MetLife Stadium is the third-most-expensive sports venue ever built, behind only SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. But whereas those stadiums are home to teams still in NFL playoff contention, MetLife is home to two of the worst teams in the league: the Jets and Giants, two big failures from the Big Apple.
Since 2017, the two New York teams are tied for the worst record in the NFL: 22-58. (The Jaguars are in 30th place at 24-56, two games clear of that duo with one game left in the 2021 regular season.) During that span, neither the Jets nor Giants have made the playoffs or had a winning record. Both have cycled through multiple head coaches and used top draft picks on bad quarterbacks. And it’s not clear whether either team is headed in the right direction with their current brain trusts.
But the Jets and Giants haven’t merely been bad. They’ve been stubborn in their ineptitude, and prone to high-level embarrassments. They aren’t just losing week after week—they’re elaborately pratfalling in their billion-dollar stadium. After all, New York has always been a hub for great comedy.
As a Jets fan and a friend to many Giants fans, I set out to compile the worst moments of this five-year stretch during which both New York teams have occupied the league’s cellar. With honorable mentions to John Mara apparently knocking over trash cans in a fit of rage, Sam Darnold throwing a pick-six on his first NFL pass attempt, and the entire Jason Garrett offensive coordinator experience, here are the bottom 10.
10. The Mono Graphic (September 16, 2019)
I tried not to laugh when Darnold had to miss multiple games in 2019 due to a bout of mononucleosis. The spread of infectious disease is rarely funny, and while mono tends to be relatively harmless—one of the primary symptoms is tiredness—Darnold faced a risk of future complications. For a while, doctors feared that a violent tackle could cause the quarterback’s enlarged spleen to rupture.
But then ESPN made the following graphic for the Jets’ Monday Night Football game against the Browns. I couldn’t not laugh anymore.
Didn't get to watch last night's game so just now seeing how hilarious this graphic was pic.twitter.com/bIx3VsifbU— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 17, 2019
Darnold meets the camera’s gaze, as if to say, “Yes, I contracted a disease that’s mostly associated with horny teenagers—think you can stop me?” Within minutes, the Darnold Meme had taken flight:
Darnold wasn’t able to hook up with most of his receivers during his three seasons in New York. Considering the way mono is generally transmitted, though, he probably hooked up with somebody.
9. Adam Gase’s Eyes Go Wild (January 14, 2019)
Before being hired by the Jets in 2019, Adam Gase had spent almost 16 years working in the NFL. He wasn’t a great coach, but he appeared to be relatively competent, and he had a group of prominent supporters that included Peyton Manning. Then Gase came to New York and ruined his reputation in two seasons flat.
Lots of coaches have lost games with the Jets, but Gase’s tenure was ugly for more than just the record alone. He never seemed to care if he put his players’ long-term health at risk; he “spurned sports science” to make his practices more intense; he executed a power play to become the team’s interim general manager and pick the team’s next full-time GM; and he repeatedly acted as if the media were victimizing him.
This was all foreseeable from Gase’s introductory press conference, when he showed up with the paranoid energy of a soon-to-be-assassinated drug lord on the fourth day of a cocaine-and-murdering binge.
By comparison, watch Gase’s introductory press conference with the Dolphins in 2016. He looked like someone who, you know, had slept at any point within the past week.
8. The End of Eli’s Starting Streak (December 3, 2017)
It made sense that the Giants would think about moving on from Eli Manning toward the end of the 2017 season. The quarterback was 36 years old at the time, and producing at the lowest rate since he was a rookie. As the calendar turned to December, the team was 2-9 and in desperate need of an overhaul. So then–head coach Ben McAdoo—the one with the comically bad haircut and comically oversized play sheet—decided to bench Manning. He probably thought this would show how much he cared about the future of the franchise.
Instead, it served to piss off an entire fan base and expedite the end of McAdoo’s tenure. Before this Week 13 game against the Raiders, Manning had started 222 consecutive games dating back to 2004, a streak that was then second in league history to Brett Favre’s 321-start stretch. And the Giants didn’t have their quarterback of the future on the roster; their backup was Geno Smith, a then-27-year-old who had started just one game in the past two seasons. Manning was distraught.
