Head coach Bill Parcells
Owner Robert Kraft
|Division place 1st AFC East|
Start date 1996
Home field Foxboro Stadium
|Playoff finish Won Divisional Playoffs (Steelers) 28–3
Won Conference Championship (Jaguars) 20–6
Lost Super Bowl XXXI (Packers) 35–21|
Pro Bowlers T Bruce Armstrong QB Drew Bledsoe TE Ben Coates RB Curtis Martin DE Willie McGinest KR Dave Meggett
AP All-Pros T Bruce Armstrong (2nd team) KR Dave Meggett (2nd team)
Similar 1985 New England Patriots s, 1994 New England Patriots s, 1999 New England Patriots s, 1993 New England Patriots s, 1991 New England Patriots s
1996 new england patriots season
The New England Patriots participated in the National Football League's 1996 season, the team's 37th in football. The Patriots finished with a record of eleven wins and five losses, and finished first in the AFC East division. After a disappointing 1995 season, Drew Bledsoe bounced back with 4,086 passing yards and threw 27 touchdown passes to just 15 interceptions while Curtis Martin had another Pro Bowl season. The team lost Super Bowl XXXI to the Green Bay Packers.
The relationship between team owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Parcells collapsed during the NFL draft, when Parcells wanted to draft a defensive lineman but Kraft overruled him, giving head scout Bobby Grier the choice of a player, and receiver Terry Glenn was selected. Parcells stormed out of the Patriots draft war room after the choice was made and vowed to reporter Will McDonough that he was done with New England after 1996. Despite this, the Patriots rallied from a 0–2 start to finish 11–5, then defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers and the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars to advance to Super Bowl XXXI. The season saw the arrival of former Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick as he took over coaching New England's defensive backs.
Despite being intercepted three times, Jim Kelly burned the Patriots as his Bills won 17–10. The game was tied at 10 in the fourth quarter when a blitz was picked up and Kelly found Quinn Early for a 63-yard touchdown; the Patriots drove to the Bills 5 in the final seconds but were stopped on a draw play to Dave Meggett. The Buffalo win put the Patriots at 0–2.
Former New York Jet Boomer Esiason faced the Patriots in New England's home opener of 1996, and after the Patriots defense limited Boomer to four completions for 22 yards and two INTs he was benched and Kent Graham took over, throwing one pick and nineteen passes (for just nine completions) and 111 yards. Drew Bledsoe threw three touchdowns, two to Curtis Martin, who also rushed in an additional score in a 31–0 shutout. The only aspect of the Patriots' game that struggled was rookie PK Adam Vinatieri, who booted a 31-yard field goal in the fourth but missed a PAT and missed another field goal try, earning a mild rebuke from coach Bill Parcells in the postgame press conference.
The Patriots behind three field goals by rookie Adam Vinatieri, and touchdowns by Ben Coates and Curtis Martin led 22–0 (a Vinatieri PAT was blocked) in the final seconds of the first half, but from his 49 Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell escaped a sack and threw a desperation heave to the endzone; in the endzone scramble the ball was kicked in the air by Willie Clay of the Patriots and caught by the Jaguars' Jimmy Smith for a touchdown. Brunell completed long-bomb touchdown throws to Andre Rison and following a Martin fumble the Jaguars tied the game at 25. Keith Byars caught a late pass at the Jaguars 20 but it bobbled out and was intercepted by Dave Thomas of the Jaguars; Thomas ran back a touchdown but it was wiped out on a cut-block penalty on teammate Chris Hudson at the Jacksonville 33; with three seconds to go Brunell uncorked another desperation heave to the endzone; it was caught with one hand by Jags receiver Willie Jackson off the chest of Willie McGinest, but Jackson was ruled down at the one-foot line. The Patriots finally won on a 40-yard Vinatieri field goal in OT, the first game-winning FG in Vinatieri's career.
