History of the New England Patriots
The history of the New England Patriots began when Boston business executive Billy Sullivan was awarded the eighth and final franchise of the developing American Football League (AFL) on November 16, 1959. The following winter, locals submitted thousands of ideas for the Boston football team's official name. Sullivan chose "Boston Patriots," which was suggested by 74 fans, among them Larry Kepnes. Immediately thereafter, artist Phil Bissell developed the "Pat Patriot" logo.
The Patriots' time in the AFL saw them without a regular home stadium. Lowell High School's Cawley Stadium, Nickerson Field, Harvard Stadium, Fenway Park, and Alumni Stadium, all in or near Boston, served as home fields during their time in the American Football League. Early Patriots stars included defensive tackles Jim Lee "Earthquake" Hunt and Houston Antwine; quarterback Vito "Babe" Parilli; and flanker-placekicker Gino "The Duke" Cappelletti. Hunt, Parilli and Cappelletti played every year of the existence of the AFL, with Hunt and Cappelletti spending all ten years with the Patriots. Cappelletti was the all-time leading scorer in the AFL. Later the Patriots were joined by such stars as defensive end Larry Eisenhauer, fullback Jim Nance, and middle linebacker and future Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti. Cappelletti and Nance were AFL Most Valuable Players, Cappelletti in 1964 and Nance in 1966. Buoniconti and Antwine were later named to the American Football League All-Time Team.
The Boston Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills in an AFL Eastern Division playoff game in 1963, and played in the 1963 AFL championship game, losing to the San Diego Chargers 51–10. Although they would not appear again in an AFL or NFL post-season game for another 13 years, in the AFL, the Patriots often challenged the dominant Bills for the Eastern Division title.
When the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, the Patriots were placed in the AFC East division, where they still play today. The following year, the Patriots moved to a new stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, which would serve as their home for 30 years; the team also changed their name to the New England Patriots to reflect the location change, as well as its following throughout the region as its only NFL team (though both New York City teams have substantial followings in parts of Connecticut as well). During the 1970s, the Patriots had some success, earning a berth to the playoffs in 1976—as a wild card-berth—and in 1978—as AFC East champions. They would lose both games. In 1985, they returned to the playoffs, and made it all the way to Super Bowl XX, which they lost against the Chicago Bears 46–10. Following their Super Bowl loss, they returned to the playoffs in 1986, but lost in the first round. The team would not make the playoffs again for eight more years. They changed ownership several times in that period, being purchased from the Sullivan family first by Victor Kiam in 1988, who sold the team to James Orthwein in 1992. Orthwein intended to move the team to his native St. Louis, Missouri, but sold the team two years later to current owner, local businessman Robert Kraft in 1994.
Though Orthwein's period as owner was short and controversial, he did oversee major changes to the team. Former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells was hired in 1993, and the drastic changes were made the same year to the Patriots uniforms, changing their primary colors from their traditional red and white to blue and silver, and introducing a new logo. Parcells would bring the Patriots to two playoff appearances, including Super Bowl XXXI, which they lost to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 35–21. Pete Carroll, Parcells' successor, would also take the team to the playoffs twice.
Bill Belichick, current head coach, was hired in 2000, and a new home field, Gillette Stadium was opened in 2002. Under Belichick, the team won three Super Bowls in four years, and finished the 2007 regular season with a perfect 16–0 record, becoming only the fourth team in league history to go undefeated, and the only one since the league expanded its regular season schedule to 16 games. The Patriots have made the playoffs in 9 of the 12 seasons that Belichick has been coach, missing them only in 2000 (his first season), 2002, and 2008.
- 1 Earlier NFL experience
- 2 1960–69: AFL beginnings
- 3 1973–78: Fairbanks era
- 4 1979–84: Coaching changes
- 5 1985: First Super Bowl appearance
- 6 1986–1992: Ownership changes and struggles
- 7 1993–96: Parcells era
- 8 1997–99: Pete Carroll years
- 9 2000–present: Brady/Belichick era
- 9.1 2000: Belichick Hired
- 9.2 2001: The 'Tuck Rule Game' and the First Super Bowl Championship
- 9.3 Gillette Stadium
- 9.4 2002: Narrowly Missing the Playoffs
- 9.5 2003–04: Back-to-Back Super Bowl Titles
- 9.6 2005–06: Playoff Losses
- 9.7 2007: 18-1
- 9.8 2008: Brady gets Injured
- 9.9 2008–09 offseason: Changes
- 9.10 2009–10: Early Playoff Exits
- 9.11 2011: Return to the Super Bowl
- 9.12 2012-2013: Playoff Loss to Baltimore
- 10 Notes and references
Earlier NFL experience
Boston had previously been home to several NFL teams. The first was the Boston Bulldogs, which lasted only one season (1929). They were followed by the Boston Braves/Redskins, from 1932 to 1936. They had played first at Braves Field and then at Fenway Park. The team did not draw well, even in their final season when they reached the NFL Championship Game, and moved to Washington following the 1936 season. The Boston Yanks played from 1944 to 1948 before moving to New York to become the New York Yanks.
1960–69: AFL beginnings
On July 30, 1960, the Boston Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills in the first AFL pre-season game. The Boston Patriots played in the first-ever game in the American Football League, against the Denver Broncos on September 9, 1960. Although the team made only two AFL playoff appearances, it had numerous stars. In 1963, eleven Patriots made the AFL All-star team, including Gino Cappelletti, Jim Colclough, Nick Buoniconti, and Babe Parilli. That year the Patriots made it to the AFL Championship for the first time ever, but lost to the San Diego Chargers 51–10. Linebacker Tom Addison, an original Patriot and the first Patriot all-star, founded and was selected President of the AFL Players Association in the mid-1960s. In the late-1960s, fullback Jim Nance became an offensive weapon for the Patriots, gaining 1,458 yards in 1966 and 1,216 in 1967, when he was the AFL MVP.
After bouncing around between four different Boston-area stadiums in their first 11 seasons, in 1971 the Patriots moved into a new stadium in suburban Foxborough (also known as Foxboro), on land granted by the Bay State Raceway. The team was renamed the New England Patriots in March 1971, to reflect its new location roughly halfway between Providence and Boston as well as a desire to better position itself as New England's regional NFL team (this would influence the name of the New England Whalers hockey team when they began play in 1972, like the Patriots, labeling themselves a New England team). The original choice, Bay State Patriots, was rejected by the NFL. The stadium, to be known as Schaefer Stadium, was built at a cost of about $7.1 million in only 325 days. The stadium was one of the first stadiums in the country to be named after a corporate sponsor, as the Schaefer Brewing Company paid $150,000 for naming rights. Additionally, the town of Foxborough was one of the first in the country to assess a surtax on every ticket sold.
The first event held at the new Schaefer Stadium was a preseason game against the New York Giants on August 15, 1971. In a sign of things to come, in the days leading up to the game, there was great concern with the plumbing at the facility. To ensure the proper functioning of the plumbing, a "flush-off" was conducted, where every toilet in the stadium was flushed at the same time, to ensure that the plumbing could withstand the heaviest use.
On the field in 1971 was a new quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett. Plunkett, from Stanford University, was the first overall selection in the 1971 NFL Draft, which the Patriots received for having finished with the NFL's worst record in 1970. The Patriots also signed free agent Randy Vataha, who had been one of Plunkett's favorite wide receivers at Stanford.
