Turkey Day fiasco shaped Jets franchise

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
10:45
PM ET

 
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- They happened in a span of 52 seconds, three calamitous plays that changed the season and probably changed the franchise.

Boom! Boom!! Boom!!!

You've heard of the Minute Waltz? This was the Minute Faults, three mistakes that bordered on mind-boggling.

[+] EnlargeShane Vereen
AP Photo/Julio CortezShane Vereen's 83-yard score gave the Pats a 14-0 lead with 9:43 left in the second quarter.
It was 7-0 last Thanksgiving night, the New York Jets trailing the New England Patriots, when the madness started. Suddenly, it was 28-0, because for only the third time in modern football history, a team scored three touchdowns in a 52-second span.

"Un-[bleeping]-believable," Jets coach Rex Ryan muttered on the sideline after the third touchdown, his reaction easy to decipher for a nation of television viewers.

The Jets and Patriots meet Thursday night for the first time since the Thanksgiving debacle and, even though the Jets refused to look back -- "It's very hazy," tackle Austin Howard said with a straight face -- it's impossible not to reflect on that ill-fated night. The Jets are who they are now, in part, because of what happened in those 52 seconds.

They actually went into the game with a 4-6 record, coming off a road victory, thinking they had a chance to get back into playoff contention. The 49-19 loss, which included the infamous Butt Fumble, made them a laughingstock. Owner Woody Johnson was disgusted by the performance, according to sources, some of whom believe he made up his mind that night to fire general manager Mike Tannenbaum and start a rebuilding process with a new front office.

"It was the beginning of difficult times," retired special-teams coach Mike Westhoff said Tuesday. "In reality, was it the beginning of the end? I'm not sure if I believe that. But in the big picture, yeah, it probably was."

It's probably an eerie coincidence, but three players directly involved in the three touchdowns are out of football. Linebacker Bart Scott and guard Brandon Moore are retired, and running back Joe McKnight is looking for a job after being released in training camp. A fourth, quarterback Mark Sanchez, is injured and could be finished with the Jets.

[+] EnlargeSteve Gregory
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsForty-three seconds later, Steve Gregory scooped up the "Butt Fumble" and raced 32 yards for a score.
Could it be some kind of karmic justice?

Scott was supposed to cover running back Shane Vereen on a wheel route, but he didn't get to his spot on time and Vereen took a short pass and went for an 83-yard touchdown. There was 9:43 left on the second-quarter clock.

It would be Scott's final game versus the Patriots, against whom he enjoyed perhaps the highlight of his career. After the Jets' stunning win over them in the 2010 playoffs, Scott delivered his famous "Can't Wait!" rant.

Forty-three seconds after Tom Brady-to-Vereen, Sanchez aborted a running play after turning the wrong way on the handoff. He tried to run, the right move, but he ran into Moore's backside, hitting it with such force that Sanchez lost the football. It took a fortuitous bounce for the Pats' Steve Gregory, who made the scoop and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

The Butt Fumble was born, becoming part of the sports lexicon.

"It wears thin," Westhoff said of the seemingly endless references to the Butt Fumble. "I don't want to hear about it anymore."

On the ensuing kickoff, McKnight, a home-run threat, was blasted by Devin McCourty. The ball came flying out and hung in the air, as if being held up by an invisible string. Julian Edelman grabbed it on the run and sprinted 22 yards for another touchdown.

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesOnly nine seconds elapsed before the Pats' next touchdown, as Julian Edelman plucked a fumble out of the air and raced to pay dirt.
There was 8:51 on the clock. Patriots 28, Jets 0. It was so embarrassing that the Jets' most famous fan, Fireman Ed, couldn't take it anymore and left the building. For good.

Sanchez later referred to his fumble disaster as a "car crash," meaning the randomness of it. There were three car crashes in 52 seconds or, as Westhoff called them, "crazy negative plays." The probability of three fluke plays occurring in rapid-fire succession is incalculable. That each unit -- offense, defense, special teams -- was responsible for giving up a touchdown was fitting, because it was a true team meltdown.

This week, the Jets have made it a point to avoid any references to last Thanksgiving. But there's some relevancy because it's another short week. Obviously, they need to be better prepared, mentally and physical, than the last time.

"We don't even think about that one," wide receiver Stephen Hill said. "We haven't even talked about it. It hasn't been brought up at all. We're just ready for 2013 and ready to get it kicked off with the Patriots."

There are 57,600 seconds in a 16-game season. For the Jets, 52 seconds of epic failure will remain timeless.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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