Jets X-Factor remembers the last New York Jets-New England Patriots game that was played without Tom Brady in action.
Two men have dominated the top roles in the New York Jets-New England Patriots rivalry: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Both individuals hopped on the scene the same year to force a once-average rivalry into a fierce, hatred-filled narrative from a variety of angles.
Bill Parcells really kicked the entire thing into high gear. His exit from New England (after a Super Bowl appearance) rubbed Robert Kraft the wrong way. Relenting compensation to sign the man, the Jets did whatever was necessary to snag their man in 1997.
Belichick was hired as the head coach (in name only), Parcells eventually took control and the 4-28 Rich Kotite-led Jets quickly transformed into a contender.
Then Belichick decided to do the very same thing Parcells had three years prior. Only this time, he left New York for New England. The Jets received compensation this time while the Pats ultimately captured an incredible six Super Bowl rings.
To not see Brady quarterbacking the Pats is something most NFL fans are still getting used to. The moment Mo Lewis popped Drew Bledsoe on the sideline in early 2001 was the instant a dynasty was born.
Sure, Belichick’s Pats liked Brady enough to draft him in the sixth round the year prior, but they had no idea what the kid was. And if you believe they knew they had drafted one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, I have a luxurious one-story igloo to sell you, a resident of Tempe, Arizona.
The Jets and Pats will meet for the 123rd time this Monday night at MetLife Stadium while Brady continues doing his incredible thing in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers. A stranger sight is tough to imagine as the last time a Brady-less Pats faced the Jets happened a long 12 years ago.
The last time the New York Jets faced the New England Patriots without Tom Brady was back in 2008. A Thursday night overtime game that put the Jets in first place in the AFC East. #TakeFlight
— Jets X-Factor (@jetsxfactor) November 8, 2020
On the night of Nov. 13, 2008, the two teams met up north with Matt Cassell taking a starring role on Thursday Night Football. Brady went down in Week 1 with a season-ending Grade 3 ACL tear while the Jets had Brett Favre and a tremendous roster, courtesy of the Eric Mangini-Mike Tannenbaum combination.
With a win, the Jets would turn a three-game winning streak into four, and at 7-3 they would take over sole possession of first place in the AFC East. The Pats were also competitive sans Brady. Also coming into the game with a 6-3 mark, Belichick had his team playing competitively without No. 12—unlike the 2020 version with Cam Newton.
An injured Brady is one thing, as his ultimate return was always lingering. Brady in another uniform is something completely different.
“That’s something that I’ve never seen them have to go through,” Jets head coach Adam Gase said when asked about the current state of the 2-5 Patriots. “I might have been a GA [graduate assistant] at LSU in college the last time I remember ever hearing about New England losing four in a row, so it’s been a while.”
New York started the game hot. Leon Washington and Jerricho Cotchery touchdown receptions combined with a Washington kickoff return helped the Jets take a 24-6 second-quarter lead. But this Pats team had a lot of fight in them.
Belichick’s squad finished 16-0 the year prior. Randy Moss and Wes Welker were still rostered, as was most of the defense. Matt Cassell found Jabar Gaffney for a score to end the first half and did the same with Ben Watson to end the third quarter. After a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, the game was knotted up at 24.
The Favre-led offense struggled mightily in the third quarter. Brian Schottenheimer’s offense mustered just two first downs in the frame, but once things were tied up, they took the lead on a Thomas Jones 1-yard touchdown run with just 3:10 to go in regulation.
Playing a time-consuming final drive, Mangini’s defense allowed too much in front of the soft zones. It culminated in a spectacular 16-yard touchdown pass to Moss to send the game into overtime.
Facing a third-and-15 in overtime’s first possession, Favre incredibly found Dustin Keller to pick up the necessary yards. Jay Feely‘s 34-yard field goal sent the Foxboro fans home disappointed—something these folks are still not accustomed to 12 years later.
Mangini’s squad improved to 7-3 only to knock off the unbeaten Tennessee Titans a week later. Unfortunately, the 8-3 Jets that looked like the best team in the NFL lost four of their last five games with Favre hiding a torn biceps injury. Chad Pennington‘s Miami Dolphins beat the Jets in Week 17 to take the division, Mangini was ultimately fired and Favre exited Broadway for Minnesota with revenge on his mind.
The 2009 and 2010 Rex Ryan-led Jets did damage, of course, but what would have happened if Favre remained the quarterback? Would they have been in better shape if Mangini had remained head coach?
These are the critical questions Jets fans ponder, similarly to what’s happening today.
What happens if the struggling Pats actually beat the Jets on Monday night? Could the tank for Trevor Lawrence narrative up north turn into a legitimate reality?
Previously, the last time the Jets faced a Patriots team without Brady leading the way was in that 2001 game that saw Lewis introduce the Michigan product to the world. Brady missed four games due to suspension in 2016, but the Jets weren’t on the schedule those first four weeks.
Brady has played 16 games in every season save for 2016 (suspension), 2008 (injury), 2001 (backup) and 2000 (rookie). The sight of somebody other than No. 12 quarterback Belichick’s team is still foreign. It happened just twice in between the time Lewis popped Bledsoe and our current time (2008).
Twelve years ago, the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots and Brett Favre-led New York Jets played for first place in the AFC East. Today, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco will quarterback miserable teams with Trevor Lawrence lingering in the background.
“I think it’s more strange to see Tom probably in a different uniform than it is to see them without him,” Flacco said told the media Saturday. “But yeah, for sure, it’s definitely something that we’ve all been used to, and really, it kind of seems like my whole life, that’s how it’s been. It’s definitely a little different.”
It’s suddenly a different football world.