Gang Green fans have endured many a roller coaster season over the years, and 2000 proved to be no exception. Preseason coaching turmoil gave way to solid play for much of the year, before a late season collapse kept the Jets out of the playoffs.
On January 3, 2000, Bill Parcells resigned as Jets’ head coach following an 8-8 1999 season. Parcells, who attained a 29-19 record over three seasons with the Jets, said he could not make the commitment to coach the team going forward; as per Parcells’ wishes, Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick assumed head coaching duties.
The coaching situation was far from resolved, however. Moments before his first media session the following day, Belichick handed President Steve Gutman a note that read, “I resign as H.C. of the N.Y.J.” After only one day as Jets’ head coach, Belichick was done. He explained that the instability of the team’s ownership situation—longtime owner Leon Hess had passed away in May, 1999—made him uncomfortable taking the job.
Less than a month after his resignation, Belichick agreed to become head coach of the New England Patriots. Both the Jets and the NFL asserted the Pats’ new coach was still controlled by the Jets, however, and the Patriots were forced to compensate New York with a first round draft pick as a result.
On January 18, 2000, Woody Johnson purchased the Jets and, less than a week later, Al Groh was named the team’s new head coach. A disciplinarian, Groh had served as New York’s linebackers’ coach during the Parcells era.
Retooling the Roster
The Jets made some major moves before the 2000 season. On April 12, the team traded top WR Keyshawn Johnson, the first overall selection in the 1996 NFL Draft, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first round draft picks.
The Jets selected a record four times in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft. After choosing defensive ends Shaun Ellis and John Abraham with the 12th and 13th picks, respectively, QB Chad Pennington was taken 18th overall. TE Anthony Becht was also picked by New York with the round’s 27th pick. All four of the Jets’ first round selections in 2000 would offer solid, though not necessarily spectacular, contributions in the coming seasons.
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Despite the tumultuous offseason, the Jets began the 2000 season impressively, winning their first four games for the first time in franchise history. QB Vinny Testaverde was back as the team’s signal caller after missing the final 15 games of 1999 with a ruptured left Achilles tendon.
After a 20-16 opening day win at Green Bay, the Jets pulled off a big fourth quarter comeback in their home opener against Belichick’s Patriots the following Sunday. Down 19-7 in the final period, WR Wayne Chrebet caught two touchdown passes from Testaverde, and the Jets pulled out a 20-19 victory.
The Jets would pull off another impressive come-from-behind win on September 24 at Tampa Bay. With New York down 17-6 late in regulation, star RB Curtis Martin stole the show. First, he caught a TD pass from Testaverde with two minutes left, and the Jets pulled to within 17-14 following a successful two-point conversion. The Jets got the ball back on Tampa RB Mike Alstott’s fumble, and with one minute remaining, Martin took a handoff from Testaverde and threw the game winning TD pass to Chrebet. Johnson was held to only one receiving yard in the first game against his former team.
The Tampa victory gave the Jets a 4-0 record entering their bye week.
The Monday Night Miracle
On October 23, the Jets and Dolphins, each 5-1 on the year, met in a Monday Night Football game at the Meadowlands with first place in the AFC East at stake. Miami dominated early and took a commanding 30-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
In what would become known as the “Monday Night Miracle” or the “Midnight Miracle,” the Jets staged the greatest comeback in team history. Just five minutes into the fourth quarter, they pulled to within 30-20 after WR Laveranues Coles and TE Jermaine Wiggins each caught the first touchdowns of their respective careers from Testaverde. New York unsuccessfully attempted a two-point conversion following Coles’ TD, however, and was forced to chase that point for the remainder of regulation.
Kicker John Hall nailed a 43-yard field goal that brought the Jets to within 30-23, before Testaverde found Chrebet for the tying score with 4:01 remaining.
The game didn’t remain tied for long, though—Dolphins’ QB Jay Fiedler threw a 46-yard TD pass to WR Leslie Shepherd on the ensuing play from scrimmage, and Miami retook the lead, 37-30.
Unfazed, Testaverde led the Jets down the field again, and with 1:20 remaining, he found tackle Jumbo Elliott for the tying touchdown; Elliott juggled the ball, only to secure it while diving to the ground. It was the first and only TD reception of the tackle’s eventual 14-year career.
The game went into overtime where, with 13:50 remaining, Jets’ DB Marcus Coleman intercepted a Fiedler pass. Coleman’s clutch play set up Hall’s game-winning 40-yard FG, which gave the Jets an unbelievable 40-37 victory. With a 6-1 record, New York took over first place in the AFC East.
Gang Green’s good fortune would not last long; the Jets lost three consecutive games after their win over Miami. In the team’s ensuing game at Buffalo, kicker Steve Christie drilled a 34-yard field goal as time expired to hand the Jets, who had rallied from a 17-7 halftime deficit to tie the game, a heartbreaking 23-20 loss.
New York also lost its next two games, a home contest against Denver and a road game at Indianapolis, to fall to 6-4. Late in the Denver game, the Jets were trailing 30-23 but in the red zone. On 2nd and goal at the two, a scrambling Testaverde saw FB Richie Anderson wide open on the right side of the end zone; the QB couldn’t get enough on the throw, however, and the ball fell to the turf in front of Anderson. Testaverde’s next two passes were also incomplete, and the Jets fell 30-23.
Following the setback at Indianapolis, the Jets got hot again. They won a road game at the Dolphins, before coming home to beat the Bears and the Colts. The Jets won all three of these games in convincing fashion and with three games remaining, the team held a 9-4 record. They needed only one win in their final three games to secure a playoff spot.
The 2000 season ended disastrously for the Jets. New York lost its final three games and missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
The season ending three-game skid commenced with a 31-7 defeat in an ESPN Sunday Night Football game at Oakland. Testaverde sat out the entire second half with a groin injury; backup QB and current SNY analyst Ray Lucas mopped up the game.
The next week, the Jets lost their home finale 10-7 to the Detroit Lions on a messy field. With 12 seconds remaining, Hall was called on to attempt a game tying 35-yard field goal—the kick was missed wide-left, however, and New York needed a win at Baltimore to clinch a playoff berth.
Coincidentally, 2000 was the first year in which Giants Stadium incorporated a grass field; Astroturf had been used previously. After three problematic seasons with natural grass, the more stable FieldTurf was installed at the Meadowlands for the 2003 season.
The season finale at Baltimore began well for the Jets, who jumped out to a 14-0 lead after a quarter. Against the historically good 2000 Ravens’ defense, the Jets’ offense performed relatively well on the day; Testaverde threw for a season-high 481 yards.
Unfortunately for Gang Green and its fans, this final game would turn into a microcosm of the season as a whole, namely a collapse. Baltimore rallied for a 34-20 victory behind two second half punt return TDs from WR Jermaine Lewis, who had endured the death of his son only days earlier.
One week after the season ending loss at Baltimore, Groh became the third man to resign as Jets’ head coach in less than a calendar year. He immediately signed on to become the new head coach at his alma mater, the University of Virginia. By finishing 9-7, Groh is one of only two head coaches to compile a winning record with the Jets; Parcells is the other.
Groh’s tough demeanor angered many of his players, most notably Testaverde who said that the coach’s tough practices had worn the team out. In any event, Groh was replaced by the more player-friendly Herman Edwards, then defensive backs coach for Tampa Bay, for the 2001 season.