1973–78: Fairbanks era
The Patriots continued to have difficulties even after moving to Schaefer Stadium, and went through three coaches in their first four post-merger seasons. One bright spot was the arrival of offensive guard John Hannah in the 1973 NFL Draft. Hannah would anchor the Patriots' offensive line for the next 13 seasons and eventually become the first career Patriot to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This draft also brought running back Sam Cunningham, the team's all-time leading rusher, and wide receiver Darryl Stingley to New England.
In 1973, the team hired Chuck Fairbanks, who had enjoyed success as head coach at the University of Oklahoma, as head coach. The Patriots showed marked improvement in Fairbanks's first season 1974, finishing 7–7, but with injuries to Plunkett in 1975, regressed to 3–11 that season. Following the 1975 season, Plunkett was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, and eventually would win two Super Bowls with the Oakland Raiders.
The draft picks acquired in the Plunkett trade were used to select defensive backs Mike Haynes and Tim Fox and set the stage for the team's first winning seasons in the NFL. Second-year player Steve Grogan - who had played much of the 1975 season with Plunkett injured - became New England's top quarterback in 1976. The Patriots finished 11-3, their best record in team history to that point, and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1963.
Their opponent in the first round would be the Oakland Raiders, whose only regular season loss had come at the hands of New England, 48-17. By late in the game, the Patriots were leading the Raiders, 21–17. On a critical 3rd-down play late in the 4th quarter, Patriots defensive tackle Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton appeared to get a critical sack on Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler, which would have forced the Raiders into a 4th-down situation and the possible end to their season. However, referee Ben Dreith called a roughing the passer penalty on Hamilton, nullifying the sack and giving the Raiders an automatic 1st down deep in New England territory. Replays would show that there was no illegal contact - a point that Stabler himself would all but concede in interviews years later. The call would ultimately prove fatal to the Patriots, as Stabler would score on a short touchdown run with less than a minute left, and the Raiders held on for a 24–21 win. Partially because of the controversy, the league never assigned Dreith to officiate Patriots games again.
The 1977 season was a disappointing one for the Patriots, aided by contract holdouts by offensive linemen John Hannah and Leon Gray. The Patriots finished 9–5, one game out of first place in the AFC East, and out of the playoffs.
In a 1978 preseason game against the Raiders, wide receiver Darryl Stingley was paralyzed from the neck down from a tackle by Oakland's Jack Tatum. Tatum, who would write a book called "They Call Me Assassin", never apologized for the hit. Despite this devastating loss, the Patriots would rally and finish 11–5 for their first post-merger division title. However, hours before the final game of the regular season, coach Chuck Fairbanks surprised many by announcing he would be leaving the team to become head coach at the University of Colorado. Owner Billy Sullivan immediately suspended Fairbanks, and offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt and defensive coordinator Hank Bullough were left to coach the final game without a head coach. Fairbanks was reinstated for the playoffs, but the team lost its divisional playoff game 31-14 to the Houston Oilers, which also was the first Patriots post-season game at Schaefer Stadium.
1979–84: Coaching changes
For the next two years, the Patriots would suffer late-season collapses that would deny them return trips to the playoffs. In 1979, after starting 7–3, the team lost four out of their last six games, including three in a row to divisional rivals in December, to finish 9–7 and out of the playoffs. In 1980, with star running back Sam Cunningham holding out all season, the Patriots started 6–1 but finished 10–6, again out of the playoffs. With these performances in mind, a local sportswriter intimated that the team suffered from the "Bozo Syndrome," meaning that they played "like clowns in the clutch." The Patriots continued to slide in 1981, finishing 2–14, including two losses to the Baltimore Colts which were the only two games the Colts won that year. The Patriots would be outscored by only 48 points throughout the season, while the Colts allowed an NFL-record 533 points and finished with a minus-274 point differential, the second-worst since the AFL-NFL merger.
Following the 1981 season, Erhardt was fired and replaced by Ron Meyer, who had been the head coach at Southern Methodist University. The Patriots had the top draft pick overall in the 1982 NFL Draft and selected Kenneth Sims, a defensive end from the University of Texas at Austin, who would largely prove to be a disappointment in his seven seasons with the team.
In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the highlight of the Patriots' campaign was the so-called "Snow Plow Game", a controversial 3–0 late-season win over the Miami Dolphins. The controversy came in the 4th quarter when the Patriots were preparing for a field goal attempt. Mark Henderson, a convict on work release, used a John Deere tractor with a rotating sweeper to clear a swath of field to aid the Patriots. Kicker John Smith's 33-yard attempt was good, and the points would prove to be the only points scored by either team that afternoon. The win would help put the Patriots in the playoffs, but the first-round rematch in Miami was easily won by the Dolphins.
In 1983, quarterback Tony Eason was drafted in the first round, the fourth of six quarterbacks taken in the first round. Eason would play sparingly in 1983, but would become the Patriots' starting quarterback in 1984. Meanwhile, the team's pattern of not being able to finish seasons strong became apparent again. The team again lost some key games late, and finished out of the playoffs at 8–8. Also that year, the naming-rights deal with Schaefer expired, and Sullivan renamed the stadium Sullivan Stadium after himself.
The Patriots, with the top overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft, selected Irving Fryar, a wide receiver from the University of Nebraska. With Tony Eason starting at quarterback, the Patriots got off to a strong 5–2 start. However, after a pair of losses, the Patriots fired head coach Ron Meyer and replaced him with former Baltimore Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry. The players initially responded well to Berry, winning three of their first four games under him. However, showing once again a failure to finish strong, the Patriots again lost three straight games in December, and again missed the playoffs at 9–7.
1985: First Super Bowl appearance
After struggling to start the 1985 season, new coach Raymond Berry replaced Eason with Grogan. But Grogan broke his leg late in the season, and Eason got the starting job again. New England won six straight games and finished 11–5, with a wild card playoff berth. During the season, wide receivers Stanley Morgan and Irving Fryar, tight end Lin Dawson, and running back Craig James all led the Patriots in touchdowns. In the wild card round of the playoffs, the Patriots beat the New York Jets 26-14 for their first playoff win since 1963. In that game, Morgan caught a touchdown pass from Eason, and defensive back Ronnie Lippett returned a fumble for a TD to seal the victory. In the divisional playoff against the Los Angeles Raiders, the Patriots forced six turnovers and won 27-20, gaining a measure of revenge for their crushing 1976 defeat. Dawson started the game with a touchdown, then when the Patriots were kicking off in the 4th quarter, a fumble by the Raiders resulted in a touchdown for Jim Bowman. After winning two playoff games, this set up an AFC Championship showdown against the rival Miami Dolphins. The Patriots had lost 20 straight games in Miami at the time, but won this one, dominating the Dolphins defensively again en route to a 31-14 win. Eason threw touchdowns to running back Tony Collins and tight end Derrick Ramsey to get the game started. Later, a Mosi Tatupu touchdown put the game away with the Patriots as the AFC Champions of 1985. Thus the Patriots completed an improbable run to Super Bowl XX, where they faced the Chicago Bears.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, they would be caught in the middle of a bizarre Super Bowl week subplot. Prior to the AFC Championship game, Irving Fryar had cut two fingers with a kitchen knife, requiring them to be put in a cast. At first it was dismissed as a freak accident, but after the conference championship, the truth came out: Fryar's wife, Jacqueline, had slashed him in a domestic incident after Fryar had knocked her down. It was a distraction that, many thought, epitomized the history of these Patriots - coming as it did in what was otherwise to that point the franchise's finest hour.
