As we get ready for what should be a punishing, brawling hate-fest between the New York Jets and New England Patriots, let's take a quick look at the two previous playoff meetings between the two franchises. The abhorrence and loathsome factor has reached a crescendo this season, what with every citizen of New England detesting Rex Ryan, Antonio Cromartie and each and every member of Gang Green, while Bill Belichick is the No. 1 target of Jet fans' wrath, not to mention their pretty boy yet infuriatingly great quarterback, Tom Brady.
What may be surprising is that after 51 seasons of playing in the same division, going all the way back to their AFL days, this is only the third postseason matchup between the Jets and Patriots. The first took place at the Meadowlands on December 28, 1985. It was the first-ever playoff game in the New Jersey stadium (the New York Giants hosted the 49ers the following day). The two rivals both finished with 11-5 records and both qualified for the playoffs as wild cards, as the Miami Dolphins won the AFC East title. They split the season series, with the Jets' one victory coming in overtime, when Pat Leahy booted a 32-yard field goal. In this game, New England opened the scoring on a Tony Franklin field goal, but the Jets quickly took the lead, when Johnny Hector caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Pro Bowler Ken O'Brien. Unfortunately, that was the high point for the Jets on that day. The Patriots kicked two more field goals and scored two touchdowns (one on a Johnny Rembert fumble recovery after he stripped the ball from Johnny Hector) before the Jets could get back on the scoreboard. Mickey Shuler caught a pass from Pat Ryan, who had replaced an injured O'Brien, for the Jets' final points. Franklin added another field goal, and the Pats won, 26-14. The Jets turned the ball over four times and were sacked five times, dooming their chances that day. New England made it all the way to the Super Bowl, where they were crushed by the Chicago Bears, who did the Super Bowl Shuffle all over the Patriots.
Meeting two took place at Gillette Stadium just four short years ago. The first-place, 12-4 Patriots hosted the wild-card, 10-6 Jets. The two teams split the season series, and the showdown pitted master, Bill Belichick, against student, Eric Mangini. New England jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, on a Corey Dillon 11-yard rushing touchdown, but the Jets remained close throughout the game. Unfortunately, they could only muster up one touchdown, a 77-yard pass from Chad Pennington to Jerricho Cotchery. The Jets were within seven points as late as the fourth quarter, after Mike Nugent booted his third field goal of the game, but the Patriots made it into the end zone two more times, to pull out the victory, by a score of 37-16.
Back in 1985, the Jets' biggest rival was Miami. By 2006, New England had rocketing up the charts of Teams The Jets Hate. And now, in 2011, the Patriots stand alone at the top. Will the Jets finally defeat their arch nemesis on Sunday? Or will they suffer once again? Whatever happens, this time, a victory will be one of the sweetest in franchise history, but a loss would be more crushing than either of the previous two defeats.