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Under the direction of Head Coach Charley Winner, the Jets roared back from a 1-7 start to the 1974 season with six consecutive victories to finish with a .500 record. QB Joe Namath had seemingly returned to vintage form during the surge, and the team’s future looked bright.
Though it took a while, the Jets found themselves a gem in the 1975 NFL Draft.
After a poor early-round performance — Gang Green didn’t have a first-round choice, and its second-round pick, RB Anthony Davis, elected to play in the World Football League (WFL) — New York selected C Joe Fields in the 14th round (349th overall). Fields would spend the next 13 seasons with the Jets, during which he was selected to two Pro Bowl teams.
On Sept. 9, 1975, two weeks prior to the start of the regular season, the Jets acquired RB Carl Garrett, who had won the 1969 AFL Rookie of the Year Award as a member of the Boston Patriots, from the Chicago Bears, in exchange for third-string RB Mike Adamle. This trade was deemed necessary after backup Jets’ RB Emerson Boozer, who had been with the club since 1966, endured a separated shoulder. The Bears were willing to trade Garrett because they had selected a running back, the late future Hall-of-Famer Walter Payton, in the first round of the 1975 NFL Draft.
Gang Green faced some difficult situations prior to the 1975 regular season.
Namath seriously considered leaving the Jets such as to play for the Chicago Winds of the WFL, but a deal proved elusive, and Namath remained with New York. Not coincidentally, the WFL ceased operations several months later.
Additionally, the Jets’ locker room became divided because of a players’ strike.
New York’s final preseason contest against the New England Patriots was cancelled when New England players voted to strike by a 39-2 margin. The major issues behind the walkout included the “Rozelle Rule,” which forced compensation for free agent signings and effectively limited player salaries; pension and medical benefits; and the players’ union contract — the old one had expired more than a year earlier, on Jan. 31, 1974.
Jets players elected to strike in support of their counterparts on the Patriots, but many of them weren’t as passionate about the issues and just wanted to play. Either way, a resolution was reached during the week prior to opening day.
Week One: At Buffalo Bills
The Jets commenced the new season in dreadful fashion, losing to the Bills by 42-14.
New York’s run defense was terrible in the loss. Bills RB O.J. Simpson galloped for 173 yards and two scores, and backups Jim Braxton and Don Calhoun amassed 119 rushing yards between them.
If there was a bright spot for the Jets on the afternoon, it was TE Rich Caster, who caught six passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Caster would have a great season in 1975. En route to his third Pro Bowl selection, Caster ranked sixth in the NFL with 820 receiving yards, and his average of 58.6 receiving yards per-game also placed sixth in the league.
Week Two: At Kansas City Chiefs
Behind a dominant ground attack, New York rebounded the following Sunday with a 30-24 victory at Kansas City.
The Jets got off to a good start as both RB John Riggins and Garrett scored touchdowns from one-yard out in the opening period. Neither man was finished. Riggins concluded the game with 145 rushing yards, and Garrett wasn’t far behind; he ran for 135 yards.
Week Three: New England Patriots
Gang Green’s passing game erupted as the Jets won their home opener, 36-7, to improve their record to 2-1 on the year.
After enduring subpar performances in each of the first two contests, Namath (15-21; 218 yards; 4 TD; Int) came alive against the Patriots. Of his four touchdown throws, two went to Caster during a 19-point second quarter, and two went to WR Jerome Barkum in the second half.
Week Four: At Minnesota Vikings
After rallying from a 20-7 third quarter deficit for a 21-20 fourth quarter lead, the Jets melted down and lost to the Vikings, 29-21.
New York went ahead, 21-20, on a two-yard touchdown run by Garrett early in the final quarter, but the game would soon get away. With the Jets backed up, P Greg Gantt had his punt blocked through the end zone for the deciding safety, and the Vikings drove for the game-sealing touchdown off the ensuing free kick.
Riggins played solidly in the loss. The running back amassed 122 all-purpose yards and scored a pair of touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground.
This loss commenced an eight-game skid for the Jets, which left them with a 2-9 record.
Week Five: Miami Dolphins
Back at Shea Stadium, the Dolphins humiliated the Jets, 43-0. Namath (8-24; 96 yards; 6 Int), in particular, was terrible in the loss.