Benching Eli served no practical purpose. Smith threw for 212 yards with a touchdown in a 24-17 loss, and never played another snap for the Giants. (Incidentally, Smith recently broke Russell Wilson’s 10-year, 165-game starting streak with the Seahawks, but this time that happened because Wilson was injured.) McAdoo managed to mess with Eli’s legacy without doing anything productive to help the future of the franchise.
McAdoo was fired immediately after the game. Interim coach Steve Spagnuolo quickly inserted Manning back into the starting lineup in an attempt to pretend that the episode never happened. Manning would start every game for the rest of that season and the 2018 season, but the streak was done. The Giants tried to sweep the broken vase under the rug, yet that didn’t make the vase any less broken.
Manning should have started 245 consecutive games for the Giants. A start streak is kind of meaningless—but somehow, the team’s reason for ending it was even more meaningless.
7. Joe Judge’s Weirdest Rant (January 2, 2022)
I could write a whole post on Joe Judge’s motivational tactics. The Giants hired him as their head coach in 2020, ending his stint as Bill Belichick’s special teams coordinator in New England. What does it mean when a team taps a special teams coach to be head coach? One interpretation is that it isn’t interested in offensive schemes or defensive tactics—it’s mainly interested in vibes. Judge’s vibe, unfortunately, is “high school gym teacher who gives an F to unathletic nerds just to screw up their perfect GPA.”
Over the past two years, Judge has helmed many unsuccessful attempts to establish team culture. The most famous is his insistence on making Giants players (and occasionally exercise-averse coaches) run laps for mistakes. This offseason, veteran center Joe Looney signed with the team, expressed surprise at having to run laps, and then retired. (Three other Giants retired around the same time, a trend that may or may not be related to Judge’s coaching style.) There was also the time Judge removed players’ names from practice jerseys; the time he ran something resembling the Oklahoma drill, leading to a scary player injury; the time he challenged a play he knew he couldn’t challenge just so he could yell at the refs; and the time he dove into the mud to demonstrate proper ball-security technique, in spite of the fact that the Giants play on turf and rarely have to encounter mud. (It hasn’t helped Daniel Jones stop fumbling.)
But Judge’s undisputed masterpiece is his press conference after last Sunday’s 29-3 loss to the Bears, a game in which quarterback Mike Glennon committed four turnovers and the Giants became the first team since 2009 to finish with negative passing yards. When asked a question about whether fans should keep supporting the team, Judge spoke for 11 uninterrupted minutes and made a variety of absurd statements:
- He said the 2018 Patriots’ coaching staff was “pretty convinced we were getting fired” halfway through that season, but turned things around and went on to win the Super Bowl.
- He said that “everybody quit” on previous Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, and that his current Giants players weren’t quitting on him.
- He said that players who were on the 2020 Giants were calling him “twice a week telling me how much they wish they were still here even though they’re getting paid more somewhere else.”
Every one of these claims is ludicrous. Judge was probably never on the hot seat in New England, as Belichick rarely fires assistants and the Pats were 6-2 midway through the 2018 season. Shurmur’s Giants didn’t seem to quit on him, as they finished the 2019 campaign by winning two of their final three games, whereas Judge’s team is on a five-game losing streak. And there are relatively few players from last year’s Giants who are making more money elsewhere. Even for those who are, it seems really unlikely that anybody would regularly call up their old boss to say they wish they could throw away their big contracts to fight for a spot on the 4-12 Giants.
Everyone in football can see that Judge is failing. But every one of Judge’s made-up supporters think his motivational tactics are a huge success.
6. Sam Darnold Sees Ghosts (October 21, 2019)
The Haunting of the Meadowlands happened in October 2019, during the heart of Spooky Season. Darnold turned in an abysmal outing against the Patriots, going 11-of-32 passing with four interceptions and a lost fumble in a 33-0 loss. But his problems didn’t end there: Since he was wearing a microphone for Monday Night Football, the entire world heard Darnold attribute his awful performance to a spectral sighting:
Exactly one year ago today, Sam Darnold was “seeing ghosts” pic.twitter.com/lM1dknZpGE— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) October 21, 2020
Although most viewers probably hadn’t heard the phrase “seeing ghosts” before this broadcast, it’s typical football parlance for a confused QB who is unsure about where defensive players might be. While Darnold handled the situation like an adult, Gase was livid that ESPN aired the comment, and threatened to refuse cooperating with any future NFL Films requests.
