There is one positive, albeit esoteric, streak the Jets would like to extend Sunday against Pittsburgh, and it is this: For the fifth consecutive decade, they would like to defeat an opponent that entered the game with a record at least six wins better than the Jets.
I can hear you now: Grasping at straws, Lange. But it gives me a chance to dive into my historical spreadsheets for you, and at the same time subtly provide a few reasons to believe the Jets (1-8) can knock off the tough-as-nails Steelers (7-2).
It is true that exactly once each in the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, the Jets stunned such a superlative foe. (They’ve also lost 14 other games vs. six-wins-better challengers over the years.) Three of the four once-in-a-decade upsets came at home (although none was played at the Meadowlands) and all four opponents were handed their unexpected defeats on their way to playoff berths.
Dec. 19, 1965 — JETS 14, Buffalo 12 (at Shea Stadium)
In the last game of Joe Namath’s rookie season, he and the Jets (4-8-1) had a surprise for the visiting Bills, who came in at 10-2-1 and a week later would blank the Chargers for the ’65 AFL title. Joe Willie hit Don Maynard with a 19-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and a 36-yarder in the third to keep ahead of Buffalo, which stayed close on two Charley Warner TDs but failed on a pair of two-point conversion tries.
Nov. 29, 1970 — JETS 20, Minnesota 10 (at Shea Stadium)
The Vikings, who came to New York at 9-1, lost only once over their last 11 regular-season games en route to the first-ever NFC Central title, and it was to the injury-riddled Jets (3-7), two seasons removed from their Super Bowl triumph but still feisty. They never trailed the Vikes as George Nock ran for one touchdown, George Sauer caught a TD strike from Al Woodall for another and Jim Turner hit two field goals.
Nov. 23, 1980 — JETS 31, Houston 28, OT (at Shea Stadium)
This was supposed to be the Jets’ year. Instead, they opened 0-5 and never recovered. When the 8-3 Oilers came to Shea, the 2-9 Jets opened with a bang — a Ken Schroy INT-return TD that got them started on a 21-0 lead that they took into the fourth quarter. The Oilers struck back with four TD strikes by Ken Stabler, the last two to former Jet Rich Caster. But Bruce Harper’s scoring catch from Richard Todd helped get the game to overtime, from where Pat Leahy pulled it out with a 38-yard FG.
Dec. 6, 1992 — Jets 24, BUFFALO 17 (at Rich Stadium)
Another season gone horribly wrong as the Jets struggled to western New York with a 3-9 record one week after DE Dennis Byrd was paralyzed to take on the 9-3 Bills. Something uplifting happened in the second half this day as Brad Baxter ran for two third-quarter touchdowns to give the visitors a 17-10 lead. Then after Jim Kelly-to-Pete Metzelaars tied it, safety Brian Washington broke the tie on a 23-yard INT-return score with 1:41 to play.
Who will be the heroes and what will be the particulars of an upset of the Steelers? That chapter remains to be written, but if the Jets kick off their return from their bye week with a Sunday stunner, they’ll get to try to repeat the feat four days later when they travel to Dallas for a Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys, who will be 9-1 or 8-2 after playing the Redskins.
Tags: Bruce Harper, Joe Namath, PIttsburgh Steelers
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