Here’s the third installment of our "Who’s Better?" series. In the first two, Mariano Rivera beat out Derek Jeter and David Wright reigned over Jose Reyes, and both won in landslides with 79 percent of the vote. In round three, we’ll pit two teams against each other: The 1998 New York Jets vs. the 2010 Jets. Both teams, of course, made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game, only to be thwarted in their attempt to become the second Jet team to win a Super Bowl. (As a side note, I’m choosing the 2010 squad over the 2009 team, which also went to the conference championship, because they had a better record, and in 2010 Mark Sanchez had one more year of experience. We don’t want to throw a rookie quarterback to the wolves here. And let’s not confuse the 2010 Jets with this season’s struggling team.)
The matchup of these two teams has Bill Parcells taking on Rex Ryan, which, in real life, would be something to behold. The press conferences in the week leading up to the game would have had the potential of being more entertaining than the game itself. The ’98ers finished in first place in the AFC East, with a 12-4 record, which stands as the best single-season mark in franchise history. Parcells’ assistants that season were a who’s who of future head coaches: Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Eric Mangini and Todd Haley. After losing their first two games of the season with Glenn Foley as their quarterback, the Jets installed Vinny Testaverde as the signal caller in week three, beat the Colts 44-6 and never looked back.
The offense was ranked fifth in the league in points scored and fourth in total yards gained, while the defense was second in points allowed and seventh in total yards. After gaining a bye in the opening week of the playoffs, they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-24, in the divisional round, which was the Keyshawn Johnson Game. The flamboyant, motor-mouthed receiver not only caught nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown reception, but he also ran for a TD, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. Yes, he got the damn ball in that game.
Things were looking awfully good for the Jets the next week when they had a 10-0 lead over the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, but Terrell Davis, John Elway & Co. scored 23 unanswered points to win going away, 23-10, and break the hearts of Jets Nation. Testaverde ended up in the Pro Bowl that year, after throwing 29 touchdown passes with only seven interceptions, racking up 3,256 yards, with a 61.5 completion percentage and a 101.6 QB rating. Curtis Martin, who was in his first year with Gang Green, also made the Pro Bowl, with a 1,287-yard season, eight rushing touchdowns and 43 receptions. Keyshawn Johnson (another Pro Bowler) led the team with 83 receptions and 1,131 receiving yards, while scoring 10 touchdowns. Wayne Chrebet hauled in 75 passes (1,083 yards) with eight TDs. Tight end Kyle Brady contributed with 30 catches, 315 yards and five touchdowns. And Jumbo Elliott, Kevin Mawae and Jason Fabini anchored the offensive line. Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro Mo Lewis was the leader of the defense, and had a team-high seven sacks (Bryan Cox and Anthony Pleasant had six each). Aaron Glenn led the team with six interceptions, which earned him a Pro Bowl berth. And he and Leon Johnson were the return men that season. John Hall made 25 of 35 field-goal attempts, while Brian Hansen (39.8 yards per punt) and John Kidd (41.6) were the punters.
The 2010 squad finished in second place, with an 11-5 record, which was a two-win improvement from the previous season. They lost their opening game, 10-9, to the Baltimore Ravens, but went on a five-game winning streak, later won back-to-back overtime games, pummeled Cincinnati on Thanksgiving night and even beat the Steelers for the first time ever in Pittsburgh. The team’s offense was ranked 13th in points and 11th in total yards, while the defense was sixth in points allowed and third in total yards. The highlights of the season, though, were the first two rounds of the playoffs, when they defeated the Peyton Manning-led Colts, 17-16, on a last-second Nick Folk field goal, and a resounding 28-21 victory over the New England Patriots, which was the most satisfying win of the Rex Ryan era.
Unfortunately, like the 1998 team, things came to a crashing halt in the AFC Championship Game. It was a flip-flop of the scenario in Denver a dozen years earlier, though, as the Jets dug themselves a 24-point hole, came storming back but ultimately fell, 24-19. Sanchez tossed 17 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions for the season, threw for 3,291 yards at a 54.8 percent clip, and finished with a 75.3 QB rating. The running game was split between LaDainian Tomlinson (914 yards, six touchdown; along with 52 receptions for 368 yards) and Shonn Greene (766 yards, two touchdowns). Dustin Keller (55 catches, 687 yards, five TDs), Braylon Edwards (53 catches, 904 yards, seven TDs), Santonio Holmes (52 catches, 746 yards, six TDs) and Jerricho Cotchery (41 catches, 433 yards, two TDs) were Sanchez’s aerial targets. While Brad Smith did everything: He ran the wild cat offense, caught passes, rushed for 299 yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. The offensive Pro Bowlers came from the offensive line: Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The linebacking corps of David Harris, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas (team-leading six sacks) and Calvin Pace (five and a half sacks) was the strength of the defense, along with Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro Darrelle Revis, of course. Antonio Cromartie and Dwight Lowery led the team in interceptions, with three apiece. Veteran stalwart Shaun Ellis had four and a half sacks, while one-year Jet Jason Taylor had five. Nick Folk made 30 of 39 field-goal attempts, and Steve Weatherford averaged 42.6 yards per punt.
So there you have it, Bill Parcells vs. Rex Ryan, Mo Lewis vs. Darrelle Revis, Vinny Testaverde vs. Mark Sanchez. Which team was better? If they could time travel and play a knockout, drag-down game between the two, who would prevail?