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How the Jets have fared through their history when the team starts 0-3

Jets head coach Rich Kotite stands on the

Jets head coach Rich Kotite stands on the side lines durring the final minutes of his team's 13 to 34 loss to the Oakland Raiders in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ., on Sunday, Oct. 6, 1996. Credit: AP/ADAM NADEL

Sometimes you end up 10-5-1, sometimes 1-15.

Sometimes a rookie quarterback takes his first steps toward superstardom, sometimes a fill-in comes through in the only significant season of his career.

Sometimes a new coach does not make it to the end of his first year, sometimes a Hall of Fame coach rallies late, then moves on

There is one thing that can be said for certain about 0-3 starts: They are not a good idea, not in 1965, when the Jets first did it, nor in 2019, when it happened to them for the ninth time, and for the first time since 2003.

But as the team and its fans spend the bye weekend pondering what it all means and where it goes from here, this must be said: Hey, you never know.

Take 1981, the gold standard of hope for slow starters.

The Jets were outscored, 100-40, in losing their first three games, then beat the Oilers, 33-17, to ignite a 10-2-1 finish that included routs of the Giants, Colts (twice) and Packers and a late rally for a crucial victory over the Dolphins.

Richard Todd started every game at quarterback, throwing 25 touchdown passes and famously shoving New York Post reporter Steve Serby into a locker, the culmination of a long dispute between the two, on Nov. 4.

(Todd last played for the Jets in 1983; Serby still covers football for the Post.)

The balanced offense featured Wesley Walker as the leading receiver with 770 yards and Freeman McNeil as the leading rusher with 623.

It was the year the vaunted defensive line of Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam first was dubbed “The New York Sack Exchange,” a year before sacks even became an official NFL statistic.

The Jets made the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, becoming the first of only five teams since 1980 to start 0-3 and qualify.

They lost to the Bills, 31-27, at Shea Stadium in one of the most memorable postseason games in team history.

They rallied from deficits of 24-0 and 31-13 and were at the 11-yard line, driving for the potential winning score, in the final minute when the Bills’ Bill Simpson intercepted Todd at the 1-yard line.

The ending was a disappointment, but that was the good kind of 0-3 season. For the flip side, see 15 years later, in 1996, Rich Kotite’s second and last season as coach.

In the offseason, the Jets let one Long Islander, quarterback Boomer Esiason, go, replacing him with free agent Neil O’Donnell, fresh off a Super Bowl loss with the Steelers. But they added another Long Islander in their free agent splurge in offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott, who had been with the Giants.

None of it worked. The Jets were 0-6 with O’Donnell before he suffered a shoulder injury and was replaced by Frank Reich. O’Donnell was set to return for the final four games but suffered a calf injury in pregame warmups.

The Jets were 0-8 before winning their only game, against the Cardinals in Arizona. Kotite resigned on Dec. 20, and eventually was replaced by Bill Parcells.

Speaking of Parcells, he has an 0-3 on his Jets resume, too, but it comes with an asterisk.

The 1999 Jets were fresh off a trip to the AFC Championship Game and had Super Bowl aspirations when another Long Island quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the second quarter of the opener.

He had handed off to Curtis Martin, who fumbled, and was making a move toward recovering the ball when he went down, pounding his right fist into the turf in frustration and holding his helmet before being helped off, seemingly taking the season with him.

Parcells initially went with Rick Mirer, then gave Ray Lucas a start with the Jets 1-4, which the Jets lost. Lucas was hurt that day, and the Jets eventually sank to 1-6.

But with the record at 2-6, Parcells reinserted Lucas, who won six of eight as the Jets rallied for an 8-8 finish.

In 2013, Parcells told Newsday’s Bob Glauber that he considered that season his greatest coaching job. He left the Jets when it was over, prepared to hand the reins to his assistant, Bill Belichick. Complications ensued.

While Parcells’ bounce-back from 0-3 in 1999 was a coaching clinic, Lou Holtz’s experience in 1976 was . . . not.

Holtz had been and would continue to be a successful college coach, but he proved to be a misfit in the NFL.

The Jets started 0-4, finished 3-11, and beat only the 2-12 Bills (twice) and 0-14 Buccaneers. Holtz did not stick around for a 42-3 loss to the Bengals in the finale. He quit to become the head coach at Arkansas.

