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Ranking the most agonizing ‘what-ifs’ in New York Jets history

Don Shula, Vinny Testaverde, Eric Mangini, Brett Favre, Paul Tagliabue, Peyton Manning
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The most agonizing “what-ifs” in New York Jets history covers tremendous ground involving Don Shula, Brett Favre and Tom Brady.

What if just one thing happened differently once upon a time? Would you still be the very same person that’s reading these words today? Would you be living in an entirely different place than what’s seen outside of your window?

The idea that the dominoes can only fall a certain way based on the previous happenstance is an idea many subscribe to.

The 2020 New York Jets are currently in the “what-if” business. At 0-8, entering a Monday Night Football game against the also struggling 2-5 New England Patriots, Joe Douglas’s team is navigating through a season with a grand prize awaiting the NFL’s worst team.

What if Trevor Lawrence stays at Clemson? What if he decides to spurn the Jets? What if Joe Flacco helps New York defeat New England this Monday, propelling a situation that sees the Patriots ultimately overtake the Jets as the NFL’s worst team?

The what-if game can go on infinitely—something Jets fans know a lot about. Jets X-Factor presents the most agonizing what-ifs in New York Jets history.

9. What if Mo Lewis never pops Drew Bledsoe?

This is the most obvious (and perhaps most painful) one of the bunch. It ranks last on the list for one simple reason: it’s probable that Tom Brady would have found an opportunity eventually. Nonetheless, Mo Lewis’s football hit heard ’round the world catapulted the 2001 Patriots to a championship and changed the course of NFL history.

The 2001 Jets—Herm Edwards‘s first season as head coach—finished 10-6. With Shrek serving as their unofficial team mascot (the green team made a habit of winning ugly), they eventually fell short in the wild-card round against the Oakland Raiders.

Meanwhile, the Pats went on to beat the Raiders the next week in the snow (the Tuck Rule Game) and … well, you know the rest.

What happens if Brady never gets that opportunity early in the season courtesy of Lewis?

8. What if Peyton Manning enters the 1997 NFL draft?

The rumors surrounding this one are legendary. Did Bill Parcells screw the pooch with this one?

According to many, he did. If Parcells had committed to Peyton Manning as the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NFL draft, many believe he never would have returned to Tennessee for a senior season.

That just wasn’t Parcells’s style, however. Besides, rumor has it Manning was torn on what to do heading into that season—regardless of assurances.

“If Bill had come out and said, ‘Peyton, you’re my guy, I’m going to pick you,’ it may have made it a little bit harder,” Archie Manning said, per the New York Daily News‘ Gary Myers. “But I swear he wanted to be a senior.”

Parcells has remained steadfast on his belief that Manning was going to stay in school.

“I don’t look back on those things,” he said. “I knew he was going to stay in school.”

Parcells also claims the league office was watching the organization closely. Officially, there shouldn’t be any convincing during the process. Unofficially, it happens all the time.

“We were being threatened pretty strongly by the powers that be,” Parcells said. “They were watching the Jets. They were watching us like hawks. But hey, that’s the way it is.”

What if Parcells had assured Archie that Peyton was his guy at No. 1? What if he did and won’t admit it publicly? What if Peyton Manning forfeited his senior season and entered the 1997 draft?

In the end, Parcells traded the top pick to the St. Louis Rams for four selections. He ultimately drafted James Farrior in the eight-hole.

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