The actual embarrassing thing here was the Jets being shut out by a division rival in a game where their franchise quarterback committed five turnovers. But Gase got more worked up about the broadcast showing Darnold’s comment than the reason why the comment mattered. That’s how the Jets stay the Jets—ignore the bad stuff and focus on the petty.
5. Dave Gettleman Pretends to Type (April 27, 2018)
The Giants hired Dave Gettleman as general manager in 2018, bringing someone who had helped assemble a pair of Super Bowl champions in the front office back to New York. The Giants had the no. 2 pick in that year’s draft, and the obvious thing to do was take a quarterback. Manning was approaching the end of his career, and the 2018 class was stocked with appealing QB prospects, including Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. But Gettleman opted to begin his rebuild with running back Saquon Barkley.
While Barkley is an exceptional talent, NFL teams have recently avoided spending top picks on running backs. There are two main reasons for this: The running game has become decreasingly important in a league that prioritizes passing, and running backs get injured a lot. Since Gettleman took over in 2018, the Giants are the only team to use a top-20 pick on a running back, and it was the second pick in one of the most quarterback-heavy drafts of all time.
At a post-draft press conference, Gettleman was asked about the tendency of running backs to suffer injuries. In response, he made a silly face and pretended to type on a keyboard, mimicking one of those morons who use computers, like almost every single person you know. (Gettleman prefers to use a Nintendo Wii for his technological needs.) He might as well have rolled his eyes and given an air-wank.
Here's Dave Gettleman's response when asked about the positional value of RBs: "a lot of that's nonsense [...] someone who had this idea and got into the analytics of it" pic.twitter.com/8s23UQfoFE— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) April 27, 2018
As it turns out, the question that prompted Gettleman’s theatrics was extremely pertinent. While Barkley led the NFL in yards from scrimmage as a rookie, he missed time in the 2019 season with an ankle sprain and went down with a torn ACL two weeks into the 2020 campaign. Barkley missed another four games this year with an ankle injury. All told, he’s missed 21 of the 64 Giants games since he was drafted—33 percent.
This press conference interaction wasn’t even about analytics. It was about the indisputable fact that running backs frequently get hurt given their roles on the team. Anyone could figure this out without looking at a spreadsheet. But Gettleman dismissed the idea that running backs are regularly hurt as “nonsense.” As a counter, he pointed to Jonathan Stewart, a then 10th-year running back the team had recently signed, who Gettleman said had “hardly lost anything.” Stewart made six carries for 17 yards for the 2018 Giants before going down with a foot injury and retiring. In retrospect, it’s one of the worst examples Gettleman could have given.
Gettleman’s first draft pick was met with legitimate and accurate criticism. But with a silly face and a pantomime, he showed that he had no interest in considering any line of thinking besides his own—and made clear that he could never be taken seriously as the team’s GM. If it’s any consolation, I also make a variety of silly faces when typing about how the Giants should fire Gettleman.
4. Daniel Jones Takes a Tumble (October 22, 2020)
I could do almost nothing that NFL players do on the field: I couldn’t tackle or block effectively, I couldn’t throw a deep pass for a touchdown, and I couldn’t kick a field goal of any length. I don’t even think I could do some of the simpler stuff, like put down a hold or catch a punt without fumbling.
However, there is one thing I can do on the field that the quarterback of the Giants cannot. I can sprint 100 yards without losing my balance and falling face-first like a clumsy cartoon character who stepped on a banana peel.
In a 2020 loss to the Eagles, Jones got loose after the defense reacted as if he had handed the ball off on a zone read. This was a bad call; Jones is often used in the run game, and in 2020 he averaged nearly as many yards per rush attempt (6.5) as per pass attempt (6.6). After bursting into the open field on this play, he probably could have jogged to the end zone. But his upper body somehow started moving faster than his feet. He lost his balance, and he crashed to the ground. The Giants scored a few plays later, but all anyone remembers is Jones getting tackled by absolutely nobody.
Sometimes, it feels like Jones’s programmers left out massive swaths of the code football players are supposed to have, like “how to hold on to a football.” This play was the perfect summation: He had to run in a straight line to score a touchdown. He couldn’t do it.
