wide receiver [[Coles, Laveranues|Laveranues Coles (Coles would later return to the team through a trade with the Redskins for another young Jet WR, Santana Moss.) Additionally, a pre-season injury to Pennington, a broken wrist during a game against the Giants, would adversely affect the Jets throughout 2003. It would be Testaverde (whose injury in the 1999 season opener similarly set the tone for the year) who was called upon to take over. Though Testaverde gave his best effort, and Pennington came back midway through the season, it was not enough. The Jets finished 6-10.
Pennington was healthy again for the start of the 2004 season, and the Jets started the season 5-0 before losing 2 of their next 3. Despite struggling down the stretch and having Pennington miss three games (later revealed to be an injured rotator cuff), the Jets finished with a 10-6 record and earned a wild-card berth.
Herman Edwards' team faced the AFC West champion San Diego Chargers in the opening round, a team that featured Pro Bowlers Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Antonio Gates]. The Jets took advantage of San Diego miscues and what some felt was an overly conservative strategy by the Chargers. But with the Jets leading, 17-10, with under 20 seconds left in regulation, Jets linebacker Eric Barton was penalized for roughing the passer, nullifying Brees' fourth down incompletion and giving San Diego a first down from the one-yard line. Brees threw a touchdown to tight end Gates on the following play, setting up overtime. Chargers rookie kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal late in the extra period, allowing the Jets to come back down the field. Kicker Doug Brien won the game for the Jets with a 28-yard field goal with five seconds remaining in overtime.
The game sent the Jets to the divisional round against the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. In the divisional round, the Jets played the heavily favored Steelers extremely tough. While the offense struggled producing only a field goal, a punt return by Santana Moss and interception return by Reggie Tongue kept the Jets in the game. With the score tied at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter, Doug Brien lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt that would have put the Jets up. However it hit the cross beam of the goal post just short of being successful.
Despite this the Jets came through yet again, with an interception by cornerback David Barrett on the next play. Rather than try to drive for a touchdown or otherwise get closer for a game-winning field goal, the Jets seemed content to settle for a 43-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Jets the win—ironically, the same unsuccessful strategy the Chargers had employed the previous week. Brien's kick missed, wide left, forcing the game into overtime. The Jets would lose on a 33-yard field goal by Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Ree, as the Jets fell just short yet again. In the days following the loss, many people and pundits opined that the Jets lost this game by not being aggressive and being too willing to settle for a risky field goal attempt, ignoring the fact that Brien had been 10-11 in field goal attempts between 40-49 yards on the season. Others, however, contend that none of those field goals had been in the notoriously unpredictable winds of Heinz Field, voted by the league's special teamers as the worst field to kick in every year since 2000.
The 2005 season started out with the Jets reacquiring Laveranues Coles from the Washington Redskins and acquiring cornerback Ty Law from the New England Patriots. The Jets also acquired free agent quarterback Jay Fiedler of the Miami Dolphins as a veteran backup for the starter, Chad Pennington. During the 2005 NFL Draft, the Jets traded their first round selection for Raider's tight end Doug Jolley. Many fans felt that the Jets should have drafted Virginia]tight end Heath Miller instead of trading for the inconsistent Jolley. The Jets used their first selection (2nd round, 47th pick overall) to select Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent to replace the departed Doug Brien. The Jets allowed several key role players to leave through free agency or traded them for underachieving players. These players included LaMont Jordan, Kareem McKenzie, Sam Cowart, Jason Ferguson, and to a lesser extent Anthony Becht.
The Jets entered the season with high hopes of contending for the Super Bowl, but their hopes were dismantled in week three against the Jaguars when Chad Pennington reinjured his shoulder. Even worse, their backup quarterback Jay Fiedler was injured six plays after Pennington. They were both placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. The injuries caused previous third-string quarterback Brooks Bollinger to take the role as the team's starter and Vinny Testaverde was brought back out of retirement as Bollinger's backup. After a poor showing by the Jets' offense in a loss, Testaverde would start the Week 5 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His steady hand led the offense, and Curtis Martin scored two touchdowns, giving the Jets just enough to earn a 14–12 victory over the previously undefeated Buccaneers.
But the season got very sour after the victory over Tampa Bay. They would lose their next seven games before finally beating the Oakland Raiders in Week 14. The injuries of several key players, including running back Derrick Blaylock and cornerback David Barrett, and season-ending injuries of wide receiver Wayne Chrebet, tight end Chris Baker, right tackle Jason Fabini, and Pro bowl starting center Kevin Mawae, among others, severely hampered their ability to play competitively.
Even in the victory against the Raiders, the Jets suffered another morale-sagging injury. Running back Curtis Martin did not play in the game due to a season-ending knee injury which required arthroscopic surgery. The Jets' only noteworthy accomplishment of the remainder of the season would be their participation in the final Monday Night Football game aired on ABC, a 31-21 home loss to the Patriots. They ended the year with a 4-12 record and "earned" the fourth pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, which they used to select D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
On January 6, 2006, Herm Edwards ended his time as head coach of the Jets and he signed a 4-year, $12,000,000 contract to become the new head of the Kansas City Chiefs and succeed his original mentor Dick Vermeil, who was Edwards' head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets received a 4th round draft pick from the Chiefs as compensation for Edwards, who was still under contract with the Jets at the time Others felt the Jets were fortunate that another team was dumb enough to take Edwards, who was 5-15 over his last 20 regular season games, off their hands and give up a draft choice to do so.
2006-: Eric Mangini era
On January 17, the Jets-Patriots coaching pipeline reared itself yet again, as New England defensive coordinator Eric Mangini was hired by the Jets and became the youngest head coach in all 4 major American sports, turning 35 on January 19. Mangini's first order of business was to reorganize the coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger and Defensive Coordinator Donnie Henderson were both released from the Jets staff. Special Teams Coordinator Mike Westhoff was retained. A full staff was announced on February 20. Linebackers coach Bob Sutton was named defensive coordinator and the team signed Jim Herrmann to replace Sutton as the linebackers coach. Herrmann was the defensive coordinator at the University of Michigan for twenty years before arriving in New York. Eric Mangini then installed a 3-4 defense.
General Manager Terry Bradway announced that he was stepping down as Jets GM on February 7, 2006. Assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum was named the new GM on the same day. Bradway would then continue to be employed by the Jets organization as a scouting consultant.
The Jets finished the regular season with a record of 10-6, having defeated the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, and the Oakland Raiders in their last three games. The Jets earned the 5th AFC Wild Card spot in the playoffs- surprising most pundits who predicted a rebuilding year. Players celebrated afterwards by saying the word "playoffs", a word Mangini banished during the regular season to focus players on the regular season.
On January 7, 2007, the Jets played rival AFC East champion New England Patriots. The Jets had both beaten and lost to the Patriots in the regular season. While the Jets took an early 10-7 lead after a field goal and a 77-yard touchdown catch and run by Jerricho Cotchery,which was the second longest pass play in wild card history, the Jets were not able to score another touchdown, and the Patriots closed out the game after two turnovers by the Jets offense. The Jets postseason ended with a 37-16 loss. One notable aspect of the game was the rivalry between Patriot head coach Bill Belichick and Jet head coach Eric Mangini. The two were not on good terms, and their relationship was widely publicized before the game. Regardless, at games end, the two embraced.