If the Jets fail to make the postseason this year, they’ll have gone 12 years without a playoff appearance for the first time in franchise history. However, some of the more optimistic fans - and even some NFL experts - believe this could be the year they return to postseason action.
The next time the Jets do clinch a postseason berth is sure to be an exciting moment, but today we’re going to look back into Jets history and attempt to rank those previous times where the Jets clinched their spot. Which were the most exciting or memorable?
The Jets have made the playoffs 12 times since the merger, so let’s focus on ranking those.
It would be difficult to imagine a less satisfying route into the postseason than the 1986 Jets took after Ken O’Brien led the league’s best offense to an exhilarating 10-1 start.
Over the last five games, the Jets went 0-5 with five blowout losses. Injuries decimated the team on both sides of the ball and O’Brien went from MVP candidate to benched for Pat Ryan.
With 10 wins banked, the Jets still made it as a wild card team but headed to the postseason on a major downer. Even so, they almost made the AFC title game, losing a game they should have won in double overtime to the Browns.
In 2004, the Jets backed their way in by losing three of their last four games after a 9-3 start.
They clinched a wild card on the final day of the season, despite losing their own game in overtime to the Rams. There was little excitement though, as it was clear that they’d already qualified well before they blew a fourth quarter lead in St. Louis.
Once again, the Jets almost made the AFC title game despite backing into the playoffs, this time falling short in overtime due to two missed Doug Brien field goals in Pittsburgh.
The Jets’ most recent clinching of a playoff place was also one of their least satisfying. It came with a week to go, as they lost 38-34 in Chicago but clinched anyway because the Jaguars lost to Washington.
They won their meaningless final game and their first two playoff games before being dumped out by Pittsburgh again.
Unusually, this was one of the least satisfying clinching scenarios because the 12-4 Jets qualified so easily.
They even clinched the division title with a game to spare, as Dedric Ward’s third quarter touchdown from Vinny Testaverde gave the Jets the final 17-10 deficit.
Again, this one lacks luster because the Jets clinched with a game to spare (and because it was a strike-shortened nine-game season), but they did so in wacky fashion as they beat the Vikings 42-14.
The game featured two touchdowns from cornerback Bobby Jackson, including one wild play where Mark Gastineau blocked a field goal and Darrol Ray fumbled as he tried to run it back only for Jackson to scoop it up. The wildness didn’t stop there, though, as the Jets also scored on a fake field goal.
Unfortunately, some of the shine came off this win because of the fact the Jets had blown a winnable game against the Dolphins the previous week (following costly errors by Jackson and kicker Pat Leahy). That win enabled Miami to win the division and host the AFC title game where they famously sabotaged the field to slow down the Jets’ offense.
This was arguably the most improbable playoff appearance in team history because the Jets - under new coach Eric Mangini - were widely predicted to finish in last place. Looking at their roster, it’s not difficult to see why.
Somehow, they found themselves in a win-and-in situation against the lowly Raiders in the final game. Oakland needed a loss to clinch the first overall pick, so the chances of the Jets blowing this were remote.
So it proved, as Chad Pennington threw an early touchdown pass to Chris Baker and the Jets never really looked back. It was a fun ending to the regular season, but nobody gave them much hope of a postseason run, especially with New England being their first opponent.
Another win-and-in scenario for a first-year head coach saw Rex Ryan’s Jets with a chance to clinch a wild card spot on Sunday night football against the Bengals, who they would then go on to beat the following weekend.
It was a fun occasion for Jets fans, although the result was never really in doubt as the Jets stormed to a 37-0 win that was over by halftime as the Jets took a 27-point lead.
There was a similar scenario in 1985, as the Jets needed to beat the Browns to secure their spot. It was a nervous start for the Jets, who fell behind 10-7 and then were lucky not to lose a fumble on the ensuing kick-off. Then - a few plays later - this happened:
After that Kurt Sohn touchdown, the Jets didn’t look back and went on to win 37-10, although once again New England was waiting for them in the first round of the postseason.
This was memorable because the Jets hadn’t been to the postseason at all in the 1970’s, but had a chance to clinch their spot with a win here against the Packers in front of a hungry home crowd.
The result was never in doubt though, as the Jets led 21-3 at halftime. In the end, the Packers gained just 84 yards on offense and lost 28-3.
Another final game matchup against the Packers ended up being the ultimate all-or-nothing game as the Jets could win the AFC East with a win, but would miss the postseason altogether if they lost.
Most of the excitement here was the scoreboard-watching that took place early in the game as a late New England field goal gave them the win over Miami and opened the door for the Jets to potentially win the division.
It was still only 14-10 at halftime though, but the Jets scored on their opening drive of the third quarter and the rest of the second half was a celebration as they went on to win 42-17.
In 2001, the Jets made the postseason in improbable and exciting fashion, as they upset the Raiders 24-22 on the road in a must-win situation. John Hall was the hero, as he nailed a clutch 53-yard field goal with under a minute to go - aided by a great save by holder Tom Tupa on a bad snap.
The Jets got a touchdown on a blocked punt return by Jason Glenn but a rare Curtis Martin fumble set up the go-ahead score for the Raiders. However, Vinny Testaverde had clutch third down completions to Kevin Swayne and Laveranues Coles to set up the winning kick.
Unfortunately, the Jets had to face the Raiders again in the postseason, and this time were unable to come away with the win.
Another road win in a must-win situation, the 1991 season finale in Miami was doubly rewarding because winning it also eliminated the hated Dolphins from the playoffs.
An improbable hero stepped up for the Jets, as veteran running back Johnny Hector - a backup all year - rushed for 132 yards to help keep the Jets’ offense rolling. Two Brad Baxter touchdowns had the Jets up 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter, but Dan Marino looked to have won it with a touchdown pass in the final minute.
However, an even more improbable hero emerged, as replacement kicker Raul Allegre - in his first and only regular season game with the Jets following a Leahy injury - nailed a clutch kick as time expired to tie it up and then won it 23-20 in overtime after Rob Moore’s deep catch.
That Jets team made the postseason at 8-8 but could have been a dangerous postseason opponent because they easily could have won something like 12 after throwing away a handful of games in the clutch. True to form, they gave the Oilers a tough game in the playoffs, but blew several chances to score in goal-to-go situations and lost 17-10.
The way they made it there, though, was definitely one of the most satisfying conclusions to a regular season in team history.
How did we do? Would you change any of these rankings? Share your own memories in the comments section.