Back when the NFL had just 28 teams, quirks in the schedule caused some odd circumstances. Despite being in different divisions, the Jets and Chargers faced each other twice during the 1990 regular season.
This Sunday the New York Jets host the San Diego Chargers in their final home game of the 2017 season.
The Chargers still have an outside shot at either winning the AFC West or reaching the postseason as a Wild Card team. With a record of 7-7, the Chargers need to win both of their final two regular-season games to have a chance.
Sunday will be the 37th meeting (postseason included) between the two franchises. The Chargers have dominated the Jets during the regular season, winning 21-of-34 games, while the Jets have won both postseason meetings.
Los Angeles went 11-2-1 in the first 14 meetings, however, the Jets have played much better recently, having won 12 of the 22 overall matchups since. Although both teams play in different divisions, there was one season where they played each other twice.
Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, the league has a strict scheduling policy. Each NFL team plays two games against each of your three division opponents, single games against a division in your conference and the opposite conference and a game each against the two other divisions in your conference based on your final standings from the previous season.
However, from 1978 to 1994, the NFL’s schedule looked to reward fifth-place teams with an easier schedule. It wasn’t until the NFL expanded to 30 teams in 1995 that each of the six divisions in the NFL had five teams each.
In 1989 the Jets finished in fifth place in the AFC East while the Chargers finished in fifth place in the AFC West. What that meant for the 1990 schedule was the teams would face each other twice. How the NFL schedule worked for those 17 seasons was that the fifth-place team would face each division opponent twice, the teams in their conference that were in the four-team division once each, the fifth-place team from their conference twice and both fifth place teams from the opposite conference once.
That same quirk in the schedule affected the Jets after they finished in fifth place in 1980 and 1983 as well. In 1981 the Jets faced non-divisional opponent Seattle twice, and in 1984 they met Kansas City twice.
Bruce Coslet was entering his first season as head coach for the Jets in 1990 and took over a team that was aging and finished 4-12 in 1989. While the Jets were competitive against most teams in 1990, one opponent they desperately struggled against was the Chargers.
After starting their franchise in Los Angeles in 1960, the Chargers moved to San Diego where they stayed until last season.
The two teams first met at the Meadowlands on Oct. 14, 1990. The Jets were coming off yet another late-game loss to Dan Marino the previous week and entered with a record of 2-3. The Chargers came to New York losers of four of their first five games after suffering a blowout loss to Bubby Brister and the Steelers at home.
As most Jets fans saw this season with their loss at Denver two weeks ago, despite Gang Green being favorites heading into the game, this franchise is capable of pulling a stinker anytime. On that October Sunday Jets fans would have been better suited staying home. San Diego ran the ball down the Jets throat, totaling 224 rushing yards. Overall the Chargers outgained the Jets 412-to-188 in a 39-3 ransacking.
Rich Cimini of Newsday remembered it this way.
“The Chargers gained 224 yards rushing, including a 40-yard touchdown run by Rod Bernstine that made the Jets look silly. Bernstine split the defense, bouncing off tacklers. The Jets’ defenders pursued Bernstine as though they had their hands tied behind their backs. ‘I feel like committing a crime,’ cornerback James Hasty said.”
Bernstine wasn’t even the most efficient runner that day as Marion Butts crushed the Jets for 121 yards on 26 carries.
The two teams met again in San Diego seven weeks later. Once again Butts exposed the Jets defense, running for 159 yards on 26 carries as the Chargers blew out the Jets 38-17.
For Jets fans, getting severely beaten by a playoff team twice stings, but not quite like getting outscored 77-20 against a team that finished the season 6-10.
The 1990 Jets season ended with consecutive wins against New England and Tampa Bay as they finished 6-10 in Coslet’s inaugural season.
The 2017 Jets face circumstances similar to that of the 1990 team as their season winds down. A young team that can play equally as bad as they can good, needs to learn from their experiences and carries them on to the next season.
The 1991 Jets learned from 1990. Not only did they avenge both their losses against the Chargers with a dominating 24-3 win against San Diego in Week 13 at the Meadowlands, but they also qualified for the playoffs.
Let’s hope the 2017 Jets can learn some of those same lessons.