In the Super Bowl, though the Bears had not allowed a point in the playoffs, the Patriots took an early 3-0 lead after a Walter Payton fumble in the 1st quarter. This resulted a field goal by Tony Franklin.
The opening drive would be marked by an injury to Dawson, who would be forced to leave the contest with a broken leg. The Bears would go on to score the next 44 points, including a touchdown by rookie defensive lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry. The Patriots would add a meaningless touchdown (a 8-yard touchdown pass to Fryar from Grogan) at the end to make the final score 46–10, the most lopsided defeat in Super Bowl history at the time.
1986–1992: Ownership changes and struggles
John Hannah, generally considered one of the best guards to play pro football, retired after the Patriots' Super Bowl experience. Also, the day after the game, Boston Globe sportswriter Ron Borges wrote a story alleging that six Patriots players, including Fryar, cornerback Raymond Clayborn, safety Roland James, and running back Tony Collins were marijuana users. Further, allegations surfaced that Fryar was involved in gambling of NFL games.
In 1986, the Patriots' strength was their passing game, led by Eason and star receiver Stanley Morgan, who gained nearly 1,500 yards receiving. Despite having statistically the worst rushing offense in the league, New England led the AFC East with an 11–5 record, and traveled to Denver to take on the Broncos in the divisional playoffs. A late 4th-quarter touchdown pass from John Elway to Vance Johnson won the game for Denver, who would eventually succeed the Patriots as AFC Champions. This would be the team's last playoff appearance for eight years.
Local product Doug Flutie (from Natick, Massachusetts), who won the Heisman Trophy for Boston College in 1984, was acquired by the Patriots during the 1987 players' strike and crossed the picket line to play his first game for the Patriots, which was also the last of three games played by replacement players in the 1987 season. Many defensive players for New England also crossed the picket line. However, late-season injuries put the Patriots out of playoff contention at 8–7. In 1988, Flutie played five games before he was replaced by Eason, after which they would alternate as the Patriots' starting quarterback. Though the Patriots had some success with this atypical arrangement, finishing the season 9–7, the Patriots narrowly missed the playoffs.
During this time, the Sullivan family - who had owned the Patriots since their inception - lost millions of dollars on poor investments, most notably their involvement in producing The Jackson 5 1984 Victory Tour, headed by family scion Chuck Sullivan. They were never among the NFL's wealthiest owners, and the investments, and specifically the losses suffered from the Victory Tour, had a considerable negative impact on the family fortune and compromised, in many ways, the operation of the Patriots. Even with the Patriots making the Super Bowl, the revenue from the team was not nearly enough to service the debt. Facing the possibility of bankruptcy, Billy Sullivan asked the NFL for permission to sell 50 percent of the team's stock to the public. The NFL refused, and the Sullivans were forced to sell the team to Remington Products magnate Victor Kiam in 1988 for $84 million, though Billy Sullivan remained as team president until 1992. Sullivan Stadium, however, lapsed into bankruptcy, and was bought out of bankruptcy court by Boston paper magnate Robert Kraft — a development whose importance wouldn't be fully realized until long after the Sullivans had left the scene.
Although the Patriots were respectable in 1988, missing the playoffs by only a game, the 1989 season was a disaster for the team. Three of the team's biggest players on defense (Andre Tippett, Garin Veris and Ronnie Lippett) were injured in the same preseason game. Neither Eason, Flutie, nor Grogan emerged as the starting quarterback, and each rotated the starting quarterback job throughout the season. Eason was later traded during the season, leaving Flutie and Grogan to battle for the job. The Patriots finished the season 5–11.
Following the season, Flutie left for the Canadian Football League, and long time general manager Dick Steinberg also left to take a similar job with the New York Jets. Berry was fired and replaced by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Rod Rust for 1990.
Under Rust, the Patriots finished with the worst season in franchise history in 1990 - a 1–15 record. On the day after what turned out to be the team's only win that year (against the Colts), the Patriots were thrown into the middle of a sexual harassment scandal when Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson was sexually and verbally assaulted by several Patriots players in the team's locker room and was later labeled a "classic bitch" by Kiam. Following an investigation into the scandal, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined the team $50,000, and players Zeke Mowatt, Michael Timpson and Robert Perryman $12,500, $5,000, and $5,000 respectively. As a final indignity, their season finale against the New York Giants would be one of their few sellouts of the year; however, most of the fans at the game that day were Giants fans. The team lost that game, missing a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds.
Shortly thereafter, the Patriots revamped their front office. Rust was fired and replaced by Dick MacPherson, a New England native who had been the coach at Syracuse University. Additionally, Sam Jankovich, who had been athletic director at the University of Miami and oversaw the national resurgence of their athletic program (and specifically their football team), was brought on as CEO of the Patriots.
The Patriots showed marked improvement in 1991. Hugh Millen took over at quarterback partway through the season, and the Patriots responded to MacPherson's upbeat, positive style. The Patriots improved to 6–10 with several upsets over playoff teams, including wins against the Minnesota Vikings and eventual AFC Champion Buffalo Bills, and were competitive in many of their losses. Attendance and fan interest improved.
Although optimism was high entering the 1992 season, the team was disappointing and finished 2–14, which eventually led to the departures of both MacPherson and Jankovich. Rumors of a possible move to St. Louis, Missouri intensified when Kiam sold the team to St. Louis businessman James Orthwein, a scion of the Busch family. Orthwein wanted to return the NFL to his hometown of St. Louis and saw the Patriots as a vehicle to make that happen.
1993–96: Parcells era
The Patriots went about the business of giving the team a brand new look for 1993, in every way. The most dramatic change was the hiring of Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winner, as head coach. One of the most respected coaches in the history of the game, Parcells brought instant credibility and respectability for the franchise. He was also largely given a free hand with respect to personnel. Changes to the uniforms and logo were rolled out as well. The old "Pat Patriot" logo - which to many was a symbol of the Patriots' ineptitude - was retired and replaced with a stylized Patriot head, designed in tandem with NFL Properties that many fans would eventually call "Flying Elvis". The team's primary color changed from red to blue, and the helmets from white to silver.
With the first pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected quarterback Drew Bledsoe from Washington State. This was only part of a major season of change in New England. Other draft picks such as linebacker Chris Slade helped the team immediately. Bledsoe started the season as the starting quarterback, but after losing the first four games, he was injured and replaced with former Dolphins backup Scott Secules, who won one of his two games.
The 1993 season began with an 1–11 record. Of their 11 losses, eight were by 7 points or less, and only two of their 11 defeats were by more than 14 points, both coming before Week 4. Finally, at the end of the season, the Patriots' luck began to turn. They ended their season by winning their last four games in a row, over Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and, most dramatically, over Miami in overtime in the finale - a game that eliminated the Dolphins from the playoffs.
1993–94 offseason: Bob Kraft Buys the Team
Interest in the Patriots grew both during and after the 1993 season, despite their lackluster on-field showing. By many measures, the Patriots were as popular as they had ever been - even more popular than they had been during the 1985 Super Bowl year. Despite this unprecedented interest, however, rumors abounded that the team was going to move to St. Louis as soon as James Orthwein could clear all the hurdles. Finally, in the 1993 off-season, the issue reached its climax. Orthwein offered Robert Kraft, the team's landlord since 1988, $75 million to break the operating covenant of the lease, which would then free him to move the Patriots to St. Louis. Kraft refused, which continued to bind the Patriots to playing at Foxboro. When it became apparent that Kraft would not allow Orthwein to buy out the lease, Orthwein put the team up for sale. Kraft bought the team for a then-NFL record $175 million in 1994, beating out an investor group which included Paul Newman and Walter Payton as investors (the latter of which was on the Chicago Bears team that beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XX). On February 26, 1994, Kraft's first full day as owner of the Patriots, the team sold 5,958 season tickets, shattering by over sixfold the team's prior single-day record of 979. Moreover, since Kraft took control over the franchise, the Patriots have sold out every home game, including playoff and preseason games.
