Mark Sanchez, Mark Brunell, NY Jets, Colts, Wild Card
Mark Sanchez, Mark Brunell, NY Jets, Getty Images

Looking back at New York Jets’ wild card memories

The New York Jets know a thing or two about single-elimination games: after all, the NFL adhering to the series formats on display in other major sports leagues wouldn’t be good for anyone’s health.

Perhaps the Jets could bestow a word of advice to their baseball brothers in pinstripes.

The New York Yankees are set to battle the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night at Fenway Park in the 2021 American League Wild Card Game (8:08 p.m. ET, ESPN). Should the Yankees win, they will move to St. Petersburg to face the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday (8:07 p.m. ET, FS1).

In celebration of the Yankees’ wild endeavors, Jet X looks back on the Jets’ six victories in the NFL’s opening playoff round. They own a 6-5 record in wild card contests, the first coming in 1981 against Buffalo.

1/9/83: Bruin Up History and a W

An unusual season ended in an unusual fashion: the NFL’s strike-shortened 1982-83 campaign welcomed 16 teams to the postseason, setting up an NBA-style 16-team get-together.

Seeded sixth despite a 6-3 record, the Jets (losers of a three-way tie with Pittsburgh and San Diego) squared off against the Cincinnati Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.

The Bengals jumped out to an early 14-3 lead before Freeman McNeil embarked on the most destructive Cincinnati invasion ever seen, one that even outpaced The Avengers’ arrival for filming in the city in 2011.

McNeil got things started through trickery, finding Derrick Gaffney for a 14-yard passing score in the second quarter before Richard Todd found Wesley Walker for a four-yard score that permanently gave the Jets the lead.

On the ground, the UCLA alum made history through a 202-yard showing that stands as not only a Jets postseason record but one of only eight playoff efforts that reached the double-century mark in NFL history.

New York led 23-17 going into the final quarter, but McNeil’s 20-yard scoring rush and a 98-yard runback of a Ken Anderson interception by Darrol Ray allowed the Jets to waltz to a 44-17 triumph. They would then upset the top-seeded Los Angeles Raiders in the semifinal round before falling to Miami in the AFC championship – the infamous “Mud Bowl.”

12/28/86: KC Masterpiece

McNeil came up big four postseasons later when the Jets welcomed the Kansas City Chiefs to Giants Stadium. Few knew what to make of the postseason appearance, as a 10-1 start gave way to five straight losses to end the season, relegating Gang Green to a wild card berth.

Though eventual heartbreak awaited in a Divisional loss at Cleveland, the Jets got back on the right track with four unanswered touchdowns after the Chiefs jumped out to an early 6-0 lead.

McNeil (135 yards on the ground) played a role in the first two, earning the latter on a one-yard pass from Pat Ryan. That tally was the first of three aerial scores for Ryan, who also found Al Toon and Billy Griggs.

On defense, Kevin McArthur earned a defensive score through a pick-six that victimized Todd Blackledge en route to a 35-15 triumph.

The Jets would lose to the Browns by a score of 23-20 in double overtime the following week.

1/4/03: Ground Jordan

To date, the Jets’ most recent home playoff game is a January 2003 showdown with Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts. Though likely nowhere near intentional, the Jets made sure that the effort would be able to whet fans’ appetites for electrifying New Jersey football antics for a long, long time.

The Jets got things started on a 56-yard scoring hook-up between Chad Pennington and Richie Anderson on their first possession and never looked back. Pennington would earn three touchdown passes on the day (also finding Santana Moss and Chris Baker) while LaMont Jordan rose to the occasion with 102 rushing yards and two tallies.

Manning’s comeback efforts were stifled by a Jets defense that allowed only 176 total yards and forced three turnovers. Damien Robinson and James Darling each had interceptions while Ray Mickens forced and recovered a Reggie Wayne fumble.

1/8/05: Oh, Brien

Conjuring the name of Doug Brien brings only distress to Jets fans after his wayward boots in the Divisional round cost New York a major upset in Pittsburgh. Only one week prior, Brien was one of the heroes in the Jets’ victorious Wild Card visit to San Diego.

The Jets lost a two-possession fourth-quarter lead in heartbreaking fashion, as Nate Kaeding hit a 35-yard field and Antonio Gates nabbed a one-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees with 11 seconds left in regulation to send a 17-17 game into overtime.

Nearly every second of the extra session’s clock was necessary, most of it spent on the Chargers’ 14-play, 48-yard drive that ended in Kaeding’s misfire from 40 yards out. Situated on their own 30 after the miss, the Jets took immediate advantage.

An 18-yard hook-up between Pennington and Moss got the Jets into Charger territory before a 19-yard rush by Jordan put them in the red zone. Brien’s boot from 28 yards out came with only five seconds left on the clock to give the Jets a 20-17 triumph.

1/9/10: Playing Favorites

The Jets’ Wild Card showdown against the Bengals was a rematch in several ways: not only did Cincinnati have a chance to take revenge for McNeil’s antics in 1983 but the teams had previously met the week prior in the regular season finale. New York closed Giants Stadium on a high note, crushing the Bengals 37-0 to clinch the AFC’s final playoff berth.

Skepticism followed the Jets’ playoff entry as both the Bengals and the previously undefeated Colts (the Jets’ Week 16 opponent) used their backups in their respective matchups. Head coach Rex Ryan nonetheless took offense to the idea that the fifth-seeded Jets weren’t the favorites in the annual winter tournament.

Ryan and his group drove the point home in their postseason opener: the Jets scored three consecutive touchdowns to erase an early 7-0 lead created by former comrade Laveranues Coles. Rushing tallies by Shonn Green and Thomas Jones sandwiched Mark Sanchez‘s 45-yard tally co-authored by Dustin Keller while the defense allowed only 281 yards and put up three sacks.

The Jets took the game by a 24-14 final to advance to the familiar postseason stomping grounds of San Diego, where they upset the Chargers in the Divisional round before losing a rematch to the (fully stocked) Colts in the AFC title game.

01/8/11: That’s All, Folk

The Jets earned a sliver of revenge less than a year later, overcoming what’s normally a gridiron death sentence: an Adam Vinatieri field goal.

Though another standout defensive effort held the mighty Colts’ offense in check (only 16 first downs for Manning’s bunch), Indianapolis nonetheless seemed poised to escape with a victory after Vinatieri booted a 50-yard triple to go up 16-14 with 53 seconds remaining.

Special teams, ironically, helped the Jets complete the quick, late comeback. Antonio Cromartie took the ensuing kickoff to the cusp of midfield, giving Mark Sanchez a relatively short field to work with.

The sophomore quarterback would complete three passes for 38 yards to set up Nick Folk’s 32-yard winner as time expired, the last being an 18-yard hook-up with Braylon Edwards that moved the ball to the Colts’ 14.

Following Folk’s flipped script, the Jets would upset the New England Patriots before falling to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game.

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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