The Patriots made their first trip to Baltimore since losing to the Colts in October 1983; this time their foe was the former Cleveland Browns that had been coached by New England's assistant head coach and defensive backs coach Bill Belichick the year before. Now known as the Baltimore Ravens, they proved to be an offensive challenge (ironic as the Ravens would evolve into one of the league's strongest defenses) as Earnest Byner and Carwell Gardner rushed for 133 yards while future Patriot Vinny Testaverde threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Drew Bledsoe outdid Vinny with four scores, but New England leads of 35–14 and 46–22 weren't exceptionally secure as the Ravens scored 24 points in the fourth quarter. It wasn't enough to stop a 46–38 Patriots win. Rookie linebacker Tedy Bruschi ran in his first career touchdown when he caught a blocked Ravens punt near their goalline.
The Redskins rallied from down 16–10 behind two third-quarter scores by Gus Frerotte. With the Patriots now down 24–16 late in the fourth, a deep pass to Terry Glenn set up Curtis Martin's second touchdown of the game, but Martin's two-point run was blown up well short of the endzone. The Skins added a late field goal for the 27–22 win.
The Patriots fumbled twice and managed just 222 yards of offense, but the Colts fumbled four times and managed just three Cary Blanchard field goals. Jim Harbaugh had 223 passing yards and backup Paul Justin had 119, yet the Patriots won 27-9, their first win over Indianapolis since 1994.
The Bills rallied from a 13–0 halftime Patriots lead. An intentional-grounding penalty on Jim Kelly in the endzone was ruled a Patriots safety, but the Bills took an 18–15 lead on a Thurman Thomas run and a Darick Holmes two-point conversion. With 1:25 to go Curtis Martin stormed through for a ten-yard touchdown, but Adam Vinatieri's extra point was missed. Willie McGinest then ran back an interception for a 46-yard touchdown, but Kelly launched a desperation heave with 33 seconds to go and it was batted off the fingers of Patriot defenders and caught for the touchdown by Andre Reed. The Bills' onside kick attempt was then caught by Keith Byars, ending a 28–25 Patriots win.
Miami's playoff hopes in their first year under Jimmy Johnson had taken a blow the week before in a loss to Dallas and they suffered even more at Foxboro. Karim Abdul-Jabbar and Curtis Martin exchanged rushing scores for a 14–14 tie at the half, then after the Patriots took a 21–17 lead in the fourth Drew Bledsoe finished off the Dolphins, first on a short pass that Ben Coates carried 84 yards for a touchdown, then on a subsequent drive ending in a five-yard Sam Gash touchdown catch, finally on another drive ending in Martin's third rushing score of the day. Dan Marino was benched and backup Craig Erickson completed a 29-yard touchdown to O.J. McDuffie, but it could not stop a 42–23 Patriots win.
The Jets held Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots without a completion in the first quarter. Behind quarterback Frank Reich and running back Adrian Murrell the Jets stormed to a 21–0 lead before the Patriots began clawing back. Trailing 27–24 late in the fourth Bledsoe (24 of 30 for 297 yards after being shut out in the first) completed a first-down throw to Ben Coates on 4th and 2 to the Jets 49-yard line; the Jets disputed the ball spot by line judge Charles Stewart but the call stood. Bledsoe then completed a four-yard touchdown to Keith Byars, but the Jets roared downfield on a long throw from Reich to Jeff Graham to the Patriots 11-yard line. On the next play Reich was picked off by Lawyer Milloy for a 31–27 Patriots win. "They're the best 1–9 football team in history, I guess", Bledsoe said afterward.
The Patriots suffered their ninth straight loss to the Broncos as Terrell Davis ran roughshod over them to the tune of 152 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, and a 15-yard touchdown catch from John Elway, who ran in another touchdown himself in a 34–8 runaway win; the win was his eighth straight over the Patriots in the regular season plus a 1986 playoff win. Underscoring this, Shannon Sharpe was held in check by the Patriots with just 37 receiving yards but the rout inspired him to taunt booing Patriot fans by simulating a phone call to President Bill Clinton requesting the National Guard "because we are killing the Patriots!" The clip by NFL Films is among the most replayed in retrospectives on Sharpe's career.