Halfway through the 1994 season, the Patriots looked flat. They were 3–6 and had lost 4 straight games when they faced the Minnesota Vikings at home for Week 10. With the season on the line, Drew Bledsoe sparked a second-half comeback by switching to a no-huddle offense. Bledsoe set single-game records for pass attempts and completions, and the Patriots won the game 26–20 in overtime. This led to the Patriots winning their last seven games of the regular season, finishing 10–6 and making the playoffs as a wild card. In their first playoff game in nine years, the Patriots were beaten in the first round by the Cleveland Browns 20–13. The Browns, coached by one-time Parcells assistant (and future Patriots head coach Bill Belichick), were the last team to beat New England in the regular season.
The Patriots drafted Curtis Martin in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft, giving the team its best running back in decades. Despite a dramatic opening day win against Belichick's Browns to start the 1995 season, and a sensational rookie campaign by the young Martin, Bledsoe struggled with injuries, the team struggled with inconsistency, and the Patriots finished a lackluster 6–10.
1995 was also marked by the Patriots' first home appearance on Monday Night Football since 1981. During the Patriots' last appearance on the program, a number of fans in attendance proved to be rowdy and uncontrollable, and there was an abnormally high number of arrests. As a result of this behavior, the Town of Foxborough and the NFL refused to schedule Monday night home games in New England. (This behavior, which occurred during day games as well, led the Patriots to only sell reduced-alcohol beer for several seasons in the 1980s.)
After the Patriots' successful season, however, Robert Kraft successfully lobbied the Town of Foxborough and the NFL to schedule the Patriots on a Monday night. The NFL granted Kraft's request, scheduling the Patriots on Monday, October 23, in a game against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots won the game, 27–14, and the crowd was peaceful and orderly, with only a handful of isolated disturbances and arrests. In appreciation, Kraft took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe thanking fans for their excellent behavior, and the Patriots have since hosted many more night games without incident.
Another major change was the primary home station for most Patriots regular season games. Since 1965, they had aired on WBZ-TV, Boston's longtime NBC affiliate. After owner Westinghouse Broadcasting switched the station's affiliation to CBS, WHDH-TV took on airing the NFL on NBC package locally.
1996: Second Super Bowl Appearance
In the 1996 NFL Draft, despite Bill Parcells' objections, the Patriots selected wide receiver Terry Glenn with their 1st-round draft pick. Despite Parcells referring to Glenn as "she" during a preseason press conference, Glenn provided much the same spark to the receiving corps that Martin had provided to the running game. On defense, rookie safety Lawyer Milloy made an impact, as did Willie Clay (signed from the Detroit Lions) and second-year cornerback Ty Law. Linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson arrived on the scene to help veterans such as Willie McGinest and Slade. Despite all these additions, the Patriots once again started out lackluster in 1996. After an early-season loss to the Redskins at home dropped the Patriots down to 3–3, the Patriots proceeded to win their next four games in a row, and eight out of their last 10, only losing to the Denver Broncos (who would finish with the AFC's best record) and the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys to finish 11–5, winning the AFC East and earning a first-round bye in the playoffs as a #2 seed. The Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 28–3 in a divisional playoff game — only the second home playoff game in franchise history. The game was played mostly under thick fog. They then held off the Jacksonville Jaguars 20–6 in the first AFC Championship game played in Foxboro (a game marked by a sudden power "brownout" just as rookie kicker Adam Vinatieri was to attempt a field goal in the 2nd quarter). The team advanced to Super Bowl XXXI against the Green Bay Packers.
In the months and years after Kraft's purchase of the Patriots, relations between Kraft and Parcells were increasingly strained. This was primarily due to a struggle over Parcells' authority over football operations. Kraft wanted Parcells to yield some of his authority over personnel moves to a separate general manager. Parcells had effectively been the Patriots' general manager as well since his arrival, and was not interested in yielding authority that he had been granted over personnel when he was hired. He famously complained that "if they're gonna let you cook the dinner, they at least ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." The conflict climaxed in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, with rampant rumors that Parcells would leave the Patriots after the season to take the vacant head coaching job with the New York Jets. Despite these distractions, the Patriots played the Packers close for much of the game, and actually took the lead briefly in the 2nd quarter. However, two long Brett Favre touchdown passes and a Super Bowl record 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by MVP Desmond Howard sealed New England's fate, with the Packers winning their 12th title, and third of the Super Bowl era, 35–21.
1997–99: Pete Carroll years
After the Super Bowl, Parcells resigned from the Patriots, prompting Kraft to believe the Jets had been tampering with Parcells in an attempt for him to resign and take the Jets' vacant head coaching position and have say in the Jets' first overall selection in the 1997 NFL Draft. The Jets decided that since Parcells couldn't be their head coach in 1997 because of an earlier contract renegotiation which eliminated the 1997 season from his contract, they would hire Parcells as a consultant and have Bill Belichick, the assistant head coach who followed Parcells from the Patriots, hold the title of head coach. Kraft, who was requesting a 1st-round draft pick in return for allowing Parcells to coach elsewhere, called the Jets' agreement "a transparent farce" that "demonstrated it was the Jets' intention all along for Bill Parcells to become head coach of the Jets for the '97 season." Despite Parcells claiming the Jets had been given league permission for the consulting agreement, the NFL denied any permission was given, instead having commissioner Paul Tagliabue arrange an agreement between the two sides. The Patriots received 3rd- and 4th-round picks in the 1997 NFL Draft, a 2nd-round pick in the 1998 Draft, and a 1st-round pick in the 1999 Draft in compensation for allowing Parcells to become the Jets' head coach.
After being rebuffed by former San Francisco 49ers head coach George Seifert, Kraft hired Pete Carroll as the new head coach of the Patriots. The new regime, led by personnel man Bobby Grier, was immediately derided for botching draft picks, and the Patriots slipped back further in the standings during each of Carroll's years. In 1997, the Patriots still won the AFC East with a 10-6 record, but some key losses (including a loss to Parcells' Jets and a 4th-quarter collapse against the Pittsburgh Steelers) meant the team had to play in the wild card round in the playoffs. After having an easy time with the Miami Dolphins 17-3 in Foxboro, the injury-plagued Patriots met the Steelers in Pittsburgh for a rematch of the previous year's divisional playoff. A late fumble (recovered by future Patriot linebacker Mike Vrabel) won the game for Pittsburgh, 7-6.