3. The Medium Pepsi for Fan Appreciation (December 19, 2021)
Suffering through New York football takes an emotional and financial toll on fans. The Giants are usually terrible, but attending games is still incredibly expensive. Per The Athletic, the Giants have the league’s eighth-highest Fan Cost Index. So after clinching a fifth straight losing season, the team made a grand gesture to the fans who shell out thousands of dollars to support it. It offered those fans … a free medium Pepsi.
The Giants just announced fan appreciation day for Sunday. Season ticket holders get a free medium soda.— TheGiantsWire (@TheGiantsWire) December 17, 2021
You can almost imagine how this went down. One of the Giants executives suggested a fan giveaway. Another said that the giveaway shouldn’t be too expensive. Eventually the Giants settled on giving away the item with the lowest conceivable overhead: a medium soft drink.
What’s more, the Giants didn’t even give a free medium Pepsi to everybody in attendance at this December game against Dallas. They only gave out one medium Pepsi per season-ticket account.
Someone just told me that the free Pepsi at MetLife today is not one drink per ticket. It’s only for the person whose name is on the account— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) December 19, 2021
If the Giants really appreciated their fans, they’d make substantive changes to their staff and roster. But they appear set to head into next season with the coach who has bizarre motivational tactics and the quarterback who can’t run in a straight line without falling over. They have had five losing seasons in a row, and seem primed for at least two more. If they haven’t made the playoffs by 2025, maybe they’ll give fans a free large Pepsi.
2. Gregg Williams’s Game-Losing Blitz (December 6, 2020)
Here’s the situation: The 0-11 Jets lead the 6-5 Raiders by four points with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Las Vegas is trailing by too much to kick a field goal; there is hardly enough time for the offense to run multiple plays. There is only one real chance for the Raiders to win: They must complete a 46-yard touchdown pass before the clock expires.
Here’s the context: Jets fans want the Raiders to complete this 46-yard touchdown pass. They want to end the season winless so the franchise can get the top pick in the 2021 draft and select quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But the Jets players and coaches don’t want that. They’ve been grinding for months and are presumably tired of being the league laughingstock. They are one play away from a win.
It seems obvious that they should run an extremely conservative defense and put as many players as possible in the vicinity of the end zone. But Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has other ideas. He calls the most aggressive defense in his playbook, a Cover-Zero blitz that sends eight pass rushers after the QB and keeps defenders in man-to-man coverage. You don’t need me to tell you what happened next.
We’ve all gotten fed up watching teams allow critical yards in late-game scenarios because they refuse to rush the passer. But rushing eight is a galaxy-brain approach to this scenario that makes the only plausible path to defeat more likely. The Jets decided they were fine having a one-on-one matchup between wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, a 2020 first-round pick who ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and cornerback Lamar Jackson, an undrafted rookie. Jackson never stood a chance.
Many wondered whether the Jets were purposely trying to tank. But it seems clear that Williams had no incentive to lose; he was fired the very next day. This would have been a triumphant moment if it were intentional, but the Jets, as usual, never have a plan.
1. The Time the Jets Actually Won (December 20, 2020)
There’s only one thing more embarrassing for the Jets than the time they improbably lost a game their fans were thrilled that they didn’t win. It’s the time they won a game their fans desperately wanted them to lose.
Two weeks after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and convincing everyone that this was a team of 0-16 destiny, the Jets downed the Rams 23-20. It’s not just that they won—they beat a Rams team that finished 10-6 and went on to win a playoff game. The Jets entered as 17.5-point underdogs, making this the largest upset of the 21st century.
The result was devastating. Since the Jaguars held a tiebreaker in the draft order, all Jacksonville had to do was lose out to earn the no. 1 pick, which it did. The Jets finished 2-14 and got the second overall pick.
There are plenty of embarrassing moments on this list, but most of them were fleeting. It’s probably been years since you thought about McAdoo’s weird eyebrows. In 25 years, most people will probably have forgotten about the Darnold mono memes.
But that win over the Rams has a chance to echo through the decades. Both Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence had disappointing rookie seasons, but I remain convinced that Lawrence was the better prospect. The Jets have lost so many games in my decades of fandom—but I may spend the rest of my life thinking about that one damn win.