Holtz wrote a fight song for players to sing after victories, set to the tune of “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” ABC analyst Alex Karras sang it on television before a “Monday Night Football” game in October. (It’s on YouTube.)

Upon leaving, Holtz said, “God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach in the pros.”

Holtz was the first Jets coach to start 0-3 in his first season. Adam Gase became the second this season.

Joe Namath went 1-7 in what was his final year with the Jets, throwing four touchdown passes with 16 interceptions. But 11 years earlier, when his career was ascendant, he experienced a far different sort of 0-3 start.

Actually, Namath was responsible for only one of those first three losses as a hotshot, highly paid rookie whom the Jets hoped would take New York and the AFL by storm. He shared the job with Mike Taliaferro that season.

But Namath finished a respectable 3-5-1 in his starts as the Jets rallied from an 0-5-1 start for their third 5-8-1 finish in a row. But this 5-8-1 finish was different. They had their quarterback.

As Newsday’s Joe Krupkinski wrote in his season wrapup, “Namath, of course, developed into everything [Sonny] Werblin and [Weeb] Ewbank hoped he would be: a flashy, cool, smooth leader.”

Three years later, that paid off in a big way.

Sam Darnold is not a rookie, of course, but he still is a work in progress, and how he does upon returning from his current bout with mono will go a long way toward determining how this Jets season is viewed – and how far back they can come from 0-3.

It will not be easy. The 1981 team was the only one of the previous eight to start 0-3 that ended with a winning record, and the teams’ combined final mark is 41-81-2.



Record: 6-10-0, 4th in AFC East Division

Coach: Herm Edwards

Points for: 283 (23 of 32)

Points against: 299 (8 of 32)

0-3 start: Lost to Washington, Miami, New England

Footnote: After losing to Dallas to go 0-4, Jets defeated Buffalo.


Record: 8-8-0, 4th in AFC East Division

Coach: Bill Parcells

Points for: 308 (19 of 31)

Points against: 309 (9 of 31)

0-3 start: Lost to New England, Buffalo, Washington

Footnote: After Vinny Testaverde ruptured his Achilles in season opener and the 0-3 start, Jets beat Denver in Week 4.


Record: 1-15-0, 5th in AFC East Division

Coach: Rich Kotite

Points for: 279 (27 of 30)

Points against: 454 (29 of 30)

0-3 start: Lost to Denver, Indianapolis and Miami

Footnote: Lost next five for an 0-8 start before beating Arizona, then lost last seven.


Record: 4-12-0, 4th in AFC East Division

Coach: Bruce Coslet

Points for: 220 (25 of 28)

Points against: 315 (18 of 28)

0-3 start: Lost to Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Francisco

Footnote: Dropped to 0-4 by losing to L.A., before defeating New England.


Record: 10-5-1, 2nd in AFC East Division

Coach: Walt Michaels

Points for: 355 (9 of 28)

Points against: 287 (8 of 28)

0-3 start: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh

Footnote: Won in Week 4 vs. Houston, starting a 10-2-1 finish to make the playoffs.


Record: 4-12-0, 5th in AFC East Division

Coach: Walt Michaels

Points for: 302 (18 of 28)

Points against: 395 (24 of 28)

0-3 start: Baltimore, Buffalo, San Francisco

Footnote: Also lost to Baltimore and New England for 0-5 start before defeating Atlanta.


Record: 3-11-0, 4th in AFC East Division

Coach: Lou Holtz, Mike Holovak (last game)

Points for: 169 (26 of 28)

Points against: 383 (26 of 28)

0-3 start: Cleveland, Denver, Miami

Footnote: Dropped to 0-4 (all road games) with loss to San Francisco before defeating Buffalo in Week 5.


Record: 5-8-1, 2nd in AFL East Division

Coach: Weeb Ewbank

Points for: 285 (7 of 8)

Points against: 303 (6 of 8)

0-3 start: Houston, Kansas City, Buffalo

Footnote: Lost in Week 4 to Denver, tied Oakland in Week 5, lost to San Diego in Week 6 for an 0-5-1 start before beating Denver in Week 6.

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