Feature Image: New York Jets running back John Riggins (44) carries the ball against the Miami Dolphins at the Orange Bowl. (Credit: Spokeo)
Gang Green entered the 1974 season with a new head coach, Charley Winner.
Weeb Ewbank, who had served as New York’s head coach since 1963, resigned following a 4-10 1973 season to focus on his duties as the team’s general manager. Ewbank was Winner’s father-in-law.
1974 NFL Draft
The Jets had a subpar draft in 1974. Their first-round selection (sixth overall), DT Carl Barzilauskas, played four decent seasons with Gang Green, but frequent injuries hindered his production.
New York’s remaining picks resulted in no players who would contribute significantly to the organization in coming seasons, though some of these choices—DB Roscoe Word, a third-round selection, for example—enjoyed isolated moments of success.
Week One: At Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs rallied from a 13-0 first half deficit to defeat the Jets on opening day, 24-16.
Jets’ QB Joe Namath (14-30; 210 yards; 2 TD; 4 Int) had a mediocre afternoon. Of his four interceptions, two were especially costly. First, with the Jets up by 16-7 in the final minute of the first half, Chiefs’ DB Marvin Upshaw returned a pick 52 yards to pay dirt. Then, with two minutes left in regulation and the visitors driving for the winning field goal, DB Emmitt Thomas iced the game for Kansas City with a 38-yard interception return.
Although the Jets were only down by eight points, a one-possession game today, after Thomas’ score, the NFL didn’t adopt the two-point conversion option until 1994; thus, the 24-16 margin was a two-score difference.
This was the first regular season game in Jets’ history where the goal posts were in the back of the end zone. From 1933 to 1973, the goal posts were in the middle of the goal line at the front of the end zone.
Week Two: At Chicago Bears
The Jets earned their first triumph of 1974 with a 23-21 win at Chicago.
Behind an efficient game from Namath (16-23; 257 yards; TD), the Jets raced out to a 20-0 halftime lead before they held off a late Bears’ rally.
Week Three: At Buffalo Bills
The Bills edged the Jets, 16-12, on a rainy and windy afternoon in western New York.
Gang Green recovered from a 10-0 hole and took a 12-10 lead into the fourth quarter, but Buffalo RB Jim Braxton reached pay dirt for the winning points in that final period.
This contest was among the most inept passing games in NFL history. While Namath completed just two throws in the game, these were two more completions than Bills’ QB Joe Ferguson (0-2; 0 yards) attained. Nonetheless, Buffalo was able to prevail as a result of a stellar running game. RB O.J. Simpson gained 117 yards on the ground, and Braxton galloped for 84 yards.
To date, this is the most recent NFL game where a team failed to complete a single pass. Additionally, it is the most recent contest to feature as few as two combined completions. Finally, the two combined completions were the fewest cumulative total in any NFL game since the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Steelers managed just one completion in a 13-0 Pittsburgh triumph on Nov. 29, 1942; the Steelers had the only completion in that game.
For the third straight game, Gang Green K Bobby Howfield missed an extra point attempt.
This loss commenced a six-game skid for the Jets, which left them with a 1-7 record.
Week Five: New England Patriots
In the Jets’ home opener at Shea Stadium, the visiting Patriots blanked New York by 24-0. It was the first time the Jets were shut out at home in their 14-year history.
Namath (7-21; 63 yards; 2 Int) had an awful game.
The loss was especially disconcerting for the Jets because they had dominated the Patriots in recent seasons. Coming in, Gang Green had won 14 of its previous 15 games against New England, including eight straight at home.
Week Seven: Los Angeles Rams
New York suffered its fifth straight loss, 20-13, to the Rams.
The Jets held a 13-6 lead entering the final period before the game abruptly got away. Rams’ RB Lawrence McCutcheon scored a touchdown seconds into the fourth quarter, and he did so again moments later after Namath (19-32; 155 yards) threw one of his two interceptions.
Week Eight: Houston Oilers
Houston beat the Jets, 27-22, on the strength of RB Willie Rodgers’ one-yard touchdown plunge late in the fourth quarter. New York previously went ahead by 22-20 on a 35-yard field goal by Howfield with 3:57 left, but a 51-yard pass from Oilers’ QB Dan Pastorini to WR Ken Burrough quickly got Houston back on track.
Week Nine: At New York Giants
The Jets took just their second win of the season, 26-20 in overtime. The winning points came on a five-yard touchdown pass from Namath to RB Emerson Boozer after Giants’ K Pete Gogolak missed a 42-yard field goal try on the home team’s opening possession in overtime.
This game was played at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn. The Giants played their home games at the Yale Bowl in 1973 and 1974.
This was the Jets’ first ever overtime game. A single sudden-death extra period was added to the NFL regular season in 1974 such as to reduce the number of ties; a whopping total of seven games had ended without a winner in 1973.
Regular season overtime play continued to be sudden death until the current format was implemented in 2012. Structure aside, overtime has succeeded in limiting the amount of NFL ties—there have been just five tie games in the league since 1990.
With Howfield unavailable due to injury, the Jets signed K Pat Leahy, a soccer player from St. Louis, for this game. Unbeknownst to the Jets at the time, Leahy would be their placekicker until 1991.
This win commenced a six-game surge to close out the season.
Week 10: At New England Patriots
The Jets avenged their earlier loss to the Patriots, 21-16.
Gang Green’s defense stole the show in this game. After recording just five interceptions over their first nine games, the Jets picked off Patriots’ QB Jim Plunkett four times in week 10; Roscoe Word—the team’s third-round pick—earned New York’s final interception, which came in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Week 11: Miami Dolphins
Gang Green defeated the two-time defending Super Bowl Champions, 17-14, to earn its first home win of the season. The deciding points came on Namath’s 45-yard touchdown pass to TE Rich Caster midway through the fourth quarter.
Week 12: San Diego Chargers
Behind three touchdowns—two rushing and one receiving—by RB John Riggins and two Leahy field goals, the Jets jumped out to a 27-0 lead against the Chargers, and they held on for a 27-14 win.
A first-round pick of the Jets (sixth overall) in the 1971 NFL Draft, Riggins was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, mainly as a result of his tenure with the Washington Redskins, who he played for between 1976 and 1985.
Riggins was named the MVP of Super Bowl XVII following the 1982 season; Riggins rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown in Washington’s 27-17 win over Miami.
While he’s remembered mainly for his career with Washington, Riggins performed solidly for the Jets. His 68.0 rushing yards-game average in 1974 was eighth best in the NFL, and he rushed for 1,005 yards in 1975, his final season with New York.
Week 14: At Baltimore Colts
After defeating Buffalo for a fifth straight win, the Jets downed the Colts, 45-38, to finish the season with a respectable 7-7 record.
Namath (19-28; 281 yards; 2 TD) and Riggins (107 yards; 2 TD) both enjoyed solid games.
On Nov.13, 1974, a burned out Ewbank announced that he would resign as the Jets’ general manager following the season. Al Ward, the Dallas Cowboys’ vice president of administration since 1966, was named Gang Green’s new general manager on Feb. 13, 1975.
The Jets had rebounded impressively from their 1-7 start, and their future suddenly looked bright.
Perhaps most significantly, Namath’s play dramatically improved at the end of the season. After throwing 17 interceptions and just nine touchdown passes over New York’s first eight contests, Namath fired 11 touchdown passes against only five interceptions down the stretch.
As a result of his strong late-season performance, Namath, who was limited to only six games in 1973 because of injury, earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
With six straight wins to culminate the season, Winner’s Jets were beginning to live up to the coach’s name. The team had big expectations entering 1975.