The beginning of a new season is the time for hyperbole. It’s the time for over-reacting, to both positive and negative developments. The team has new players, new draft picks, new coaches, new possibilities. Everybody is excited to see what the team can become. Everybody has big plans for how this year things will be different. Everybody has plans, until the Jets punch them in the mouth.
These past two weeks the Jets punched us in the mouth. The offense in particular looks completely lost. It looks as bad as it could possibly look. But is that an accurate perception, or is it early season hyperbole? Let’s take a look.
Let’s begin by noting this: the Jets offense is currently locked in a tight struggle with the Jets defense for most points scored this season. Currently the offense is clinging to an 11 - 8 lead. When the offense is struggling to outscore the defense after two games, it’s probably a pretty good indication something historic may be afoot.
Working backwards in time, let’s take a look at how other Jets offenses have fared through the first two games of the season. We have no shortage of tragic Jets offenses to sort through. The Geno Smith led disasters of the 2013 and 2014 seasons? Nope, they didn’t start this poorly. The 2013 team did have a miserable two game stretch when Geno plunged to the absolute depths of despair and scored just six points over two games, but that came in weeks 12 and 13.
How about the Rex Ryan/ Mark Sanchez witches brew? Well, good guess, but no. Sanchez never opened a season leading an offense to so few points. He did however have a two week stretch in 2010, in weeks 13 and 14, when the Jets scored a total of nine points.
Moving farther back in the panoply of bad Jets quarterbacks, we come to the 2005 Brooks Bollinger Jets. Those Jets didn’t actually start the season with Bollinger at quarterback, and they didn’t start the season with 11 points of offense. Bollinger did, however, “lead” the Jets to a grand total of three points combined in weeks 10 and 11 of that miserable season. Good times.
In 1999 the Jets lost Vinny Testaverde in the first week of the season and got stuck playing the immortal Rick Mirer half the season. That Mirer led offense was so bad it eventually led to Bill Parcells going to the untested Ray Lucas in desperation, and Lucas almost saved the season. But even under the dreadful Mirer the Jets never had a two game stretch in the 1999 season where the offense scored 11 points.
Moving back further we come to some really interesting times: the legendary Rich Kotite era. Surely that train wreck of an era produced the worst starts to a season ever, right? Well, not so much. Close, but not quite. The 1-15 1996 Jets started the season scoring 13 points on offense in the first two games. The 1995 Kotite Jets did, however, manage to close out the season scoring just six points over the last two games of the season.
Next we come to the 1993 Jets. They actually started the season out pretty well. It was the ending that wasn’t pretty. In what is still the worst prolonged stretch of offensive ineptitude in Jets history, and that’s really saying something, the 1993 Jets, led by an aging Boomer Esiason, managed to close out the season on an epic run which saw them score 6, 6, 3, 7, 14 and 0 points over the last six games. When things get really bad, remember, it can always be worse; just ask Boomer.
A year earlier the estimable Browning Nagle led the 1992 Jets to just 10 total points in weeks 12 and 13 of a 4-12 season, but those Jets started the season better than the 2019 Jets.
We can keep going, but at this point maybe we should mercifully cut to the chase. Has any Jets offense ever started a season scoring less than 11 points in the first two games? Actually, yes. It has in fact happened twice, both times in the 1970s. The 1977 Jets of Richard Todd and Matt Robinson fame managed just 10 points on offense in the first two games of the season. And the 1971 Jets, led by Al Woodall at quarterback, opened the season with two shutouts on offense in the first four games, and that team also scored just 10 points in its first two games.
So no, the first two games of the 2019 season do not represent the worst a Jets offense has ever produced to start a season. Two Jets teams of the 1970s, the worst decade in team history, managed to score one less point on offense to start the year. However, given that the 70s were the lowest scoring era of the post-merger NFL, when the ideal offense was three yards and a cloud of dust and NFL offenses scored on average 12-15% less than they do today, on an era adjusted basis there is a pretty strong case to be made that the 2019 Jets offense has been the most inept offense over the first two games of a season in Jets history.
Let’s end this magical misery tour on a small note on the bright side. The 1986 Jets were one of the strongest Jets teams ever. That team started the season 10-1, with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Had they not suffered a rash of injuries late in the year that Jets team was an absolute juggernaut. Even with the injuries that Jets team was a moronic Mark Gastineau roughing the passer penalty away from advancing to the AFC Championship game. That team featured Freeman McNeil, Al Toon, Wesley Walker and Mickey Shuler, along with Ken O’Brien when he was still good. And as loaded as that Jets offense was, even they suffered through a two game stretch late in the year where they scored a total of just six measly points.
The moral: even good offenses can look inept over a short stretch. This Jets team doesn’t have the same level of talent as that loaded 1986 team, but at full strength, if Sam Darnold develops nicely, this Jets team still has enough pieces to rebound strongly from a historically inept opening to the season. It remains to be seen how they respond, but we may yet see some good things that restore some hope before the season is done.