Ranking the most memorable season openers in New York Jets history
For the second time in four seasons, the New York Jets used a top-five pick on a quarterback as they selected Zach Wilson from BYU with the second overall choice in the 2021 NFL draft. By that time, they had already sent 2018 third-overall selection Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers.
As NFL schedule makers would have it, we will see a matchup between these two signal-callers in Week 1 of the league’s 102nd season.
Could we look back one day and see the Wilson-Darnold Bowl bump one of these contests from the list of memorable season openers for the Green and White?
10. 1960: Titans 27, Bills 3
We might as well start with the start of the franchise. For the first three years of their existence, the club was known as the New York Titans. They and the rest of the eight-team American Football League debuted in 1960.
New York’s first head coach was Sammy Baugh and he led the club against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11, 1960, at the Polo Grounds. The Titans outgained their guests by a combined 227 total yards and scored the final 27 points of the game.
9. 2007: Patriots 38, Jets 14
This contest proved to be more infamous than famous. The Patriots were on their way to a 16-0 season and kicked off the year with a rout of Eric Mangini’s Jets in East Rutherford.
But the bigger news would be what happened after the game – the beginning of the “Spygate” saga as the Jets accused the Patriots of videotaping their defensive coaches from an unauthorized location.
That year, the Jets finished with a 4-12 record and landed in third place in the AFC East. Meanwhile, the Pats would eventually prove to be far from perfect as they fell to the Giants in the Super Bowl and faced the consequences of their actions against the Jets.
8. 1997: Jets 41, Seahawks 3
It was the start of the Bill Parcells Era with the Green and White. The previous season, the Jets won one game and were outscored by a combined 175 points while allowing 31-plus points in 10-of-16 games.
At Seattle’s Kingdome, these new-look Jets came away with a 38-point victory and amassed 434 total yards to start off Parcells’ tenure in style. Neil O’Donnell threw five touchdown passes and Adrian Murrell ran for 131 yards. The team would finish 9-7 in ’97.
7. 1978: Jets 33, Dolphins 20
The Jets sported new uniforms and Walt Michaels was in his second year as head coach. While 2021 will feature the league’s first 17-game season for each club, 1978 was the beginning of a 16-game slate for the league.
Jets quarterback Richard Todd threw for 245 yards and three scores as the Jets jumped out to a 27-6 lead in the third quarter of an eventual blowout win over the rival Dolphins.
New York would win its first two games that season but would finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. Nevertheless, their .500 record snapped a three-year streak of seasons with a losing record.
6. 1998: 49ers 36, Jets 30 (OT)
In 1998, Bill Parcells’ club would reach the AFC Championship Game but fell to a Denver Broncos team on the way to repeating as Super Bowl titlists.
The Jets and 49ers engaged in a back-and-forth affair in San Francisco as Jets kicker John Hall’s 31-yard field goal tied the game on the final play of regulation. But a few minutes later, Niners’ running back Garrison Hurst ran 96 yards down the right sidelines for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
5. 2018: Jets 48, Lions 17
Sam Darnold was the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft – and “pick” was the definitive word when it came to his debut Monday night affair in the Motor City.
Darnold’s first regular-season pass attempt was returned 37 yards for a score by Detroit’s Quandre Diggs. Meanwhile, the Jets wound up with five interceptions off Lions’ quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (4) and Matt Cassel (1) – the former having one of those miscues taken back 36 yards for a TD by Darron Lee.
Despite the game-opening miscue, Darnold bounced back and put forth a promising performance in his career debut as the Jets stomped on the Lions, highlighted by a 31-point third quarter.
4. 2012: Jets 48, Bills 28
The Green and White did it on offense, defense and special teams. Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes and Jeremy Kerley added a 68-yard punt return as the Jets opened up a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
The advantage would balloon to 41-7 before Ryan Fitzpatrick made things interesting and closed the gap to 41-28 with three second-half scores, but New York’s defense picked him off three times, one of those returned for a score by Antonio Cromartie in the third quarter.
3. 1970: Browns 31, Jets 21
This contest was less about where the Jets and Browns were headed that season and more about the day and time of the game. It was the debut of ABC’s Monday Night Football and the first season following the NFL merger.
The most notable moment came in late in the fourth quarter when Joe Namath and the Jets trailed by three and he was intercepted by Browns’ linebacker Billy Andrews, who returned the pick 25 yards for a touchdown.
2. 1968: Jets 20, Chiefs 19
The Jets’ 1968 season would culminate in the franchise’s lone championship. Weeb Ewbank’s defense was in top form at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. They held the Chiefs’ offense out of the end zone the entire game and limited Hank Stram’s team to 201 total yards.
Meanwhile, Hall of Fame wide receiver Don Maynard caught eight passes, two for scores. He totaled 208 yards on those receptions, still a team record for receiving yards in a game.
1. 2002: Jets 37, Bills 31 (OT)
New York’s 2002 opener was a back-and-forth affair in Buffalo that featured a great individual performance on special teams. The Bills jumped out to 10-0 second-quarter lead, but it became 10-7 quickly as Chad Morton returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score.
Buffalo sent the game into overtime with a late fourth-quarter touchdown. The Jets came out on top as Morton struck again, this time for 96 yards on the first play of the extra session – sucking the life out of Orchard Park crowd.
The Jets would finish 9-7 and claim what still stands as their most recent AFC East title. They went on to stomp the Colts with a 41-0 Meadowlands victory in the Wild Card round before falling by a score of 30-10 to the Raiders in the Divisional round.
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