The 1996New York Jets season began with the team trying to improve upon its league-worst 3–13 record from 1995. However, this season proved even more calamitous as they finished 1–15, which is the worst record in franchise history. This led to the resignation of head coach Rich Kotite after the season ended.
O'Donnell was the starter for the first six games of the season, but they went 0–6 under him. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during pregame warmups before the seventh game. Longtime Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Frank Reich replaced him, but he didn't fare much better. They lost to Jacksonville and Buffalo, before the now lowly 0–8 Jets beat former Jets QB Boomer Esiason and his new team, the Arizona Cardinals (although Esiason didn't play for the game for Arizona), in Sun Devil Stadium for what would be their only win of the season, in their first game against the Cardinals since 1978. Kotite announced his resignation on December 20.