The Matchup: New England Patriots vs. New York Jets
Playoff Head to Head Record: First Meeting
The Game: December 28, 1985 at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Regular Season Team Records: New England Patriots (11-5), New York Jets (11-5)
Overview: The Patriots and Jets both earned wild card berths in the log jam that was the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins with a 12-4 record edged out New York and New England by one win for the division crown.
The teams split two close contests during the regular season. The Patriots edged the Jets in Foxboro 20-13 on October 20th pushing their record to 4-3. They would go 7-2 the rest of the regular season.
The Jets handed them one of those defeats, 16-13 on November 24th. This would be the rubber match between the two AFC East rivals.
Coaches: New England Patriots – Raymond Berry New York Jets – Joe Walton
Notable Patriots: Tony Eason (qb), Stanley Morgan (wr), Andre Tippett (lb), Johnny Rembert (lb) Tony Franklin (k), Garin Veris (dl), Fred Marion (s)
Notable Jets: Ken O’Brien (qb), Pat Ryan (qb), Johnny Hector (rb), Al Toon (wr), Wesley Walker (wr), Mark Gastineau (de)
Interesting Note: New England would have to win three straight games on the road to reach the Super Bowl. No team had accomplished such a feat in NFL history.
The Patriots and Jets came into this wild card playoff tilt riding a hot hand. Since their October 20th win over the Jets, New England went 7-2 to close out the regular season. The Jets went 6-3, including a 16-13 win over the Patriots at the Meadowlands. Both teams had identical records and were very familiar with each other. Both teams were led by young quarterbacks from the 1983 class, Ken O’Brien for the Jets and Tony Eason for the Patriots.
O’Brien had a superb season posting 3,888 yards with 25 TD’s and only eight interceptions. Eason struggled with injuries and a lackluster performance in the 1985 season. He only mustered 2,156 yards with 11 TD’s and 17 interceptions in 10 games.
Which one of these young guns would shine?
On paper, O’Brien had the superior season and the Jets were at home with a hostile crowd on their side. The Patriots and Eason were the underdogs. No one expected them to win.
Someone forgot to tell the Patriots that.
The game went back and forth in the first half. Two prize fighters taking as many punches as they were throwing. New England bare footed kicker Tony Franklin connected on kicks of 33 and 41 yards. O’Brien and Eason traded touchdown passes and the game was 13-7 New England at the half.
This game was no different than their two regular season bouts. It was going to be decided by shear will and pure effort. Thirty more minutes to go on or go home.
The Patriots defense would not let O’Brien and his stockpile of weapons get on track. The Jets offense could only muster seven more points for the reminder of the game and committed four turnovers.
The most costly, a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Patriots linebacker, Johnny Rembert. This made the score 23-7 in the third quarter. Time was running out on the Jets.
Back up quarterback, Pat Ryan came in relief of the lackluster Ken O’Brien. His final stat line read 13 for 17 for 149 yards with one TD and one interception. His numbers were not terrible, but the offense was sputtering and they needed a spark quickly. Jets coach, Joe Walton made the call to the bullpen for Ryan.
Ryan was able to rally his team to a late 3rd quarter touchdown to cut the lead to 23-14. This was as close as the Jets would get. The Patriots defense led by the likes of Donnie Blackmon, Andre Tippett, and Garin Veris sacked the Jets quarterback tandem five times. Veris and Fred Marion added interceptions as well to compliment two fumble recoveries.
The Patriots tacked on a field goal in fourth period to build the lead to 26-14. The Jets could not recover from their miscues. The turnover battle and the game were won by the New England Patriots.
Both teams put up modest offensive numbers. The Patriots had 258 total yards and the Jets amassed only 240 yards. Eason (12-16-179-1-0) and his mates (zero turnovers) took care of the ball and the team’s ball hawking defense took it away from the Jets four times.
This game was decided by big plays and mistakes. The Patriots made the plays and capitalized on the Jets mistakes.
Post Script: The wild card victory in Meadowlands was the first playoff victory in 22 years and only the second in Patriots team history. The playoff run would continue with incredible road wins versus Oakland and their “Squishing of the Fish” in the Orange Bowl. The Patriots would become the first team in NFL history to win 3 straight road playoff games.
Super Bowl XX did not go as the Patriots planned by being humbled by the Chicago Bears, 46-10. However, the hard fought victory over the Jets gave the team the confidence, will, and fiery desire to defy the odds. This collection of underdogs rose to the occasion and brought the Patriots franchise their first taste of playoff glory.
Joe Gill is a featured blogger for Boston Sports Then and Now