Fifty Years Of Patriots Football:1995-1999
Coming of their successful 1994 campaign, optimism for the Patriots was at an all time high.
They had the owner in Kraft, the coach in Parcells, and the franchise quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe was able to lead the New England Patriots to the playoffs for the first time since the 1980’s.
What did 1995 have in store for this up and coming franchise?
The Patriots drafted University of Pittsburgh running back, Curtis Martin in the 3rd round of the NFL draft.
Martin proved to be far more than just a third rounder.
The 1995 season did not start how the Patriots wanted. They started to repeat the team’s inconsistent ways.
Overachieving one year and underachieving the next.
The team started off 1-5 and never was able to emulate the magic from the previous playoff season. New England finished a very disappointing 1995 campaign with a 6-10 record.
However, not all was lost in 1995.
Rookie running back, Curtis Martin came into his own in a very big way that season. Martin rushed for 1487 yards and 14 touchdowns earning himself a Pro Bowl selection and Rookie of the Year honors.
Tight end, Ben Coates also had a great year recording 84 catches for 915 yards, 6 for scores. He joined teammate Curtis Martin in Hawaii and was also named First Team All-Pro.
The Patriots had the offensive weapons in place and they would pay great dividends in 1996.
It just seems New England always started slow out of the gate and 1996 was no different.
The Patriots started the season 3-3 before they got hot.
New England went 8-2 down the stretch including a miraculous comeback versus the Giants in the Meadowlands.
The Pats trailed 22-0 at the half. It was a crucial game due to its playoff implications. A New England victory would give them the AFC East title.
They had their work cut out for them.
Drew Bledsoe connected on touchdown passes to rookie sensation, Terry “She” Glenn (8 catches for 124 yards, 1 td) and old reliable, Ben Coates. Troy Brown also pitched in with 7 catches for 75 yards including a sensational grab on his back.
Former Giant, David Meggett not only helped Ben Coates across the goal line to seal the comeback, but he also ran back a punt which turned the momentum of the game.
Final score: Patriots 23 Giants 22
New England finished the season 11-5 and won the AFC East, securing a first round bye in the playoffs.
The Patriots would face the Steelers in the divisional playoffs at home. It was a foggy day to begin with and the pre game pyrotechnics smoke didn’t help the situation.
The Steelers never saw what hit them.
Bledsoe hit Terry Glenn deep to set up one of Curtin Martin’s 3 rushing touchdowns on the day. Martin gashed Pittsburgh for 166 yards on 19 rushes including a 78 yard touchdown scamper.
Pittsburgh was held to only 3 points and the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship for the first time since the 1985 season.
Who would they play?
Everything pointed to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Historically, the Patriots have never played well in Denver.
Every Patriot fan was rooting for Jacksonville in a monumental upset and they got just that.
Marc Brunell and the Jags defeated the Broncos in Denver, 30-27.
The AFC Championship would be held in Foxboro for the first time in franchise history and I was there.
It was a frigid January day, one of those days where you couldn’t feel your feet.
The Patriots hot play heated up frigid Foxboro in a hurry.
New England was too much for the upstart Jags, sealing the game on an Otis Smith INT return for a touchdown.
Final score: Patriots 20 Jags 6
The Patriots were going to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans to face Brett Favre and the Packers.
The Pack struck first. Favre connected with Andre Rison for a quick 7-0 lead.
The see-saw battle would go back and forth with the Patriots taking a 14-10 lead on two Bledsoe scoring strikes to close out the first quarter.
Green bay would score the next 17 points to put the Pats in a 27-10 hole. Curtis Martin would cut the lead to 27-21 in third quarter, but that would be as close as New England would get.
Desmond Howard took the kickoff (aided by a hold on Adam Vinatieri) 99 yards to seal the Super Bowl win for Green Bay.
Final Score: Packers 35 Patriots 21
The Patriots played a valiant game that could have gone either way and I canceled my plans to meet them at Logan for the victory celebration.
Folks in New England were used to the heartbreak and disappointment.
However, were the Patriots distracted?
Coach Bill Parcells and Owner Bob Kraft were no longer seeing eye to eye. As Parcells stated earlier in the season regarding the drafting of Terry Glenn, “They usually let you shop for the groceries.”
The Super Bowl would be the last game coached by Bill Parcells in New England as he jetted to bitter rival, New York.
It was the end of an era in New England when pro football became relevant again.
Fittingly, the Patriots hired former Jets head coach, Pete Carroll as their next skipper.
Carroll led the Patriots to their second consecutive AFC East Title in 1997 with a 10-6 finish. They would defeat Miami in the wildcard round and then lose a hard fought game to Pittsburgh, 7-6 in the divisional round.
Drew Bledsoe had another Pro Bowl season and Curtis Martin broke the 1,000 yard plateau for a third consecutive year.
The offseason before the 1998 season was a tough one for the Patriots. They would lose their star running back, Curtis Martin to free agency. The salt to the wounds was that Martin signed with his former coach, Bill Parcells and the hated New York J-E-T-S. This just fueled the rivalry and border war between the two clubs.
To offset the loss of Martin, New England drafted running back, Robert Edwards in the first round out of Georgia. Edwards paid instant dividends in 1998, posting over 1100 yards and 9 scores.
Edwards and the Patriots started out uncharacteristically quick in 1998. New England started out 4-1, but faltered down the stretch losing 6 of their next 11.
The Pats snuck in the playoffs before getting ousted in the first round by Jacksonville.
The decade ended on a sour note for New England. Star running back, Robert Edwards suffered a career threatening knee injury in a rookie flag football game at the Pro Bowl. The Pats had to sign veteran running back, Terry Allen to fill the hole in the running game.
The Patriots began the 1999 season with four straight wins, but they would finish the season at a disappointing 8-8 and would miss the playoffs for the first time in 4 years.
Pete Carroll was dismissed by the Patriots at the conclusion of the season.
The Kraft family would have to find a head coach that could bring the leadership and success back to the Patriots that Parcells did.