There’s disappointment, and then there’s the disappointment of being a fan of the New York Jets.
Jets fans entered this season with tempered hopes of not only making it back to the playoffs, but even winning the Super Bowl. Then, four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers snapped his Achilles tendon four plays into his first game, and Jets fans are now left wondering whether Dwight from ‘The Office’ could be a solution to a season that already feels over.
So what should the Jets do next? According to the Harvard Business Review, the best way to find a way forward is to examine the past. When it comes to the search for a quarterback solution for the Jets, it’s a tragic retrospective.
The history of the Jets and the quarterback position starts off with a bang — Joe Namath. ‘Broadway Joe’ took the sports world by storm in 1969 when he guaranteed the lowly AFL Jets would win the Super Bowl. His victory launched a celebrity career that made him the NFL’s first and only pantyhose model.
Notable Jets quarterbacks after Namath included gunslinger Richard Todd, who, like Namath, played in college for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Todd helmed the ‘New York Sack Exchange’ teams in the early 1980s — the first teams to have a winning record since Namath’s 1969 Super Bowl team. Others to reach stardom include Boomer Esiason, now a sports radio giant in New York City, and even the fictional superhero Flash Gordon, who when he wasn’t fighting Ming the Merciless on planet Mongo, was slinging touchdowns for the Jets.
But it’s in the past 25 years that everything about the Jets and the quarterback position has turned to misery. In 1998, Vinny Testaverde had one of the best seasons in Jets history, falling just short of the Super Bowl. The Jets came into the next season as Super Bowl favorites, only to see Testaverde tear his Achilles in the first game.
The next Jets quarterback to give the team a fighting chance was Chad Pennington, a cerebral Tennessee native who played with Randy Moss in college, and who the Hall of Fame wide receiver once said was the best quarterback he’d ever played with. That was, of course, before Pennington tore his rotator cuff, and lost all his arm strength. More than a decade later, fans still wonder what his career could have been if he never got hurt.
While the Jets suffered through quarterback misfortune in the early 2000s, the New England Patriots managed to win three Super Bowls — all behind a quarterback who was under center in Foxborough thanks to none other than the Jets. It was 22 years ago this month that Jets linebacker Mo Lewis delivered a crushing blow on Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe that punctured the veteran’s lung — and cleared the way for Tom Brady, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
And contributing to those who believe the Jets are cursed at quarterback, Brady should have probably been playing for New York the whole time. A few months before legendary coach Bill Belichick drafted Brady in the 6th round for the Patriots, Belichick was hired to be the head coach for the Jets. It’s an easy piece of football history to forget, as Belichick lasted just a single day in January 2000 — he wrote his resignation note on a napkin after the Jets declined to give him enough control of personnel decisions. He joined the Patriots three weeks later.
While Belichick and Brady dominated the league, the Jets failed to find a decent quarterback. The closest they came was likely the 2008 campaign of a nearly 40-year-old Brett Favre — who was performing magnificently until, of course, he tore his bicep in the middle of the season.
Favre was followed by Mark Sanchez, a high draft pick from USC who was buoyed by one of the best defenses in NFL history. Sanchez has on his resumé some of the greatest wins in Jets history — on his way to back-to-back AFC championship games in his first two seasons, he won road playoff games against not only Tom Brady, but also Peyton Manning.
Those wins, however, were largely thanks to a defense led by coach Rex Ryan and his defensive scheme. And then in 2012, with Sanchez’s play on the decline, there was the Thanksgiving Day “Butt Fumble,” which still lives in infamy as one of the worst plays in team history. Sanchez was gone at the end of the season.
The Jets then went with another draft pick, Geno Smith, who got punched in the face by one of his Jets teammates during his failed stint in New York. Geno is now a Pro Bowl-level quarterback playing across the country for the Seattle Seahawks, who are coached by former Jets head coach Pete Carroll.
The Jets spent another high draft pick in 2018 on USC quarterback Sam Darnold, but the team around him was so bad that Darnold never really had a chance. He lasted only 3 seasons.
And then the Jets spent an even higher draft pick in 2021 on BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, and even though the roster around him is one of the best the Jets have assembled since Testaverde had the reins in 1999, Wilson is so bad that the team still doesn’t have a chance. Aside from maybe Johnny Manziel, who recently disclosed that he watched “zero” film while in the league, it’s hard to recall seeing a more clueless player on a football team.
Wilson is back under center this season after the injury to Rodgers, but likely won’t survive his third season.
So, where do the Jets turn from here? The answer can’t be more of Wilson, whose play has Jets fans spitting out their teeth in disgust and has even lost the support of Joe Namath, generally a cheerleader for his former squad.
Retired backup quarterbacks have rejected the Jets’ pleas for them to return. Tom Brady, who, and I repeat, could have easily been drafted by the Jets, said no. And the Jets don’t seem interested in those who actually want to join the team, which include the aforementioned Dwight from ‘The Office’ and, perhaps more absurd, Colin Kaepernick, who just a couple of years ago compared the NFL to a slave plantation.
By the time any other cratering team (i.e. the Minnesota Vikings) is willing to trade their quarterback, it probably won’t be worth it — the Jets are already looking up in the division standings, and in the next three weeks they play the two teams who faced off in last year’s Super Bowl: the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
The best remaining hope is likely a medical miracle. Rodgers, an expert in experimental medicine, received an unprecedented Achilles surgery by California doctor Neal ElAttrache, who was discovered by legendary athlete Kobe Bryant. The doctor put a “speed bridge” in Rodgers, designed to accelerate his healing.
And Rodgers was seen on Thursday already out of his walking boot, just three weeks after surgery. It generally takes at least twice as long. He is expected to be on the sideline for the team’s next game.
So you’re telling me there’s a chance? Not really. But a miracle Rodgers return may be more likely than an in-season transformation by Wilson, who may be playing the quarterback position worse than it has ever been played at the NFL level.
To make matters worse, one of the only Jets quarterbacks in recent memory to perform as bad as Wilson, Trevor Siemien, was just brought back on the squad as a potential replacement.
At this point, it’s hard to deny that the Jets are cursed at quarterback. But sports curses end. The Curse of the Billy Goat lasted 71 years on the Chicago Cubs, and the Curse of the Bambino took 86 years on the Boston Red Sox. The Jets have only existed for 60 years.
But with no answer at quarterback, the misery will almost certainly last at least one more.