The Jets and the Patriots have played in the same division since both teams were founded in 1960. It is only within the last two decades, however, that the rivalry has taken off. Bill Parcells leaving the Patriots to come to the Jets in 1997, mainly due to frustration over his lack of a say in personnel matters in New England, sparked a heated rivalry that has become one of the most unique in all of sports.
Many of the most heated rivalries in sports only foster hatred in fans. Even if there is heated competition, there is usually an underlying respect between the players, coaches, and front offices. That does not exist in the Jets-Patriots rivalry. The two organizations despise each other from top to bottom. This rivalry has been noted for people switching sides under suspicious circumstances, wild accusations of misconduct, and general pettiness from the two sides. Partially because of this, many of the most memorable moments from this rivalry have come off the field.
An inordinate number of Jets front office members, coaches, and players have moved to New England and vice versa, adding an extra element to the rivalry. There is also the natural rivalry between Boston and New York. The two cities are in close proximity. New York looks down on Boston. Boston is somewhat provincial and doesn't like the Big Apple. The fanbases from these cities are hardened. An inordinate number of New York and New Jersey kids go to college in Boston. After they graduate, Bostonians come to work in New York.
Some memorable moments:
1997: Patriots head coach Bill Parcells is coming off a Super Bowl appearance but is unhappy with his lack of say over personnel or inability to "shop for the groceries" as he put it. Coming off a 4-28 two year stretch, the Jets are simply looking for credibility. Parcells quit as New England's head coach. The Jets moved in, but New England attempted to block them, claiming contractually Parcells could not coach another NFL team for a year. The Jets in turn hired Parcells as a consultant who would take over as head coach one year later. Parcells' top lieutenant Bill Belichick was to coach the team for 1997. Eventually a compromise was brokered by the league that allowed the Jets to hire Parcells for 1997 in exchange for a compensation package that included Draft picks. The situation was settled, but it left a bitterness that carries over to this day. To fill their vacancy, New England hired former Jets head coach Pete Carroll.
1998: The Jets acquire running back Curtis Martin from New England as a restricted free agent. Jets executive Mike Tannenbaum drew up a contract with what is known as a "poison pill," a provision that made the offer impossible for New England to match. The contract essentially would have made Martin an unrestricted free agent after one year if the Patriots had matched, and New England would have lost him for no compensation instead of the Draft picks they got for losing Martin in restricted free agency. The NFL subsequently amended its rules to prevent this from happening again. With Parcells and Martin, the Jets go to the AFC Championship Game, an incredible turnaround for a team that had been 1-15 just two years earlier.
1999: Coming off their AFC Championship Game appearance, the Jets are Super Bowl favorites, but their season comes crashing down in the first game of the season as quarterback Vinny Testaverde ruptures his Achilles tendon in a last second loss to the Patriots. The Jets never recover from a catastrophic start under backup quarterback Rick Mirer. A late season quarterback change to Ray Lucas sparks the Jets to a nice season-ending run, but it comes too late as the team finishes 8-8. New England also goes 8-8 and fires Carroll, setting up a wild series of events.
2000: Parcells abruptly retires from coaching after the 1999 season and promotes Belichick to head coach. Something that might have played a big factor is a fear the Patriots would target Belichick with their head coaching opening after firing Carroll. Belichick, however, resigns minutes before his introductory press conference by scribbling, "I resign as HC of NYJ," on a piece of paper. Belichick eventually does go to New England and brings Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli, and Eric Mangini with him from the Jets. The Jets are compensated with Draft picks. To this day, Belichick's Patriots have won three Super Bowls, played in two others, been in an additional two AFC Championship Games, and won ten AFC East Championships. The Jets have since played in two AFC Championship Games and won a single AFC East Championship.
2001: In the first game between the teams since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the Jets defeat the Patriots in Foxborough. The game is best remembered, however, for Jets linebacker Mo Lewis delivering a crushing hit on Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe that caused Bledsoe to suffer a collapsed lung. Backup quarterback Tom Brady entered the lineup for New England. He is unable to lead the Patriots to a comeback win in this game, but he goes on to lead the Pats to a Cinderella 11-5 season and a stunning upset over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
2002: With the AFC East title within reach for both teams, the Jets defeat the Patriots 30-17 in Foxborough in Week 16. Chad Pennington plays a masterful game, going 23 for 33 with 285 yards and 3 touchdowns while Brady is only 19 for 37 with 133 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. One week later, the Jets win the AFC East title by routing the Packers. Ironically, they got help earlier in the day as New England erased an 11 point Miami lead late in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins controlled their own destiny at that point and could have eliminated the Jets with a win. With the win over the Packers, the Jets clinched the division title and knocked both New England and Miami out of the Playoffs at once.
2006: The Jets' search for a new head coach leads them to New England. The team hires Patriots defensive coordinator and Belichick protege Eric Mangini. Mangini takes the job over Belichick's objections. There are rumors Belichick was so angry that Mangini was not allowed to clean out his office before leaving.
