Familiar ending to season not the one Jets fans had in mind

Todd Bowles could not keep the streak going after all.

The three previous head coaches of the New York Jets — Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan — had led them to the playoffs in his first season. On Sunday, all Bowles had to do to repeat that feat was defeat the Buffalo Bills in the final game of the regular season at windy, snowy Buffalo. But he could not do it, as Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three fourth-quarter interceptions — including one in the end zone with the Jets in position to take the lead with a field goal. Final score: Ryan’s Bills 22, Bowles’ Jets 17.

And with the Steelers beating the last-place Browns in Cleveland, Pittsburgh claimed the final wild-card spot in the AFC instead of the Jets. Both teams finished 10-6, but the Steelers owned the tiebreaker.

So it was that Bowles repeated the disappointing endings authored by two other first-year coaches in recent Jets history. Like Bowles on Sunday, Bill Parcells in 1997 and Al Groh in 2000 missed out on the playoffs by losing in heartbreaking fashion on the road in the season’s final game.

The 1997 Jets could have earned a wild-card spot by defeating Detroit in the Pontiac Silverdome. But an ill-advised halfback-option pass was intercepted in the end zone to kill one of the few promising drives the Jets could muster, and Barry Sanders broke loose for 184 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Sanders (2,053) became just the third player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards in a season. Final score: Lions 13, Jets 10. And the Miami Dolphins, who like the Jets finished 9-7, sneaked into the playoffs.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens are remembered as one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history, but in the season finale on Christmas Eve, Vinny Testaverde led the Jets up and down the field against them. With a playoff berth at stake, New York led 14-0 after one quarter. The Jets dominated statistically — 22-5 in first downs, 473-78 in passing yardage, 91-55 in offensive plays — but three return touchdowns resulted in a defeat that defied explanation. Jermaine Lewis ran back not one but two punts for scores in the second half, but the return that turned the game around came with just seven seconds left in the first. The Jets were driving, seemingly assured of going into halftime with the lead, when Chris McAlister intercepted a pass and returned it 98 yards to put the Ravens ahead by six. They never trailed again. Final score: Ravens 34, Jets 20.

It was Groh’s last game as an NFL head coach. Later that week, he stunned the Jets by resigning from his post after just one season to take over the football program at the University of Virginia.

Sources: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Posted January 3, 2016

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John Scuderi

John Scuderi has more than a quarter-century of experience editing, writing and reporting for community newspapers.