A Monday Night Football matchup between NFL divisional rivals with matching 9-2 records should have been a network’s dream. That December 2010 game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots didn’t play out as expected, but the aftermath was even more unexpected. Instead of going into a full-blown tantrum over a pathetic performance, coach Rex Ryan devised an ingenious plan to put his team back on track and headed to the playoffs.
Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots mauled the New York Jets
Ryan’s Jets finished 9-7 in 2009, his first season as head coach, and ended one victory short of a trip to the Super Bowl. They lost their 2010 opener to the Baltimore Ravens, but the Jets picked up a key Week 2 win by defeating the Patriots, 28-14. It was the start of a tear that saw New York climb to 9-2 ahead of its Monday Night Football game at New England, also 9-2.
The AFC East rematch was no contest. Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to four different receivers as the Patriots steamrolled the Jets, 45-3. Brady finished 21 of 29 for 326 yards while counterpart Mark Sanchez was throwing three interceptions.
There was nothing positive for Ryan’s Jets to take away from an embarrassing night.
Rex Ryan welcomed Jets players back to practice by conducting a bizarre funeral
Darrelle Revis, a mainstay of the secondary from 2007-12, recalled arriving at practice the day after the awful loss to the Patriots and watching Ryan give up on the traditional film review. Instead, Ryan told the players and coaches to meet him out on the practice field. When they got there, someone had dug a ditch.
“He stops in front of the ditch, saying his speech,” Revis said on an episode of Bleacher Report’s Untold Stories. “‘We got embarrassed. I know you guys are better than this … We can do better as a coaching staff.’”
At that point, an assistant coach handed Ryan a football, presumably the game ball from the night before.
“He was like, ‘I’m gonna tell you guys right now, this will never happen again,’ Revis said. “He’s like, chanting with the ball and waving it back and forth.
“He’s like, ‘We’re going to bury this ball right here, as a coaching staff, as a team.’ He buries the ball, and the guy is over there putting the dirt on it.”
Rex Ryan’s odd approach paid off
Revis said he had never seen anything like the funeral that Ryan held for the football, but it mostly had the intended effect of keeping players from dwelling on an anomaly. The Jets followed a 10-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins five days later by rebounding to beat a strong Pittsburgh Steelers squad, 22-17. They lost a 38-34 shootout to the Chicago Bears, then closed the regular season with a 38-7 rout of the Buffalo Bulls to finish 11-5.
The Jets opened the postseason by beating the Indianapolis Colts, 17-16, on a Nick Folk field goal as time expired. That set up the much-anticipated rematch with the Patriots.
Returning to New England to take on Belichick’s Patriots, Sanchez was a different quarterback. He threw his third touchdown of the contest two minutes into the fourth quarter, and New York held on for a 28-21 victory to avenge the 45-3 blowout.
Once again playing for a spot in the Super Bowl, the Jets traveled to Pittsburgh but fell behind in the first half, 24-0. The Steelers held on for a 24-19 victory, and it was never the same for New York in the Ryan era.
Once the team slipped to 4-12 in 2014 to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year, Jets management conducted a burial of its own – of Ryan’s tenure in New York. He resurfaced the following season with the Bills, who fired him after records of 8-8 and 7-8.