In the 1998 offseason, the Patriots tendered restricted free agent running back Curtis Martin with the highest possible tender, which would return the Patriots' 1st- and 3rd-round draft picks if any team were to sign him and the Patriots were to decide not to match the offer. Fueling the rivalry between the two teams, the Jets and Parcells, who had resigned from the Patriots two years earlier, signed Martin, and per restricted free agency rules, ceded their 1st- and 3rd-round picks in the 1998 NFL Draft to the Patriots. With the 1st-round pick, the Patriots selected another running back, Robert Edwards, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign. After stumbling through the first half of the 1998 season (5-6 after the first 11 games), Drew Bledsoe, playing with a broken finger, engineered late 4th-quarter comebacks against the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills to save the season. The Bills game was especially controversial, as the game was prolonged due to a series of questionable calls. With under a minute to go and down by four points, the Patriots engineered a long drive. However, the Buffalo defense appeared to stop the Patriots on 4th down with a juggled catch out of bounds. The referee needed to determine whether receiver Shawn Jefferson was inbounds, caught the ball, and achieved first down yardage. The referee on the sideline signaled first down after a conference with other officials. Several Bills claimed one said "just give it to them" (referring to 1st-down yardage) in the huddle. Television instant replays showed that he was short of first down yardage, but the NFL had discontinued use of instant replay after the 1991 season. This was followed by a questionable pass interference call made in the end zone on what would have been the game's final play. Bledsoe hit tight end Ben Coates for a touchdown on the final untimed play of the game. In protest, the Bills left the field and let Patriots kicker Adam Vinateri walk in for a meaningless two-point conversion. Doug Flutie, then the Bills' quarterback, later quipped, "They gave them the game, we figured we might as well give them the extra point." Drew Bledsoe and Terry Glenn were later both knocked out for the season, and the Patriots backed into the last playoff spot with a 9–7 record. Backup quarterback Scott Zolak proved to be no match for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first playoff game, as the Patriots lost 25-10.
Although Robert Edwards had a promising rookie season, his career was permanently derailed after he suffered a dislocated knee in Hawaii while playing a game of flag football on the beach – a game that was an officially sponsored activity that took place during Pro Bowl weekend. Edwards would miss the next three seasons and would not play for the Patriots again (although he did play for the Miami Dolphins as a reserve in 2002).
Also during 1998, most Patriots games moved back to WBZ-TV after a three-year absence. This came because the AFC package moved to CBS.
Taking Edwards' place in 1999 were veteran Terry Allen and rookie Kevin Faulk, but neither player was able to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing, and the Patriots' rushing offense was 23rd in the NFL. The Patriots opened with an emotional 30–28 victory over the New York Jets, then followed by hosting the Indianapolis Colts and second-year quarterback Peyton Manning; Manning raced the Colts to a 28–7 halftime lead but was limited to just 13 second-half passing yards as Drew Bledsoe threw three touchdowns, two of them to Ben Coates, which turned out to be his final touchdown catches with New England; after an Edgerrin James fumble, Adam Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal in a 31–28 final. The Patriots began the season with a 6–2 record, but after a 27–3 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Coates went to the media to protest that he was not being thrown to enough; it soured Coates' relationship with Bledsoe and Carroll, and the team stumbled down the stretch, finishing 8–8 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1995. Further demoralizing the team was a late-season fight between Lawyer Milloy and receiver Vincent Brisby that began at a charity event hosted by linebacker Willie McGinest and continued the next day at a team meeting. Following the season finale, Carroll was fired, while Vice President of Player Personnel Bobby Grier was retained only until the 2000 NFL Draft.
2000–present: Brady/Belichick era
2000: Belichick Hired
Following the firing of three-year head coach Pete Carroll in January 2000, Patriots owner Robert Kraft pursued Jets assistant head coach Bill Belichick for the Patriots' head coaching vacancy. Belichick, who had been an assistant coach under Parcells with the Patriots in 1996, followed Parcells to the Jets after that season and was contractually named Parcells' successor. A day after the 1999 season, Parcells resigned as head coach of the Jets and made his second retirement from NFL coaching. Belichick, who had been assistant head coach of the Jets, became the Jets' next head coach. The following day, at a press conference for his hiring, Belichick wrote a resignation note on a napkin ("I resign as HC of the NYJ."), and proceeded to give a half-hour resignation speech to the press. Despite rumors that he had been offered the Patriots' vacant head coaching position, Belichick cited the Jets' uncertain ownership situation following the death of owner Leon Hess earlier that year as the reason for his resignation. The Jets denied Belichick permission to speak with other teams, and as had happened in 1997 with Parcells, the NFL upheld Belichick's contractual obligations to the Jets. Belichick then filed an antritrust lawsuit against the NFL in federal court. After Parcells and Kraft, talking for the first time since Parcells' resignation from the Patriots, agreed to settle their differences, the Patriots and Jets agreed to a compensation package to allow Belichick to become the Patriots' head coach. With the deal, the Patriots sent their 1st-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and 4th- and 7th-round picks in the 2001 Draft to the Jets, while also receiving the Jets' 5th-round selection in 2001 and 7th-round pick in 2002. Soon after hiring Belichick, Kraft gave him near-complete control over football matters — effectively making him the team's general manager as well. Ironically, Parcells had left New England in part because Kraft was not willing to let him have the final say in football operations.
Belichick restructured the team's personnel department in the offseason, and later proclaimed that the team "could not win with 40 good players while the other team has 53," after a number of players showed up out of shape for the start of training camp. The Patriots went on to finish the 2000 season 5–11, finishing last in the AFC East and missing the playoffs for the second straight season.
The Patriots also ushered in the Belichick era by updating their logos and uniforms. Noticeable changes included a darker shade of blue (dubbed "Nautical blue"), and modern fonts and striping on the uniforms.
2001: The 'Tuck Rule Game' and the First Super Bowl Championship
Coming off a fifth-place finish in head coach Bill Belichick's first season in 2000, the Patriots were not expected to fare much better in 2001. While Drew Bledsoe was signed to a 10-year contract extension in March, offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong retired, and wide receiver Terry Glenn had a preseason contract holdout and was also hit with a drug suspension by the NFL for the first four games of the season. Despite these high-profile losses, the Patriots were able to find adequate replacements at very low cost. Receivers Troy Brown and David Patten had career seasons, 1st-round draft pick Richard Seymour anchored the defensive line, and Antowain Smith (a free agent signed from Buffalo) ran for over 1,000 yards.
The season would not begin without tragedy, however. In training camp, quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein died of cardiac arrest on August 6 at the age of 45. The Patriots lost their opener to the Cincinnati Bengals, and in the first post-9/11 game against the Jets, Bledsoe was severely injured, shearing a blood vessel in his chest after being tackled out of bounds by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis.
In Bledsoe's absence, Tom Brady, a 6th-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, took the helm and won three out of his first four starts, setting an NFL record by not throwing an interception in his first 162 career passes. As a result, Brady earned the confidence of Belichick and his teammates, and when Bledsoe was cleared to play, Belichick announced that Brady would remain the team's starting quarterback. Despite Bledsoe's unhappiness about his new role - he was quoted as saying that he "looked forward to competing to get (his) job back" - he caused no distractions and was supportive of Brady and the Patriots. Led by Brady, who immediately became a fan favorite, the Patriots continued to play good football, winning their final six games to capture the AFC East with an 11–5 record. The Patriots additionally won a first-round bye as the #2 seed in the playoffs for the second time in their history.
In the final game ever played at Foxboro Stadium, the Patriots hosted the Oakland Raiders in a snowstorm which endured through the entire game. This game became known as the "Tuck Rule Game", when a play originally ruled to be a Brady fumble was reversed by referee Walt Coleman as an incomplete pass based upon the obscure "tuck rule." After review, Coleman ruled that, because Brady's arm was moving forward when he lost the football, he was deemed to have been in the act of throwing when he lost control of the ball. Had the original ruling stood, the Raiders would have essentially clinched the win; instead, the Patriots continued to drive into the frigid wind and heavy snow, and kicker Adam Vinatieri tied the game with a 45-yard field goal in the final 30 seconds. The Raiders did not attempt to run a play at the end of regulation, and after losing the coin toss to start overtime, would not see the ball again, as the Patriots drove downfield on their opening possession and won the game, 16–13.
