Mark Sanchez, Patriots, 2009 NY Jets
Mark Sanchez, NY Jets, Getty Images

Zach Wilson aims to join the list of rookie quarterbacks to take down Bill Belichick

Like any great fraternity, the New York Jets are blessed – perhaps even cursed – with several rites of passage.

Zach Wilson will get two out of the way on Sunday.

Wilson, the Jets’ newest franchise quarterback, will make his MetLife Stadium debut on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, CBS). It comes against a New England Patriots team that has, to put it nicely, had the Jets’ numbers.

Sam Darnold, Wilson’s immediate predecessor and season-opening opponent, was winless in three meetings against the Patriots, who have taken 10 consecutive meetings from the Jets overall.

While Bill Belichick has famously been a tall task for rookie quarterbacks, first-year passers have conquered him before. It’s not common, but several notable freshmen have emerged victorious in memorable meetings.

The following are several rookie quarterbacks that took down Belichick in their first meeting against the legendary coach.

10/31/04: Big Ben Brings Midnight to New England’s Streak

Halloween is easily at or near the top of holiday power rankings amongst American youngsters. There was no full-size Snickers bar waiting for Ben Roethlisberger at the end of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ showdown with the Patriots, but he earned the tastiest treat of all: a win over the defending champion Patriots.

Roethlisberger, having taken over for the injured Tommy Maddox, had guided Pittsburgh to an early four-game winning streak, one that paled in comparison to the 21-contest tally New England brought in. But, aided by a relentless defensive effort, Roethlisberger set the pace with two early scores to Plaxico Burress, which united with Deshea Townsend’s pick-six to give the Steelers a 21-3 lead after the first quarter.

The dominant first act allowed the Steelers to coast to a 34-20 victory, en route to a 15-1 final ledger.

Belichick, true to form, took revenge against the rookie. Not only did the Patriots end Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl run in the ensuing AFC title game but they also needed only three seasons to pass the Steelers for the AFC’s all-time best regular-season win tally.

9/20/09: A Lasting Mark

The gridiron powers that be never hesitate to mess around with the Jets. Gang Green’s 2009 schedule was no exception: Mark Sanchez’s Garden State debut was to come against a Patriots team welcoming back Tom Brady from a year-long medical absence.

Sanchez was most or less relegated to window dressing thanks to new head Rex Ryan’s self-declared war on England, one famously ignited when Ryan refused to “kiss (Belichick’s) rings.”

The Jets’ offense struggled in the first half, earning only 57 yards, but a strong defensive effort kept them in the game as they trailed only 9-3 going into the halftime break.

Sanchez would reward the defense with a 45-yard toss to Jerricho Cotchery that set the Jets up in New England territory. Two plays later, a nine-yard scoring pass to Dustin Keller gave the Jets the lead for good. New York would prevail by a 16-9 final.

11/7/10: McCoy Air Force

Colt McCoy never lived up to his collegiate heroics on display at Texas, though he has managed to play a big part in one of the most jaw-dropping results in NFL history.

Few expected anything out of the ordinary when the Patriots battled McCoy’s Cleveland Browns in November 2010. Both the Browns and Patriots were up to their usual antics: New England was on its way to yet another division title while Cleveland was in the midst of another lost season.

For one day, however, one precious afternoon, the roles were reversed. Under the watch of ex-Jets head coach Eric Mangini, the Browns earned a 34-14 triumph. To put that number in perspective, New England would go nearly four full seasons before suffering another multi-possession defeat.

McCoy completed 14-of-19 passes and perhaps permanently shifted momentum in the Browns’ direction with a 16-yard scoring rush that made it a 24-7 game in the middle stages of the third quarter. He currently lingers in the NFL as a backup to Kyler Murray in Arizona.

10/14/12: Where There’s a Wilson, There’s a Way

Granted the starting reigns immediately after joining the Seattle Seahawks as a third-round pick in 2012, Russell Wilson’s NFL career was at an early crossroads of sorts when the Patriots came to the Pacific Northwest. He had thrown five interceptions over his prior two contests, tallying a 60.9 passer rating in that span.

But one quarter changed the course of Wilson’s career and NFL history with it.

Trailing 23-10 at the halfway mark of the third quarter, Wilson found Braylon Edwards for a 10-yard scoring pass to start the comeback. His next drive was a three-and-out but he took full advantage of another opportunity later in the frame, earning the game-winning score to Sidney Rice from 46 yards out to give the Seahawks a 24-23 win. Wilson has been absconded amongst the NFL’s elite ever since.

12/20/20: Miami Nice

Tua Tagovailoa was used to carrying on dynasties rather than ending them. He helped do the latter in his first career start against the Patriots, posting pedestrian numbers (20-of-26, 145 yards, and an interception) but playing a big role in the victorious finale.

Tagovaila scored the last two ground touchdowns of Miami’s 22-12 win, erasing a small fourth-quarter deficit. His antics were part of a 250-yard rushing effort for the Dolphins, who were paced by 122 from Salvon Ahmed.

One important note to keep in mind – all five of these victories occurred while playing host to New England. None occurred on the road, as Belichick has never lost to a rookie starting quarterback in Foxborough.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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Geoff Magliocchetti is a veteran football writer with years of credentialed experience with the Jets and Giants. Email:
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1 year ago

You left out Geno Smith. October 20th, 2013, a 30-27 OT win at MetLife. Yes Geno gave up a pick six in that game, but so did Tom Brady. Nick Folk provided the winning FG after a Patriots penalty gave him a second chance.