The Jets and Patriots were both original members of the AFL and have competed in the same division for their entire respective histories (although the Jets were known as the Titans for the first three years of their existence).
Although they have competed directly for more than six decades, the rivalry did not become particularly bitter until 1997.
The Patriots were coming off a Super Bowl appearance, but things were not pleasant with the team. In the leadup to the game, rumors swirled that head coach Bill Parcells was on the verge of leaving. Parcells did little to dispel the rumors when he expressed his frustration over his lack of say in personnel. He memorably stated, “They want you to cook the dinner. At least they should let you shop for the groceries.”
Parcells resigned from New England after the Broncos’ Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Patriots. It was a poorly kept secret that he was leaving to take over as head coach and general manager of the Jets.
The Jets were in a dire situation coming off a two-year stretch under Rich Kotite where they went 4-28. If allowing Parcells to “shop for the groceries” was the price of admission to land a future Hall of Fame head coach who could restore credibility to the franchise, the Jets were gladly willing to pay it.
There was a complication, though. Parcells had a year left on his contract with New England. Unless the Patriots let him out of his deal, he would be unable to coach the team.
This became such an obstacle that the Jets even put together a workaround where longtime Parcells assistant Bill Belichick would be named interim head coach for one year. Parcells would be hired as a consultant and take over the Jets after his Patriots contract expired.
Eventually the Commissioner’s office brokered a deal freeing Parcells to coach the Jets with draft pick compensation going to the Patriots. Ironically, the Patriots hired former Jets head coach Pete Carroll to replace Parcells.
Parcells immediately restored credibility to the Jets. In his first season, he raised the team’s win total to nine just a year after a similar roster coached by Kotite had gone 1-15.
After that season, Parcells got to work to bring in one of his top players from his time with New England. A member of the Jets’ front office, Mike Tannenbaum, who would later go on to become the team’s general manager, landed star Patriots running back Curtis Martin as a restricted free agent. Tannenbaum inserted a clause into the contract that made it virtually impossible for the Patriots to match it. Martin went on to the Hall of Fame after spending the bulk of his career with the Jets.
After the 1999 season, the rivalry took another turn. Carroll was fired after three difficult seasons in New England. While he would later go on to have great success in college at USC and in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, his days as a young coach in the AFC East were unsuccessful.
Belichick had drawn the attention of Patriots owner Robert Kraft during the year he spent as an assistant on Parcells’ staff in New England. Sensing that the Patriots might make a move on his protègè, Parcells promptly retired from coaching just after the end of the 1999 season.
Belichick would be promoted to head coach of the Jets. It seemed that way briefly at least. At what was supposed to be his introductory press conference, Belichick shockingly resigned. He memorably did so by writing, “I resign as HC of NYJ” on a piece of paper.
In a reverse of what had happened three years earlier, the two teams eventually worked out a deal allowing Belichick to go to New England as head coach, which sent draft pick compensation to the Jets.
In Belichick’s second season, the teams played a fateful Week 2 game. In the fourth quarter, Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe scrambled to the sideline and was seriously injured on a hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. In came a young quarterback named Tom Brady, into the New England lineup for the first time. Belichick and Brady teamed up for six championships and a two-decade run of dominance in the AFC East.
(This also created for Mo Lewis some of the most ludicrous criticism a player has ever received. Was he as a linebacker not supposed to hit the player running with the football? He was supposed to have the foresight that the sixth-round pick who was the backup quarterback in New England would become the greatest in NFL history? Mo Lewis was a great player for the Jets and deserves to be remembered for that.)
A coach changed sides in this rivalry for the third time in 2006. New England defensive coordinator and Belichick’s prized protege Eric Mangini was hired by the Jets as their head coach. A furious Belichick reportedly didn’t even let Mangini clear out his office at the Patriots facility. In November of Mangini’s first season, the Jets pulled off a surprising upset in Foxborough, and Belichick’s icy postgame handshake drew national attention.
Things got even more bitter a year later when the Jets turned in the Patriots to the NFL after catching a team employee videotaping signals from the sideline in the Week 1 meeting between the teams. The Patriots were docked a first-round draft pick. More significantly, public perception on them turned. They were branded as cheaters, a label their dynasty never really shed.
The intensity level of the rivalry somehow rose even higher after Mangini was fired. The Jets brought in Rex Ryan as their new head coach. The outspoken Ryan declared he wasn’t going to kiss Belichick’s rings before he had even coached a game.
In Ryan’s second season, the Jets pulled off a shocking playoff upset over New England six weeks after getting demolished 45-3 by the Patriots on the same field. That remains the Jets’ last playoff win.
In the decade-plus since that game, the Jets have played a lot of bad football. The rivalry in some ways has diminished as a result, but Jets fans still savor any opportunity they can get to beat their bitter rivals from New England.