The Patriots then went to Pittsburgh to face the favored Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. After Brady injured his ankle in the second quarter, Bledsoe (in his last appearance as a Patriot) came off the sideline and immediately led the team to their only offensive touchdown of the game, with the drive culminating in a touchdown pass to David Patten. In the second half, thanks to help from two special teams touchdowns and two 4th-quarter interceptions of passes thrown by Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, the Patriots upset the Steelers 24–17 to advance to Super Bowl XXXVI. It would be the Patriots' third Super Bowl in team history, all of which to that point had been played in New Orleans.
In the Super Bowl, the Patriots faced the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, led by league MVP Kurt Warner and known as "The Greatest Show on Turf", who had beaten the Patriots in the regular season in Foxboro. The Patriots were introduced second, and rather than coming out player-by-player, which was customary at the time, they were introduced collectively as a team. The team introduction was met with great praise and admiration, and has since been used by each team at the Super Bowl. In contrast to the regular season game, Bill Belichick devised a defensive game plan that used the blitz very sparingly, but called for chipping the Rams receivers and running back Marshall Faulk as they went into their patterns. This disrupted the Rams' precise passing routes and the entire rhythm of the offense and caused the usually cool-under-pressure Warner to look shaky in the pocket, being sacked several times. The Patriots forced three turnovers, all of which led to scores (including an interception returned by Ty Law for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter).
Belichick's defense held the Rams' high-powered offense in check until the 4th quarter, but after trailing 17–3 early in the quarter, St. Louis scored two touchdowns to tie the game at 17–17. With 1:30 to go and no timeouts, and with John Madden on the Fox Sports telecast opining that the Patriots should play for overtime, Brady calmly led New England's offense downfield, missing on only one pass. The Patriots drove to the Rams' 30-yard line, setting up Adam Vinatieri, who won the game with a 48-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Patriots their first Super Bowl win in the team's 42nd season.
The Patriots' victory parade in Boston was attended by 1.5 million fans. The team was invited to Fenway Park for opening day of the Boston Red Sox season. The Patriots also became the last major sports team in Boston to win its first championship. Brady was selected Super Bowl MVP and signed a long-term contract with the team in the offseason. Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills in the offseason for a 1st-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft.
Super Bowl XXXVI later became part of the wider 2007 National Football League videotaping controversy, also known as "Spygate" (see below). In addition to other videotaping allegations, the Boston Herald reported, citing an unnamed source, that the Patriots had also taped the Rams' walkthrough practice prior to the game. After further investigations, the league determined that no tape of the Rams' Super Bowl walkthrough was made, and the Herald later issued an apology in 2008 for their article about the alleged walkthrough tape.
Throughout his tenure as owner of the Patriots, Robert Kraft attempted to get a new stadium built somewhere in New England. After failing to reach an accord with either the City of Boston or the State of Rhode Island, in 1998 Kraft came close to reaching a deal with the Massachusetts Legislature for Kraft to build a new, self-financed stadium adjacent to the old stadium with the state providing $75 million in infrastructure improvements. However, Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran refused to support the bill, saying that he did not want public money benefiting private interests. Unable to overcome Finneran's objections, Kraft reached a deal with Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland to build a new stadium in Hartford, Connecticut, originally scheduled to open in 2001. However, after the stadium plan was approved by the Connecticut General Assembly, there were a number of problems discovered with the proposed stadium site that would result in considerable delay of the stadium construction. At the same time, the NFL announced loan incentives where teams in the six largest markets (which included Boston) could be eligible to borrow up to $150 million from the league at advantageous interest rates and terms in order to build new stadiums. Furthermore, the Massachusetts Legislature, and Finneran, also indicated that they would be amenable to further discussions with Kraft.
With this in mind, mindful of the mounting issues in Hartford and growing opposition to the deal, in the spring of 1999, Kraft announced that he was abandoning the Hartford stadium project. Kraft, preferring to keep the team where it was, eventually reached a mutually acceptable deal with the Massachusetts legislature for the necessary infrastructure improvements. The final hurdle the stadium needed to clear was approval by the citizens of Foxborough on six separate measures. Despite some initial hesitation regarding a proposed dedicated access road for premium ticket holders, the Patriots won approval on each measure by an over 90% majority. This cleared the way for what was originally known as CMGi Field to be built adjacent to the old stadium in Foxboro. The naming rights to the stadium were originally purchased by CMGi, an e-commerce company based in nearby Waltham, Massachusetts, which, at the time, was parent company to internet auction site uBid.
The stadium would open in the spring of 2002 with a "soft opening", including games of the New England Revolution and concerts. In the months leading up to the grand opening of the stadium in September 2002, CMGi Corporation fell upon difficult financial times and sold the naming rights to the Gillette Company prior to the grand opening. The stadium was renamed Gillette Stadium, and is sometimes referred to by fans as "The Razor".
2002: Narrowly Missing the Playoffs
Following their victory in Super Bowl XXXVI seven months earlier, the Patriots played their first game in the new Gillette Stadium in the NFL's prime-time Monday Night Football opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a win for the Patriots. After an additional two wins to begin the season, including a 44–7 road win against the division rival New York Jets, the team lost five of its next seven games, allowing an average of 137 rushing yards a game during that span. In the final week of the season, the Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins on an overtime Adam Vinatieri field goal to give both teams a 9–7 record. A few hours later, the Jets, who defeated the Patriots the week prior, also finished with a 9–7 record with a win over the Green Bay Packers. Due to their record against common opponents, the Jets won the tiebreaker for the division title, which eliminated the Patriots and Dolphins from the playoffs.
2003–04: Back-to-Back Super Bowl Titles
Two seasons after winning Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots went into 2003 after missing the playoffs in 2002. In a salary cap-related move, captain and Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy was released days before the start of the regular season, prompting second-guessing of head coach Bill Belichick among fans and a report by ESPN analyst Tom Jackson that Patriots players "hated their coach," an accusation later denied by players. Milloy signed with the Buffalo Bills, whose team defeated the Patriots 31–0 in the season opener. The Patriots would rebound, though, not losing another game after starting with a 2–2 record. Due to multiple injuries, the Patriots started 42 different players during the season, an NFL record for a division winner until the Patriots started 45 different players in 2005. Undefeated at home, nose tackle Ted Washington coined the phrase "Homeland Defense" for a Patriots' defense, boosted by the acquisitions of Washington and San Diego Chargers castoff safety Rodney Harrison in the offseason, that gave up a league-low 14.9 points per game en route to a 14–2 regular season record. The regular season was bookmarked with a 31–0 victory over the Bills at home in Week 17, a score that reversed the Patriots' shutout loss to the Bills in Week 1.
