By Peter Schwartz
I was driving home to Long Island from the Jets’ complex in Florham Park, New Jersey on Monday when something dawned on me. I don’t think I’m breaking any ground here by saying that this Monday night’s game against the Patriots in Foxboro is the biggest regular season game in the history of the New York Jets.
Now, let’s be honest. We’re not talking about the history of the Steelers, 49ers, or Cowboys here. We are talking about the Jets so when it comes to looking for regular season games with great importance or significance; there isn’t a very big sampling to choose from.
I thought of a few games over the years that had some tremendous meaning, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t forgetting something. So, as I cruised along route 80 towards the George Washington Bridge, I called two friends of mine who are long-time Jets fans to discuss what was going on in my brain.
With both calls, I didn’t even have to bring up the subject because my friends both beat me to the punch. They both voluntarily suggested that Monday night’s showdown between the AFC East rivals is the biggest ever in Jets history.
It’s hard to find fault with the concept.
Let’s take a chronological look back at some other memorable games in Jets history and see how they stack up to what’s at stake on Monday night.
*November 22nd, 1981-Jets beat the Dolphins 16-15 at Shea Stadium to move into first place in the AFC East.
No doubt a great game as Richard Todd hooks up with Jerome Barkum for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. But the Jets settled for a wild card berth that season and lost to the Bills in the first round of the playoffs.
*December 20th, 1981-Jets beat the Packers 28-3 in regular season finale to clinch a playoff spot.
See Jets/Dolphins above! You can’t put clinching a wild card spot ahead of a game that could decide home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Jets pounded Lynn Dickey and the Packers to make the post-season and in the process sent the Giants to the playoffs. Still, I think this Monday’s game is bigger.
*December 22nd, 1991-The Jets stun the Dolphins 23-20 in overtime in Miami to clinch a playoff spot.
The Jets pull off a miracle win after the Dolphins score a touchdown in the final minute to take the lead. Raul Allegre ties it at the end of regulation and then kicks the game winning field goal in overtime. The Jets finish the season at 8-8 and they lose in Houston the following week in the playoffs. While it was a great victory for Jets fans, more is on the line Monday.
*December 21st, 1997-Tuna’s first season ends with 13-10 loss in regular season finale in Detroit.
With a chance to clinch a trip to the playoffs, Bill Parcells’ first season at the helm of Gang Green comes to a bitter end in Motown. The tuna allowed Ray Lucas and Leon Johnson to throw passes in critical situations and both were intercepted. Better things were ahead the following year and even better things can happen with a win in Foxboro Monday night.
*December 24th, 2000-Jets lose the regular season finale 34-20 in Baltimore.
A victory would have sent the Jets to the playoffs, but the Al Groh era would end after one season. The Jets built a 14-0 first quarter lead, but the season would end with a loss to the Ravens. The Jets could have clinched a playoff spot at home the week before, but lost to the Lions at Giants Stadium in a 10-7 thriller.
*January 6th, 2002-The Jets beat the Raiders in Oakland 24-22 to clinch a playoff spot.
Because of the 9/11 attacks, the week two game between the Jets and Raiders in Oakland became the regular season finale. John Hall kicked a 53-yard field goal as time expired to send the Jets to the playoffs and a return trip to Oakland the following week. This year’s Jets are better and there’s more at stake.
*December 29th, 2002-Jets beat Packers 42-17 to clinch AFC East after the Patriots beat the Dolphins in overtime.
It was a great atmosphere at Giants Stadium as Jets fans were listening to the end of the Pats/Dolphins game on WFAN. When the Pats rallied to win, it made the Jets game against the Packers meaningful. Gang Green pounded Brett Favre and the Packers to wrap up the second AFC East title in Jets history.
*January 3rd, 2010-The Jets hammered the Bengals 37-0 to clinch a playoff spot in the regular season finale.
It will always be remembered as the final football game at Giants Stadium. Although the victory paved the way for the Jets to make a run to the AFC Championship Game, the win capped a 9-7 regular season. The Jets enter Monday night’s game tied with the Patriots at 9-2.
There you have it. A look back at some memorable regular season games in Jets history. Now while I’m not convinced that the loser of Monday night’s game can’t still win the division, it’s clearly, in my mind, the biggest regular season game that the Jets have ever played.
Think about what’s at stake. Both teams are 9-2. The game is on the road where the Patriots are practically unbeatable. The Patriots have been in the Jets way for years so this is a chance for Gang Green to show that it’s their time.
The countdown continues!