In a break from where most of the focus has been this offseason, we’re going to take an extended look at a different kind of safety; the two-point score awarded to the defensive team when their opponent is ruled down or commits a penalty in their own end zone.
While it is the least common type of score in football, there has apparently been an average of approximately one per week since the inception of the rule. However, in Jets history, they’ve only averaged about one every two years.
Let’s recap them all:
The first safety in franchise history came in their third season - and the final one as the Titans of New York. It proved to be important because they ended up beating Denver 46-45 on two late Johnny Green touchdown passes. The score was not credited to a Titans player as Broncos quarterback George Shaw recovered his own fumble in the end zone to pull the Titans within 27-26 in the third quarter.
The first player to be credited with a safety was linebacker Ralph Baker, whose late sack pulled the Jets within 20-16 with the Broncos again the opponent. There was no further scoring, though, as Denver held on.
Another Super Bowl hero, Verlon Biggs, also recorded a safety on a sack, opening the scoring in a 19-14 win over Miami.
The only safety in the Super Bowl winning season was credited to reserve linebacker Paul Crane, who blocked a punt to open the scoring against the Oilers in an eventual 20-14 Jets win. Crane’s other claim to fame that season was that, according to the official records, he had a minus-38 yard fumble return. Disappointingly, this appears to just be an input error.
The often overlooked John Elliott, who went to two AFL all-star games and a pro bowl, became the first Jets player to record a safety on a run stuff. Despite this, the Jets trailed 26-5 to the Colts in the third quarter, although Joe Namath led a late comeback and they only ended up losing 29-22.
After a seven-year drought, the Jets were awarded another safety in a 20-12 loss to the Colts, as punter David Lee ran out of the end zone to surrender the score and pull the Jets within 20-5. This was the first safety in franchise history that happened in a year ending with an odd number.
Reserve defensive back Tim Moresco might be the most obscure player to register a safety for the Jets. He forced the Colts punter out of the end zone late in a 10-8 Jets loss. Once again, this was the final scoring play of the game.
Continuing the pattern of opposing teams surrendering a late safety while holding a lead against the Jets, Patriots quarterback Matt Cavanaugh took a snap from the five yard line and ran out of the end zone near the end of a 21-11 Jets loss. This was the first time in team history the Jets had recorded a safety in consecutive seasons.
Linebacker/broadcaster Greg Buttle was credited with a safety in the Jets’ 33-17 win over the Oilers, although Joe Klecko probably deserves most of the credit. The snap from under center squirted through the quarterback’s legs and into the end zone and Klecko burst into the backfield to tackle him before he could pick it up. Buttle was credited with the tackle on the offensive lineman that fell on the ball. The play gave the Jets a 23-10 lead early in the third quarter.
In what sounds like a thriller, the Colts held on to beat the Jets 9-5 in a game where New York’s first score came when the ball was snapped through the end zone. Of note, the Colts’ points all came from the boot of Raul Allegre, who later replaced an injured Pat Leahy and booted a game-tying and game-winning field goal in the winner-takes-all win over Miami to get the Jets into the 1991 playoffs.
The only offensive player in Jets history to score a safety is Wesley Walker, who was awarded one on this controversial play in a 29-20 win over the Bengals. The Jets took a 19-13 lead on the play and then scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession.
The ‘86 Jets announced themselves as a contender with an impressive win over the unbeaten Broncos. Cornerback (and return specialist) Bobby Humphrey sacked John Elway for a safety to give the Jets a 22-0 lead and they went on to win 22-10. After a 10-1 start, the wheels fell off for the Jets and the Broncos ended up reaching the Super Bowl.
In the second game of the 1987 season, Marty Lyons stuffed running back Mosi Tatupu in the end zone to give the Jets a 29-10 lead in a Monday night game they would go on to win 43-24. This game was notable because the players’ association made the decision to go on strike during the game. Also, Nuu Faaola scored the only two touchdowns of his career in the fourth quarter.
Lyons became the only player in franchise history to be credited with multiple safeties when he repeated the trick the following season by sacking Boomer Esiason to open the scoring in an eventual 36-19 loss to the Bengals. As you can see, he was perhaps lucky that this was credited to him and not tackle Scott Mersereau. Esiason is one of several opposing players involved in Jets safeties that also played for the Jets during their career.
A wacky early season encounter saw the Jets outscore Miami 21-3 in the fourth quarter to win 40-33 on a late Roger Vick touchdown catch. Earlier on in the game, the Jets special teams, having already scored on a blocked field goal return, added two more when the Dolphins snapped the ball over the punter’s head and into the end zone to pull the Jets to within 13-12.
In the middle of a 13-sack season, Dennis Byrd got on the board with a sack in the end zone to put the Jets up 5-0 against Indianapolis. Ultimately, the Jets blew a 14-0 lead as Jeff George led the Colts back for a 17-14 win. This was the seventh season in a row in which the Jets recorded a safety - a franchise record.
Dan Marino was sacked for a safety by Marvin Washington as the Jets took a 9-0 lead in their 1992 encounter. The Jets went on to win 26-14.
That was the first half of our look at every safety in Jets history. In part two, we’ll be looking at every safety from 1993 onwards.