The Patriots had the NFL's best record at 14–2 and, for the first time in their history, earned the top seed in the AFC playoffs, ensuring home-field advantage throughout. Their opponent in the divisional playoffs was the Tennessee Titans. Played in a temperature of 4 °F (-16 °C) (making it the second-coldest game in NFL history), the Patriots and Titans played close until Adam Vinatieri kicked the go-ahead field goal with 4 minutes left. An incomplete Steve McNair pass on 4th down with 1:40 left won the game 17–14 for New England. The Patriots then faced the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC Championship. The New England defense frustrated Colts quarterback Peyton Manning all day, forcing him to throw four interceptions (three to Ty Law) and sacking him three times. Despite only one offensive touchdown by the Patriots, the team was dominant. Still, the Colts remained in the game until the very end, when a late Vinatieri field goal with 10 seconds left gave the Patriots their final margin of victory, 24–14. The Patriots were back in the Super Bowl, this time to face the Carolina Panthers.
Super Bowl XXXVIII was one of the closest and most exciting championship games ever played. After a defensive battle for most of the first half, the teams traded touchdowns late in the 2nd quarter, then more quick strikes by both teams made the score 14–10 Patriots at halftime. The 3rd quarter was scoreless, but running back Antowain Smith scored on the first play of the 4th quarter to make it 21–10. Carolina scored two more touchdowns (but failed to convert the two-point conversion on both) to take a 22–21 lead. The Patriots answered with a long drive that culminated in a trick pass to linebacker Mike Vrabel, followed by Kevin Faulk's run for a two-point conversion that put the Patriots up 29–22 with 2:51 left to play. Undaunted, the Panthers drove quickly downfield and, as he had done two years previous with the Rams, Ricky Proehl's late touchdown catch tied the game, 29-29 with 1:08 to play. As he had two years prior, Brady led the Patriots on a dramatic, game-ending drive, which culminated with a Vinatieri 41-yard field goal with four seconds left. The Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years, 32–29, and Brady was once again named MVP. The victory also made the 2003 Patriots the first team ever to win - or for that matter, even reach - the Super Bowl after having been shut out on opening day.
Following a Super Bowl win in 2003, the Patriots looked to improve their running game in the 2004 offseason. Replacing Antowain Smith was longtime but disgruntled Cincinnati Bengals running back Corey Dillon, who was acquired in a trade days before the 2004 NFL Draft; Dillon would rush for a career-high 1,635 yards in 2004. Winning their first six games of the season, the Patriots set the NFL record for consecutive regular season victories (18), which was later broken by the 2006–2008 Patriots (21), and consecutive regular season and playoff victories (21) before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 31. In that game, Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law was lost for the season with a foot injury. Combined with the loss of other starting cornerback Tyrone Poole two weeks earlier, the Patriots were forced to complete the regular season and playoffs by using second-year cornerback Asante Samuel, undrafted free agent Randall Gay, and longtime Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown at cornerback, among others.
With a 14–2 record and the second seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots defeated the Colts at home in the playoffs for the second straight year, holding the Colts' top offense to three points. The Patriots then defeated the top-seeded Steelers on the road, 41–27, in the AFC Championship Game.
Prior to the Patriots' matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell said he did not know the names of the Patriots' defensive backs, which was taken as a sign of disrespect by the Patriots' "replacement" secondary. The Patriots would go on to defeat the Eagles 24–21 in their second straight Super Bowl victory and third championship in four seasons, leading to some labeling the Patriots of the era a dynasty.
2005–06: Playoff Losses
Two weeks after earning a victory in Super Bowl XXXIX, linebacker Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke and initially planned on missing the entire 2005 season; Bruschi returned to the field against the Buffalo Bills on October 31. Cornerback Ty Law was released in the offseason, and injuries at cornerback, as well as a season-ending injury to safety Rodney Harrison in Week 3, forced the Patriots to start a number of players in the secondary early in the season. Overall, injuries caused the Patriots to start 45 different players at one point or another during the season, an NFL record for a division champion (breaking the record of 42 set by the Patriots in 2003). Beginning the season with a 4–4 record, the Patriots lost their first game at home since 2002 against the San Diego Chargers in Week 4. The team ended the season on a 5–1 run to finish 10–6, earning their third straight AFC East title. With the #4 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-3 in the Wild Card round but fell to the Denver Broncos 27-13 on the road in the Divisional Playoffs, committing five turnovers in the game.
The Patriots entered the 2006 season without their two starting wide receivers from 2005; David Givens left in free agency, while Deion Branch held out for a new contract before being traded to Seattle in early September. Eventually replacing them were Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, who was signed as a street free agent in October. Back-to-back losses in November ended the team's streak of 57 games without consecutive losses, three games shy of the NFL record. With a 12–4 record and their fourth straight division title, the Patriots entered the playoffs as the #4 seed, defeating the New York Jets 37-16 in the Wild Card Playoffs. A close 24-21 win over the top-seeded San Diego Chargers on the road set the Patriots up to face their rival, the Indianapolis Colts, in the AFC Championship. Despite opening up a 21–3 lead in the 2nd quarter, the Patriots stumbled down the stretch at the RCA Dome, and the Colts emerged with a 38–34 victory.
After having lost their two starting wide receivers in the previous offseason, the Patriots added Donte' Stallworth in free agency and traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss in the spring of 2007; Welker would lead the NFL in receptions in 2007, while Moss would set an NFL record with 23 touchdown catches. The season began with controversy, when in Week 2, head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots were penalized by the NFL for their involvement in the videotaping of opponents' defensive signals from an unauthorized location in their Week 1 game against the New York Jets, referred to in the press as Spygate. The scandal was uncovered by Jets head coach and former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini. Belichick was fined $500,000, the maximum allowed under league rules, and the Patriots were fined $250,000 and were forced to forfeit their first round pick in the 2008 draft. Despite the media scrutiny, the Patriots continued to gain momentum, winning mid-season games by scores such as 52–7 and 56–10, as quarterback Tom Brady iterated the team's desire to blow out and "kill teams."
The Patriots clinched the AFC East before their eleventh game (in Week 12), the fourth time since the NFL introduced the 16-game schedule in 1978 that a team had clinched a division title by its eleventh game. In the season finale, the Patriots looked to finish the regular season with the first 16–0 record in NFL history, and did so successfully. In that game, Brady and Moss connected on two touchdown passes, with Moss setting his 23-touchdown record and Brady setting an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes on the season. It was the first undefeated regular season in the NFL since the 1972 Miami Dolphins finished 14–0. Brady earned his first NFL MVP award, while the Patriots' offense broke numerous records, including those for points scored and point differential.
With the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots defeated both the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20 and San Diego Chargers 21-12 in order to advance to Super Bowl XLII; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this made them the first professional team since 1884 in any of the four major American sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey) to win the first 18 games of their season. Facing the prospect of a perfect 19–0 season with a victory over the underdog New York Giants, analysts saw the 2007 Patriots as being the greatest team in NFL history.
Despite being the overwhelming favorites in the game, the Patriots had to protect a four-point lead on a Giants drive late in the fourth quarter. A dramatic pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree put the Giants deep in Patriots territory, and a Manning touchdown pass to Plaxico Buress gave the Giants a 17-14 lead with 35 seconds left. . The loss left the 1972 Dolphins as the only undefeated champions in NFL history. The Patriots ended the season at 18–1, becoming one of only three teams to go 18–1 along with the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears, both of whom won their respective Super Bowls.
2008: Brady gets Injured
In the 2008 season opener, quarterback Tom Brady, the NFL's MVP in 2007, suffered a serious knee injury and missed the remainder of the season. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel replaced Brady. Cassel's start in Week 2 was his first start in a game since high school, and he led the Patriots to a win, which extended the team's regular-season winning streak record to 21 games before a loss the next week ended the streak. This record was broken by the Indianapolis Colts in 2009.
