The 2004New York Jets season saw the team try to improve on its 6–10 2003 record. The Jets started the season by winning their first five games, which was a franchise record. They ultimately finished 10–6, and clinched the fifth seed in the playoffs, reaching the postseason for the third time in four seasons. They upset the AFC West champion San Diego Chargers in the Wild Card round, winning in overtime 20–17, but would lose in the Divisional round to the Pittsburgh Steelers, also by a score 20–17 in overtime.
The Jets were granted the 12th pick in the first round of the NFL Draft by virtue of their 6–10 record in 2003. They used this pick to take linebackerJonathan Vilma from the University of Miami. They were also granted the maximum four compensatory draft picks as a result of losing premium free agents before the 2003 season.
The major story heading into this game was the professional debut of Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. However, the Jets' offense, led by running back Curtis Martin, spearheaded the Jets' victory. After an early fumble led to a Bengals touchdown, the Jets took the lead late in the first quarter and never trailed. Martin ran for 196 yards and a touchdown, as well as a touchdown reception, and was an opening day record for Jets running backs. Quarterback Chad Pennington, making his first opening day start in his career, threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns and was an efficient 20-for-27 passing.
The Jets got out to a 20-point lead before holding off a second-half comeback by San Diego. Two Curtis Martin touchdowns helped stake New York to a 17–0 lead, which grew to 27–7 after a field goal and a touchdown pass from Chad Pennington to Jerald Sowell. The Chargers finally responded late in the third quarter with a four-yard touchdown run from LaDainian Tomlinson, followed by a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Brees to Reche Caldwell. A one-yard touchdown pass from Pennington to Chris Baker in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach for San Diego.
Martin's 119 yards made him the Jets' all-time rushing leader, passing Freeman McNeil's mark of 8,074 yards.
The Dolphins were looking for their first win while the Jets were looking to stay undefeated. Midway through the first quarter, Santana Moss returned a punt 24 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Curtis Martin. The Dolphins responded with 2 field goals. Leading 10–6 late in the 2nd quarter, Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was picked off by Arturo Freeman to set up a third Olindo Mare field goal and a 10–9 deficit. On Miami's opening drive of the second half, quarterback Jay Fielder was intercepted by Donnie Abraham who returned in 66 yards for a touchdown putting the Jets ahead 17–9. That's all the cushion the Jets would need as the defense went on the force 3 more turnovers and hold on to beat the Dolphins keeping them undefeated at 3–0
The Jets looked to go 4–0, while the Bills looked for their first win of the year. The Jets started off strong with a 61-yard drive to the Bills 11, however Doug Brien's 29-yard field goal attempt on 4th down was wide left. Both teams traded punts before the Jets went on a 79-yard drive which took 4:12 off the clock and ended on a Chris Baker 1-yard touchdown reception from Pennington. Both teams traded punts once again before the Jets advanced to the Bills 19 and Doug Brien nailed a 37-yard field goal seconds before halftime. With 6:56 left in the 3rd Pennington hit Wayne Chrebet on a 27-yard catch which set up a 36-yard field goal by Brien. After a Bills punt Pennington led the Jets down the field before he was intercepted by Jeff Posey. The Bills then advanced 53 yards before Bledsoe hit Mark Campbell on a 16 yard Touchdown. After a Jets punt, Bledsoe led the Bills on a 63-yard drive capped off on a 46 yard Lee Evans touchdown giving them the 14–13 lead with 6:58 left in the game. However the Jets wouldn't go down and went on a 60-yard drive which ended on a game winning Doug Brien 38-yard field goal with 59 seconds left in the game. The Bills were able to get to their own 48-yard line before Bledsoe threw a game sealing interception to Terrell Buckley with 2 seconds remaining in the game.
The Jets came into the game having lost 2 straight while San Diego was on a roll. The Jets started out the game well driving down the field on their opening drive only to see kicker Doug Brien miss a 33-yard field goal wide right. In the second quarter, Chargers quarterback Drew Brees found receiver Keenan McCardell for a 26-yard touchdown pass to give San Diego a 7–0. The Jets responded as Jets quarterback Chad Pennington found Anthony Becht for a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. New York kept the momentum into the 3rd quarter as Santana Moss pulled in a perfect 46-yard touchdown pass from Pennington to give the Jets a 14–7 lead. The teams traded field goals. Then San Diego got the ball back with under 5:00 to play. The Chargers drove down to the Jets 3-yard line but faced a 4th and goal at the 3. Bree's desperation pass was knocked down for an apparent Jets victory. But a roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Eric Barton gave the Chargers a second chance. The quickly took advantage of the opportunity as Brees found Antonio Gates for a 1-yard touchdown pass to send the game into overtime. 10 minutes into the extra period the Chargers were in position to win the game off the foot of rookie kicker Nate Kaeding. But his 40-yard field goal sailed wide right as the Jets took advantage of their second chance driving down to the San Diego 8. Doug Brien connected on a 28-yard field goal to give the Jets the win and in the process advancing them to the next round to face the Steelers. Pennington's numbers were very impressive as he was 23 of 33 for 279 and 2 TDs. Brees was 31 of 42 for 319 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were looking to make it 15 straight games as they hosted the New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Round. Pittsburgh started out well as Jeff Reed hit a 45-yard field goal then Jerome Bettis plowed into the endzone from 3 yards out to give Pittsburgh a 10–0 lead. But New York stormed back. Following a field goal by kicker Doug Brien, Santana Moss took a punt return 75 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. Then late in the third quarter Reggie Tongue intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown to give the Jets a 17–10 lead. Pittsburgh responded midway through the fourth quarter as Hines Ward scored on a shovel pass to tie the game. Chad Pennington and the Jets offense was shut down for most of the game however drove down the field on the ensuing drive only to see it come to a disappointing halt as Doug Brien's 47 field goal attempt hit the crossbar and falling just short. But on the very next play, Roethlisberger was picked off by David Barrett. Doug Brien was given a chance to win the game on the last play of regulation but missed the 43-yard kick wide left sending the game into overtime. In overtime, Roethlisberger led the Steelers 73 yards on 13 plays. Jeff Reed then connected on a 33-yard field goal to give the Steelers an improbable win and handing the Jets a heartbreaking defeat.