The shutout defeat was the second suffered by the Jets in as many seasons at home after they hadn’t been blanked in their own building over their first 14 campaigns.
The 43-point margin of defeat was the third-worst in team history at that point.
Previously, the Jets had lost by 48 points in a 48-0 defeat at Kansas City on Dec. 22, 1963 and by 46 points in a 53-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 2, 1963.
This blanking remains the second-worst shutout loss in team history. Furthermore, New York has suffered only a single more lopsided loss in the seasons following this contest: a 53-point, 56-3 defeat at New England on Sept. 9, 1979.
Week Seven: Buffalo Bills
The Bills came back from a 23-7 third quarter deficit to complete a head-to-head sweep of the Jets, 24-23.
HC Winner potentially cost his team a victory with a questionable decision.
The Jets led by 23-17 with less than six minutes remaining and were faced with a fourth-and-one at the Bills’ 20-yard line. Instead of attempting a field goal, which would’ve given New York a two-possession lead— K Pat Leahy had nailed all three of his attempts on the day — Winner decided to go for the first down. The Jets didn’t convert, however, and Buffalo went ahead for good moments later when Simpson caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from QB Joe Ferguson.
Week Nine: At Baltimore Colts
The Colts handed the visiting Jets their sixth straight loss, 52-19.
Even worse than the setback, however, was the state of player morale. First, T Ed Galigher and LB Steve Reese got into a fight on the sideline late in-game. Then, in the locker room, frustrated WR Eddie Bell asked the rhetorical question “When your defense gives up 45 to 50 points a game, what can you do? “ to Gerald Eskenazi, the Jets’ beat reporter for The New York Times (Eskenazi, Nov. 17, 1975, p. 39).
Bell did have a point about the Jets’ defense, which was statistically the worst in the NFL in 1975. Still, it never looks good when teammates start blaming each other.
With the losses mounting and the locker room in disarray, Winner was fired after less than two years as head coach on Nov. 19, 1975.
Ken Shipp, the team’s offensive coordinator, assumed head coaching duties for the remainder of the season.
Week 12: At New England Patriots
Following humiliating losses in each of Shipp’s first two games, the Jets snapped their eight-game slide by edging the Patriots, 30-28.
In completing the season-sweep of New England, Namath (14-18; 160 yards) was efficient, and Riggins (152 rushing yards; 2 TD) was outstanding.
Week 13: At San Diego Chargers
The Jets lost in their only Monday Night Football appearance of 1975, to the Chargers, 24-16.
Shipp gave QB J.J. Jones (1-5; 13 yards; Int) the start after Namath missed curfew the previous night. It was the only time all season that Namath (15-29; 181 yards; Int) didn’t start, though he did play from the middle of the second quarter on.
Week 14: Dallas Cowboys
In the season finale, the Jets blew a 14-0 lead in an eventual 31-21 loss to the Cowboys. The setback left New York with a disappointing 3-11 record.
In the loss, Riggins ran for 62 yards to finish the campaign with 1,005 rushing yards. He thus became the first running back in the franchise’s 15-year history to achieve a 1,000-yard season.
Previously, FB Matt Snell held the Jets’ single-season rushing record; Snell ran for 948 yards in 1964.
As a whole, the 1975 season was a disaster for the Jets.
The defense was terrible. This unit ranked last in the 26-team NFL in both yards (5,456) and points (433) allowed, and it didn’t make up for its general ineptitude with big plays; Gang Green’s defense was fifth from the bottom in 1975 in forcing turnovers.
Furthermore, Namath had a disappointing season. Though New York’s signal caller finished 10th in the NFL in touchdown passes (15), he led the league in interceptions (28). The interception title came by a fairly wide margin too — Namath threw four more picks than his closest contester, Raiders’ QB Ken Stabler, did.
Even Riggins’ great season wasn’t entirely positive, at least from a Jets’ standpoint. Riggins signed with the Washington Redskins as a free agent after the season, and because the “Rozelle Rule” was invalidated by a court decision in early 1976, the Jets received no compensation from Washington. Gang Green had lost arguably its best player for nothing.
Most of the hope that beaconed entering the 1975 campaign had long since disappeared. The Jets would need a new coach and a new direction if they were to succeed in 1976.