The 7–4 Patriots hosted the 6–5 Colts as the AFC East looked to be another Buffalo Bills runaway with the Bills a game ahead of New England and two ahead of both Indianapolis and Miami. The Patriots took over the game from the opening quarter as Drew Bledsoe tossed touchdowns to Shawn Jefferson and Terry Glenn for a 17–0 halftime lead. A pair of Cary Blanchard field goals were answered by New England as Adam Vinatieri booted a second field goal and Curtis Martin's 141 rushing yards included a twelve-yard rushing score in the fourth. Jim Harbaugh was injured when Willie Clay was flipped over the line of scrimmage and landed on Harbaugh, who suffered a sprained left MCL. Backup Paul Justin drove the Colts downfield and threw a five-yard score to Marvin Harrison for a 27–13 Patriots final.
The Patriots crushed the Chargers 45-7 at Jack Murphy Stadium a week after San Diego went 7-5 in a win at Kansas City. Drew Bledsoe threw three touchdowns in the first half while Willie McGinest ran down a deflected fumble from the ten and scored. Stan Humphries suffered a concussion and was benched in favor of Sean Salisbury. Former Patriot Leonard Russell managed just 35 rushing yards.
The Patriots continued their scoring explosion with a 34-10 rout of the one-win Jets. The two teams combined for just over 600 yards of offense and three interceptions, two by Glenn Foley; Foley was also sacked four times, once by rookie Tedy Bruschi. The game was a penalty-laden affair, with 19 combined fouls for 140 yards.
Offense was smothered for the most part by both sides as the Patriots and Cowboys entered the game within reach of clinching their divisions and amid burgeoning rumors that Bill Parcells was going to leave New England. Drew Bledsoe and Troy Aikman were repeatedly stymied in the red zone (one Aikman incompletion went between the goalposts, prompting Chris Berman to joke afterward, "The kick is up....good!") and they combined for five interceptions and just 346 passing yards; Ty Law accounted for both Aikman picks while Bledsoe was picked off twice by Darren Woodson. Adam Vinatieri booted two field goals and also ran down Herschel Walker on a long kick return; this led Parcells after the game to say to Vinatieri, "You're not a kicker, you're a football player." Chris Boniol booted four field goals, but the game wasn't decided until Parcells went for it on two fourth downs in the fourth quarter and failed on both. The win clinched the NFC East for the Cowboys.
The Patriots visited Giants Stadium for the final game of the season and fell behind 22–0; Drew Bledsoe was called for intentional grounding in the endzone, making for a Giants safety; he was then picked off by Jason Sehorn for a 23-yard touchdown. Bledsoe stormed back with touchdown throws to Terry Glenn and Ben Coates (Coates needed to bull past two defenders to reach the endzone) to go with a Vinatieri 40-yard FG and a Dave Meggett 60-yard punt return touchdown. The Patriots won 23–22. Parcells specifically praised Glenn after the game for playing hurt and coming up with big plays in crunch time, showing that their relationship had improved immeasurably after a rocky start.
The Patriots hosted a playoff game for only the second time in their history, the first coming in 1978; ironically, like the 1978 game against the Houston Oilers, this 1996 game was against an AFC Central team. The game was shrouded in fog and was nicknamed by some "Fog Bowl II." The Steelers running game flamed out after their first possession, while the Patriots erupted; a 52-yard strike from Drew Bledsoe to Terry Glenn set up a two-yard Curtis Martin touchdown. Keith Byars ran in a 34-yard screen pass for a touchdown and Martin torched past eight defenders at his 22 and raced to a 78-yard touchdown and a 21–0 Patriots halftime lead; Martin would add a 23-yard score in the fourth to cap a 166-yard rushing day. Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart did not have a single completion in ten attempts, was held to just 19 rushing yards, and was periodically rotated in and out with Mike Tomczak (who gained more rushing yards – 20 – than Stewart); neither could stop a 28–3 Patriots rout.
The first-ever AFC title game in Foxborough was a low-scoring affair marked by major mistakes on both sides, frigid weather, and an embarrassing 4 and 1/2 minute delay caused by a 2nd quarter power outage at the archaic stadium. The Patriots took advantage of a muffed punt attempt by Jacksonville and scored an early TD. The teams traded field goals after that before two key Jacksonville turnovers—a Mark Brunell endzone interception and a fumble that Otis Smith returned 47 yards for the clinching TD—gave the Patriots a 20–6 win and sent the franchise to its 2nd-ever Super Bowl.