The rivalry becomes even more bitter when the Patriots allow holdout wide receiver Deion Branch to seek a trade and negotiate with other teams. The Jets get in touch with Branch. After Branch is traded to Seattle, the Pats file tampering charges against the Jets. New York is cleared of the charges after the league investigates.
On the field, the rivalry produces memorable moments. New England jumps out to a 24-0 lead in the second half in the Meadowlands, but the Jets rally for 17 unanswered. The comeback bid falls just a bit short as the Pats hold on for a 24-17 win. The Jets stun the Patriots in the rematch in Foxborough 17-14 during a driving rainstorm. In the lead up to the game, Belichick refused to mention Mangini by name speaking to the press. After the game, Belichick and Mangini share an icy hand shake and exchange no words. After losing to the Jets on a bad field in the rain, the Patriots promptly convert the field at Gillette Stadium from grass to FieldTurf. The teams got a third matchup in the AFC Wild Card round, a decisive 37-16 Patriots win. In the lead up to the game, one big story was the postgame handshake after what happened following the second game. This time, Belichick shoved a cameraman out of the way and gave Mangini a bear hug.
2007: The teams met in the opener in the Meadowlands. The Patriots win in a rout, the first of eighteen straight wins to start the year. The game generates more headlines for what happens off the field. The Jets catch members of the Patriots staff videotaping their sideline signals and turn them into the league. New England is stripped of its 2008 first round pick as a result.
2008: Starting a game for the first time since high school in place of an injured Tom Brady, Matt Cassel hits 16 of 23 passes in a 19-10 Patriots victory over the Jets. First place in the AFC East is on the line in the rematch. Cassel throws for 400 yards and rushes for another 62, but Brett Favre leads the Jets to the winning score in overtime in a wild 34-31 New York triumph. Neither team ends up making the Playoffs.
2009: After the Jets dismiss Mangini, the rivalry incredibly takes a leap in intensity as New York hires Rex Ryan. Ryan declares months before the season that he is not willing to kiss Belichick's championship rings. The Jets declare the Week 2 meeting between the teams their Super Bowl. They back up the talk, registering a 16-9 win as Ryan's defense keeps the Patriots out of the end zone. New England handily wins the rematch in Foxborough and takes the AFC East crown, but the Jets go to the AFC Championship Game while the Patriots lose in the first round to Baltimore.
2010: This year was perhaps the peak of the rivalry to date. After their run to the AFC Championship Game and a splashy offseason, the Jets join the Patriots at legitimate contenders. New York rides a big second half to a 28-14 win in the first meeting. The second meeting is billed as a heavyweight title bout. Both teams enter 9-2. First place in the division and the conference are on the line as the Jets and Pats meet on Monday Night Football. The game does not live up to the hype. New England humiliates the Jets 45-3. They go on to take the top seed in the AFC. The teams meet a third time in the Playoffs, however, and the Jets stun the NFL by going up to Foxborough, sacking Brady five times, and beating the Patriots 45-3 capped by Bart Scott giving one of the most memorable postgame interviews in sports history. The win might have taken something out of the Jets, though, as they came out flat the next week at Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game, falling behind 24-0 in the first half. They rally but fall short, losing 24-19.
2011: The Patriots trade the 193rd pick in the NFL Draft to Philadelphia for the 194th pick. Why would they make such a nonsensical move? Perhaps it is because the Jets were the original owners of the 194th pick. See, I told you this rivalry was petty.
On the field, first place is on the line the second time the teams meet. Both are 5-3 as they enter a Sunday Night contest in the Meadowlands. New England blitzes the Jets 37-16. The Pats do not lose again until falling in the Super Bowl to the Giants. The Jets fall apart at the end of the season and miss the Playoffs.
2012: In front of a national audience on Thanksgiving night, Mark Sanchez introduces the word "buttfumble" into the lexicon of sports phrases in a humiliating Jets blowout loss to New England. The Pats win 49-19. The buttfumble was just one of three touchdowns New England scored in a one minute span in the second quarter that all but ended the game. Of these three touchdowns, one came on offense, one on defense, and one on special teams.
The rivalry in focus:
As you know, this is a very bitter rivalry that tends to bring out the worst in players, coaches, executives, and fans. It is kind of amazing how this thing has taken off because as recently as 1996, there was as little antipathy as there is between the Jets and the Bills. A bunch of high profile defections to a division opponent along with bitter games and off field drama will do that.
There has also been a big change in the dynamics since 2001. Before that time, the Jets and Patriots shared a tortured history. Since that year, the Patriots have become one of the most successful and storied franchises in the league. The Jets have had moderate success but nothing approaching that. It angers Jets fans to no end that the coach who quit on their team went to a division foe and built a dynasty.
Ironically, the dynamics of this rivalry are not dissimilar to another Boston-New York rivalry, the pre-2004 Yankees- Red Sox in reverse. The Patriots, like the Yankees, have won a number of championships and are in the hunt every year. The fans in Boston have gotten used to success and aren't afraid of reminding their New York foes. The fans in New York, like Red Sox fans, have watched their team get close on multiple occasions, but Lucy always pulls away the football at the last second. They also feel that one day the Jets will triumph, and it will be so, so sweet.