My Five Biggest New York Jets’ Disappointments: 1986 AFC Playoff vs. Cleveland Browns

Good morning Jets fans. Time to complete the countdown. Over the last several days, we have been counting down my five biggest disappointments with the Jets since 1985, when I started watching the team. Here is what we have so far, in reverse order:

#5. 1997 Week 17 vs. Detroit Lions
#4. Fake Spike Game 1994
#3. 2009 AFC Championship Game
#2. 2010 AFC Championship Game

Now, the number one biggest disappointment for me as a Jets’ fan.  We go back into the eighties for this one.


This will be beyond the memory of many of our readers, but for those of us that do remember this game, we have nightmares about it.

Let’s set the scene. The Jets flew out of the gate in 1986 like world beaters, with a 10-1 record. Nobody could stop the Jets. But as the streak was going along, injuries started to pile up, especially on the defensive side of the football. After going 10-1, the roster was so beaten down that the team lost their last five games to lose the division, and back into the playoffs as a Wild Card. Starting quarterback Ken O’Brien was benched in favor of journeyman Pat Ryan.

After beating the Chiefs at home on Wild Card weekend, the divisional playoff game against the Cleveland Browns was set, Jan 3, 1987.

Ken O’Brien ended up back in this one after Pat Ryan departed with an injury. A Freeman McNeil touchdown run put the Jets up 20-10, and caused the radio play by play announcer to proclaim that the Jets were on their way to the AFC title game. However, a ten point comeback, punctuated by a roughing the passer penalty on Mark Gastineau, tied the game at 20, and in double overtime, the Jets fell to the Browns, 23-20.

There are a few reasons why this is my biggest Jets’ disappointment ever. First of all, even though it wasn’t over, it did appear like the Jets were going to win. They were up ten, and late. The Jets had a good defense, and just needed to hold on, and they couldn’t do it.

Had then done it, I really do believe that they were going to win the Super Bowl. Their next opponent would have been the Denver Broncos, a team they had already beaten that year. Assuming they ended up facing the Giants, maybe it was my bias, but I felt we had a better team than the Giants in 1986.

Secondly, the blame fell on Mark Gastineau at the time, and he was one of my favorite players on the Jets’. As a nine year old, it’s easy to be disappointed when one of your favorite players costs, in your mind, the team a Super Bowl. Especially when it is the New York Jets.

And finally, we all knew this was going to be the end of the road. The 1986 Jets had an older nucleus. Many of the core players had been around since the late 70′s and early 80′s. This team was not built with a lot of young parts. So it was apparent that this group had this run in it, and they were going to fall off from there.

Did we know the drought would be as long as it was? No, of course not. But it was still disappointing to pretty much know that a drought was coming.

So, what do you guys think?

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  • speakincreeker

    A lot of people place the blame on Gastineau forgetting that Jets DB’s dropped a pair of potential interceptions that would have stopped the Browns. Johnny Lynn was one of the culprits. Of course Walton got tight as well not allowing the offense to continue to attack but got ultra conservative. It was a team collapse, just like when they went from 10-1 to 10-6 this game was a microcosm of the season.

    • Alan Schechter

      It sure was. I talked to Wesley Walker about this game a while back, and he basically mirrored what you said. Many of us fans were the only ones that blamed Gastineau.

  • LindaClaudine

    Gastineau was blamed because he was all about Gastineau. Not exactly a team player – his assists and even tackle numbers weren’t what they should have been. For that time, he was BIG & skated on that and pure redneck meaness. Even tho he held the single season sack record for 20+ years – there is a reason why he’s not and never will be in Canton. Favre let Strayhan get that final tackle for a reason – to get Gastineau knocked out of first. Sure, there were other player issues that game, but what he did and WHEN on the game clock he did it was what one might expect from a high school freshman, caught up in himself ‘cos he’s a Varsity starter, not a veteran Pro Bowl’er in his prime, playing for the AFC Championship & the very real possibility of ending up with a Ring (& maybe, eventually, a spot in Canton.) Even with his size, unless he had a personality transplant, he wouldn’t last in today’s NFL where that style and attitude would only gain him more and harsher penalties and a short career.