New York Jets hope to end prime-time misery -- no ifs, ands or butt fumbles

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A butt fumble and a butt wipe. Mangled ligaments. A ghost sighting. The return of a villain. Blowouts, lots of blowouts. Tears in the locker room. A regrettable Snapchat in the locker room. An enemy celebration that went long and high into the night, with margaritas, lots of margaritas.

Get ready, America: The New York Jets are back in prime time, which usually means night terrors for the franchise with the NFL's longest active playoff drought.

"When the Jets are in prime time," former quarterback Boomer Esiason said, "expect the unexpected."

The Jets have lost six straight and 17 of their last 23 games at night, dating to the infamous Butt Fumble in 2012, but there's more to their recent nocturnal history than the record. You see, they don't just lose; they sometimes lose in calamitous fashion, with everything from quarterback injuries to embarrassing moments.

The franchise that delivered one of the greatest games -- the Monday Night Miracle in 2000 -- also is responsible for memorable clunkers. Desperate to change their losing culture, the Jets (2-5) hope to start a new trend Thursday night in their only scheduled prime-time appearance in 2021 -- a matchup against the Indianapolis Colts (3-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network).

New coach, (mostly) new team. New karma?

"We're definitely moving in the right direction, but we've got to make sure that we don't let a victory like (last Sunday) get to our heads," said linebacker C.J. Mosley, referencing their upset over the Cincinnati Bengals led by quarterback Mike White. "When you do the right things, you're supposed to win those games. That's the next step we have to get to -- don't be satisfied because we got a big win. We have to keep going, keep going, keep going."

There's no better stage than a national game, but the Jets have a tendency to shrink under the glare of the lights.

Starting with the Butt Fumble game, their winning percentage in prime time (.304, 6-17) actually is lower than day time (.364, 43-75), although former linebacker Bart Scott argued there's no difference.

"I don't think it's a prime-time thing; it's a Jets-have-sucked thing," he said. "You could put them at 1 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 5 o'clock ... they're losing all of them."

Scott was playing for the Jets on Thanksgiving night, 2012, when quarterback Mark Sanchez ran into the rear end of guard Brandon Moore and coughed up the ball against the New England Patriots. The Butt Fumble was born. In some ways, it marked the end of an era of prosperity and introduced a decade of hard times.

"Every team has some type of blooper they'd rather get rid of," said Scott, now an ESPN radio and TV personality. "The good thing about being in New York, things live forever. The bad thing about being in New York, things live forever."

Esiason was at the game, working as a radio analyst.

"I knew the moment it happened that it was going to be something etched in eternity for the Jets fan," he said. "If you had a headstone for the Jets, the Butt Fumble would be etched into it."

A few weeks later, after a horrible Monday-night performance (four interceptions) against the Tennessee Titans, Sanchez wept in the locker room after being told by coach Rex Ryan that his time as the starting quarterback was over -- a seminal moment for the franchise.

The Jets were laughed at again in 2018, when running back Isaiah Crowell scored against the Cleveland Browns -- his former team -- and pretended to wipe his backside with the football before tossing it into the Cleveland crowd. He was penalized and fined $13,000 by the league, also drawing the ire of coach Todd Bowles.

Crowell's mother didn't appreciate it, either. She had a watch party at her home in Georgia and was "totally shocked" by her son's crude gesture, she told ESPN. Isaiah cleaned up, though, parlaying the incident into an endorsement deal with Dude Wipes, a product that billed itself as a toilet-paper substitute for men.

That night in Cleveland was a total disaster, as the Jets blew a 14-point lead and lost 21-17. The Browns, in quarterback Baker Mayfield's debut, snapped a 19-game winless streak.

In 2016, the Jets found themselves in the middle of another PR mess. Before a Saturday night game against the Miami Dolphins, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and safety Rontez Miles made a Snapchat video from inside the locker room that included profanity and derogatory comments about women. The fallout from the video overshadowed a blowout 34-13 loss.

No one suffered more embarrassment than quarterback Sam Darnold, whose "ghost" game moment on a Monday night in 2019 will live in infamy. In the middle of a four-interception nightmare against the Patriots, Darnold, miked up by ESPN and NFL Films, told a coach on the sideline, "I'm seeing ghosts."

Quarterbacks sometimes use that expression when they're confused and think they see defenders who actually aren't there. Somehow, it got through the TV gatekeepers, made it on air and went viral within minutes. The Jets lost 33-0. In many ways, Darnold never lived it down.

"That was unfair," Esiason said. "That should've never happened to him."

Prime time hasn't been kind to the Jets' quarterbacks. In 2019, Trevor Siemian, starting for the ill Darnold, suffered a season-ending ankle injury at the hands of Cleveland's Myles Garrett in a 23-3 loss. In 2020, Darnold was body-slammed to the ground by Denver Broncos linebacker A.J. Johnson, causing him to miss four games with a shoulder injury and expediting the end of his Jets' career.

The Jets wound up losing 37-28 that night to a third-string quarterback named Brett Rypien, who was making his first career start. It effectively ended Adam Gase's coaching tenure even though he was allowed to finish the season, which made the fan base apoplectic.

Perhaps the ultimate indignity occurred in 2015, when Ryan -- fired by the Jets -- returned to his old home as the Buffalo Bills' coach and stuck it to his former team in a highly-anticipated grudge match. Fueling the acrimony, Ryan made backup linebacker IK Enemkpali a game captain -- the same Enemkpali cut by the Jets a few months earlier after punching quarterback Geno Smith in the face.

Ryan celebrated that night. Oh, boy, did he celebrate. His favorite New Jersey Mexican restaurant catered the Bills' postgame spread, which included margaritas for the flight home. The drinks flowed freely for Rex and his staff, which toasted their 22-17 victory.

Why are the Jets so bad in prime time? Night games require a change in the weekly practice schedule, which requires players to manage their bodies and mental preparation differently than in a normal week. That can be problematic for inexperienced players, according to Scott.

"The prime-time games are much more about your preparation and the routine, which is difficult because a lot of people don't have routines because they don't play in prime-time games that often," he said.

The bottom line is, the Jets just haven't been good enough. Get this: They topped the 30-point mark only twice in the last 23 games, the highlight of which was Darnold's NFL debut in the 2018 opener -- a 48-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. The Jets haven't been over .500 since that night, 54 games ago.

The new Jets want to change the bad mojo. Half the players on the roster weren't on the team last season, and that includes nine rookies. They were teenagers when Sanchez crashed into his teammate's butt, so they don't know about the history. Ignorance is bliss, right?

On the night of the Butt Fumble, White -- the Jets' one-game quarterback sensation -- was preparing for a high-school playoff game in Florida. Now, after an unlikely series of events, he hopes to change the Jets' dark history.

"It's pretty cool to be watching," coach Robert Saleh said of White's sudden rise.

Mike White, ghost buster? Tune in.