Despite entering the last week of the season with a three-game winning streak, the Patriots found themselves not controlling their own destiny. In addition to a Week 17 win, they also needed either a Miami Dolphins loss to win the AFC East, or a Baltimore Ravens loss to earn a wild card playoff berth. However, both Baltimore and Miami won, and the Dolphins, Ravens and Patriots all finished the season with an 11–5 record. Miami qualified for the playoffs by winning the AFC East division over the Patriots on the fourth divisional tiebreaker (better conference record: 8–4 to 7–5). Baltimore qualified for the playoffs as a wild card team, defeating the Patriots on the second wild card tiebreaker (better conference record: 8–4 to 7–5). The Patriots thus became the first team since the 1985 Denver Broncos to finish with an 11–5 record and not make the playoffs.
2008–09 offseason: Changes
After missing the playoffs in 2008, the Patriots' offseason was marked by a number of front office, coaching, and personnel changes. Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli, who had been head coach Bill Belichick's personnel director since 2000, departed to become the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, while offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was named head coach of the Denver Broncos. Quarterback Matt Cassel, who led the team to 11 wins in 2008 after starter Tom Brady was injured, was traded to the Chiefs along with veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel in March. Defensive starters Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison both retired, while All-Pro defensive end Richard Seymour was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a 1st-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft days before the start of the regular season.
2009–10: Early Playoff Exits
In the 2009 season opener on Monday Night Football, the Patriots celebrated their 50th season with an American Football League "legacy game" against the Buffalo Bills. Down 11 points late in the 4th quarter, the Patriots scored two touchdowns to secure a victory in Brady's first game back from injury. In November, the 6–2 Patriots traveled to face the undefeated Indianapolis Colts; with a six-point lead late in the 4th quarter, the Patriots tried to convert a 4th and 2 situation inside their own 30-yard line but failed, setting up a Colts touchdown and the Patriots' third loss of the season. After losing two of their next three games, the Patriots went on to win three in a row to secure a division title; the team also finished with their fourth perfect regular season record at home in seven years. With the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots faced the Baltimore Ravens at home in the Wild Card Playoffs. The Ravens opened up a 24–0 lead in the 1st quarter, and the Patriots did not recover, ending their season with a 33-14 loss.
The Patriots went into 2010 without either a named offensive or defensive coordinator following the departure of defensive coordinator Dean Pees. After beating Cincinnati in the season opener, they lost 28–14 to the Jets at the new Meadowlands Stadium. In Week 3, the Patriots hosted the Buffalo Bills, winning 38–30. In Week 4, they beat Miami 41–14, but following the game, wide receiver Randy Moss was traded to his original team, the Minnesota Vikings, while regaining Deion Branch from the Seahawks. After beating the Chargers in San Diego, the Patriots won 28–18 against a struggling Vikings team before losing to the Cleveland Browns. Then came a primetime matchup with the Steelers, which the Patriots won 39–26. Week 11 brought about the much-anticipated annual battle with Peyton Manning and the Colts, and New England avenged the 2009 loss, winning 31–28. On Thanksgiving, they beat the Detroit Lions 45–24 before a hotly-anticipated battle with the Jets in Week 13. However, that game turned into a rout, and the Patriots won 45–3, after which they beat the Chicago Bears in a snowstorm at Soldier Field. The Week 15 game with the Green Bay Packers proved a surprise, as Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn nearly brought his team to a victory in Gillette Stadium. By routing the Bills in Week 16, New England swept that team for the sixth consecutive season, along with locking up another AFC East title and the #1 seed. Week 17 saw a meaningless win over the Dolphins. Tom Brady finished the regular season with an NFL-record 335 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, while the Patriots committed an NFL-record low 10 turnovers on the season.
The Patriots were heavily favored to go to Super Bowl XLV, but faced a Jets team that was now prepared for their revamped post-Randy Moss trade offense. New York's pass defense effectively shut the Patriots down, as Brady found it all-but impossible to make throws. The Jets won 28–21, sending New England to a second straight home playoff exit.
2011: Return to the Super Bowl
Prior to the 2011 season, the Patriots drafted Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. The team also made two high profile trade acquisitions in defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Opening the 2011 campaign in Miami on Monday Night Football, New England breezed to victory 38–24; Brady set a personal single-game record with 517 passing yards, highlighted by an NFL record-tying 99-yard touchdown reception by Wes Welker. They easily beat San Diego in Week 2 in their home opener, but in Week 3 their 15-game win streak against the Buffalo Bills finally ended when Tom Brady threw four interceptions, and the Patriots lost 34–31 on a last-second field goal. Determined to not lose two in a row, the team smashed Oakland 31–19 in Week 4, then got a measure of revenge for the 2010 playoff loss by beating the Jets 30–21. In Week 6, the Dallas Cowboys made their first trip to Foxboro since 2003; they ground to a 16–13 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Brady led a drive ending in a game-winning touchdown to tight end Aaron Hernandez and a 20–16 Patriots win. During the Patriots' subsequent bye week, a minor incident occurred where tight end Rob Gronkowski was seen in a photo with an adult film actress wearing his game shirt. Following a 25–17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Julian Edelman was arrested for indecent assault following an incident in a Back Bay nightclub on Halloween night. In what was a Super Bowl preview, the Giants beat the Patriots 24–20 on a last-second drive. The Patriots would win their last eight games to take the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
After routing the Denver Broncos 45–10 in the Divisional Game, the Patriots won the AFC Championship Game, defeating the Baltimore Ravens 23–20, after Ravens receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential go-ahead touchdown and kicker Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying 31-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds. Seeking revenge from their defeat in the regular season, the Patriots came up short against the NFC champion New York Giants 21–17 in Super Bowl XLVI, a rematch of the team's previous Super Bowl loss.
2012-2013: Playoff Loss to Baltimore
In their 2012 season opener, the Patriots easily defeated Tennessee before losing at home to Arizona. In Week 3, New England faced a very tough Baltimore Ravens team in Baltimore. The Patriots remained competitive through the first half, but the Ravens came back to win 30-28 on a last-second field goal. The first three games of the season had been officiated by replacement referees, as the regular referees were locked out during a contract dispute with the owners. The replacement referees were widely criticized, and at the end of the Ravens game, Bill Belichick made contact with a referee as he was leaving the field to argue a call; the league fined him for it. The Patriots rebounded in Week 4, easily defeating the Buffalo Bills 52-28. After that, the Patriots went on the defeat the Denver Broncos 31-21, but lost to the Seattle Seahawks 24-23 the following week. The Patriots then defeated the New York Jets in overtime, 29-26, which brought on a seven-game win streak. During this streak, they defeated very good teams like the Indianapolis Colts, 59-24, and the Houston Texans, 42-14. After losing to the San Francisco 49ers 41-34 in Week 15, they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins to end the season.
The Patriots came out with the #2 seed in the AFC. The Patriots were given the bye week before they had to face the Houston Texans in a rematch of the previous Week 14 matchup. The Patriots were the highly favored team in that game, and ultimately won again, 41-28. But now they had to face the Baltimore Ravens in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship. Despite the Patriots leading 13-7 at halftime, the Ravens scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to win 28-13. The Ravens would go on to win Super Bowl XLVII against the 49ers.
Notes and references
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- Patriots beat Ravens, advance to Super Bowl-Yahoo! Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- Giants win Super Bowl rematch over Patriots-Boston Globe Retrieved 12 July 2012.
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