NFL/AAFC/AFL/Super Bowl Championship Stories (Part 3B: AFC East (New York Jets))
Most football fans have experienced memorable moments, championships, games, and even bitter losses in the postseason over the last 87 years. But, many people only remember the champion or the runner-up in the last game of the NFL season, the NFL championship or Super Bowl. The December 18, 1932 playoff game featuring the Portsmouth Spartans (now known as the Detroit Lions) and the Chicago Bears was a memorable event as the NFL’s first postseason game with the Bears winning 9-0. In this special 32 part series, I will analyze each NFL team’s best championship season and the one season where they finished just short of claiming the NFL’s ultimate prize. The third team to be analyzed is… the NEW YORK JETS!
The 1998 Jets: Bill Parcells Returns to New York
When Bill Parcells was named the Jets new head coach in 1997, he had already won two Super Bowls with their crosstown rivals, the Giants, and had built the Jets division rival, the Patriots, into a Super Bowl contender. But, while Parcells was building the Giants as well as the Patriots into championship teams, the Jets had not won a postseason game since 1986 and finished with a 1-15 record in 1996 under head coach Rich Kotite. After leaving New York following the 1990 season, Parcells led the Jets to their first winning season in nine years in 1997 and barely missed the playoffs due to a tiebreaker with the Dolphins.
After finishing with a 9-7 record in 1997, Bill Parcells used the 1998 offseason to upgrade the Jets by signing key free quarterback Vinny Testaverde from Baltimore, running back Curtis Martin as well as fullback Keith Byars from New England, and offensive linemen Todd Burger from Chicago as well as Kevin Mawae from Seattle. The Jets front office also signed key defensive starters as well including defensive end Anthony Pleasant from Atlanta as well as linebacker Bryan Cox from Chicago and drafted offensive tackle Jason Fabini as well as safety Kevin Williams in the 1998 NFL Draft.
With these new additions, the 1998 Jets dominated the AFC East and finished with a 12-4 record despite starting the season 0-2. With five Pro Bowl selections on his roster (Testaverde, Martin, Keyshawn Johnson, Mo Lewis, Aaron Glenn), Bill Parcells led the Jets to their first division title in 29 years while competing in the NFL’s toughest division (four teams in the AFC East clinched a playoff berth).
However, despite earning a first round bye, the 1998 Jets faced two experienced playoff teams in the postseason beginning with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But, Bill Parcells led the Jets to their first playoff win in 12 years with a 34-24 victory over Jacksonville before traveling to Denver to play against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
Playing in their first AFC Championship since 1982, the Jets stayed with the Broncos in the first half and took a 3-0 lead into halftime before Curtis Martin stretched New York’s lead to 10 points with a rushing touchdown early in the 3rd quarter. But, the #1 seed Denver Broncos took control after a critical special teams mistake from James Farrior later in the third quarter and scored 23 unanswered points as the 1998 Jets fell short of reaching their first Super Bowl berth in 30 years by the score of 23-10.
1998 JETS OFFENSE
Pro Bowl Selections: QB Vinny Testaverde, HB Curtis Martin, WR Keyshawn Johnson
Strengths: Passing attack and lack of turnovers. Before the 1998 season began, the Jets acquired journeyman quarterback Vinny Testaverde from the Ravens after waiving their starting quarterback in 1997, Neil O’Donnell, during the offseason. After not starting the first two games, Testaverde was given a chance to lead the Jets despite his 48-83-1 record as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
But, Testaverde took advantage of his opportunity and earned his second Pro Bowl selection in three years while throwing to his two key receivers, Wayne Chrebet as well as Pro Bowl selection Keyshawn Johnson. The 1998 Jets also complemented their 4th ranked passing attack by committing only 24 turnovers (13 interceptions; 11 fumbles lost) during the regular season (tied for 8th best in the NFL) while Testaverde was the only quarterback in the AFC to have a passer rating over 100 (101.6; career-high).
Weaknesses: Rushing attack. Despite acquiring Pro Bowl running back Curtis Martin from New England during the offseason, the 1998 Jets had the league’s 13th ranked rushing attack even with their 1,200+ yard running back. With the Jets balanced offensive attack under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Martin’s running style complemented the Jets passing attack as Curtis had 369 carries during the regular season (3rd most in the NFL).
But, in the AFC Championship, the Broncos exploited this weakness by limiting Curtis Martin to only 14 rushing yards on 13 carries and made the Jets offense very predictable for most of the game as the Jets threw 52 passes in their loss to Denver.
1998 JETS DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
Pro Bowl Selections: LOLB Mo Lewis (All-Pro), CB Aaron Glenn
Strengths: Scoring and passing defense. After working as a defensive assistant/coordinator under Bill Parcells with the Giants and the Patriots, Bill Belichick had the NFL’s 2nd best scoring defense in 1998 by allowing only 16.6 points per game (the No. 1 ranked Dolphins also allowed 16.6 points per game). After the 49ers as well as the Ravens combined to score 60 points in New York’s first two games, Bill Belichick and his All-Pro linebacker Mo Lewis started to shut down opposing offenses as the Jets held four teams under 10 points during the regular season (the Jets allowed just 15 combined points in their two games after their 0-2 start).
The 1998 Jets also had the league’s 9th best passing defense and allowed only 16 passing touchdowns during the regular season (best in the AFC; 2nd in the NFL) while holding quarterbacks to a passer rating of 64.7 (2nd best in the NFL). Pro Bowl cornerback Aaron Glenn led a disciplined Jets secondary by recording a team high six interceptions during the season (New York had 21 interceptions overall; 4th most in the league) and allowed quarterbacks to complete 52.4 percent of their passes (4th best in the NFL).
Weaknesses: Rushing defense and overall special teams. Despite allowing the 7th fewest carries in the league in 1998, the Jets had the NFL’s 14th ranked rushing defense and allowed a yard per carry average of 4.1 during the regular season (19th in the league). The Jets only allowed three running backs to rush over 100 yards all season and held eight of their opponents under 100 rushing yards, but gave up 11 rushing touchdowns (11th in the NFL). After allowing the Jaguars to 95 rushing yards in the divisional round, the NFL’s rushing champion, Terrell Davis, ran for 167 yards in the AFC Championship Game against the Jets defense.
The 1998 Jets also did not have a great special teams unit as they struggled between three punters (Brian Hansen, John Kidd, and Nick Gallery), but kicker John Hall scored the 6th most points in the AFC (120 points). However, Hall only made 71.4 percent of his field goals (25 of 35) and the Jets also struggled to find a consistent kick returner with backup running back Leon Johnson (primary punt returner), Aaron Glenn, and rookie safety Kevin Williams splitting time during the regular season.
COMING UP NEXT… THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS!