August 27, 2014

50th Anniversary Minute – the 1997 Patriots

By Brendon Rosenau, Patriots Daily Staff

bill-parcellsMany of the memories of the 1997 New England Patriots focus on what happened before the season even started. Bill Parcells had left to take over as head man of the New York Jets and in his place stepped Pete Carroll. Of course, Carroll would have a tumultuous tenure with the team, but got things started off on the right foot as he guided the team to its second straight playoff appearance.

The Pats began the ‘97 season with four straight wins before the bye week and were 5-1 six games in. In the midst of the hot start was a 27-24 OT win over the Jets in the first installment of the Border War. Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal after the Pats had blocked a potential winner from John Hall in regulation. Curtis Martin led the N.E. offense with 199 yards on the ground. Martin would go on to gain 1160 yards in 1997, his third 1,000 yard season with the Pats, in what was ultimately his last year in a N.E. uniform.

After the quick start N.E. found itself in a struggle and was 6-5 after a loss to a Tampa Bay team that was bound for its first playoff appearance since 1982. Facing the possibility of missing the playoffs the Patriots responded with three straight wins by a total of 12 points over playoff-bound Miami, Indy and playoff-bound Jacksonville.

After a 24-21 loss to the Steelers knocking them down to 9-6, N.E. clinched the AFC East with a 14-12 Monday night nail bitter over Miami in South Beach. New England’s offense was practically non-existent in the game (207 yards), but the Pats defense was more than up to the challenge holding Miami’s Karim Abdul-Jabbar (NFL high 15 rushing TD) out of the end zone and to just 33 yards. Lawyer Milloy also had a pick as the Patriots clinched the AFC East title. New England’s reward was a third meeting with the Dolphins. Not only was Miami looking for revenge, but the Pats were looking to become just the sixth team in NFL history to beat the same team three times in one year. Once again the defense stepped to the forefront as it picked off Dan Marino twice and sacked him four times. Chris Slade’s INT led to a 24-yard Troy Brown touchdown and a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.

In the third, Todd Collins picked Marino at the Dolphin 40 and took the ball to the house for a 14-0 lead. The final score was 17-7 and New England was set for another playoff tilt with Pittsburgh. Like the prior year, Drew Bledsoe tried to find Terry Glenn early in the game, but this time the ball was picked off at the 5. Pittsburgh then drove 62 yards with Kordell Stewart scoring the games only touchdown on a 40-yard run. New England got two Vinatieri field goals, but never got closer than the Steelers 13. They also turned the ball over four times. With 1:44 to go in the game Bledsoe fumbled when he was sacked by a Steelers rookie by the name of Mike Vrabel.

LEADERS

  • Drew Bledsoe 314 completions (3rd NFL), 522 attempts (2nd), 3706 yards (4th), 28 TD (3rd)
  • Curtis Martin 1160 yards (8th), 4 TD; 41-296
  • Ben Coates 66-737, 8 TD (T-9th)
  • Shawn Jefferson 54-841-2
  • Troy Brown 41-607-6
  • Ted Johnson 127 tackles
  • Chris Slade 9 sacks
  • Willie Clay 6 INT (T-5th)
  • Adam Vinatieri 115 points (10th)

ALL PRO
Chris Slade (LLB), Larry Whigham (Special Teams)

PRO BOWL
Drew Bledsoe (QB), Ben Coates (TE), Bruce Armstrong (LT), Slade, Whigham

Editor’s Note: We’d like to congratulate Brendon and his wife on the birth of their first child,  a daughter, last week.  Mother and daughter (and Dad) are doing fine.

Comments

  1. Chris Warner says:

    Pete Carroll’s tenure didn’t bode well in my mind when so many players openly complained about Bill Parcells’ tough-minded coaching style. One notable exception was Ted Johnson, who wondered what everyone was complaining about. The beginning of a three-year trek to mediocrity, and with so much talent.

  2. Aaron Bennett says:

    Wasn’t that the year of the stage dive — aka, when we realized the Pete Carroll had no control over his team. The day before the Tampa Bay game the papers were full of the story that Bledsoe and Rucci stage dove and hurt some girl at an Everclear concert, pictures of Drew all hammered and huggy with some girl not named Maura in the Herald, then they go to Tampa Bay and get their asses handed to them.

    Good times. I’m pumped and jacked just remembering that year.

  3. While the 1997 team was certainly very flawed on offense and at head coach, I still maintain that the defense that year was nearly as good as the Super Bowl winning defenses of this decade. They were 8th in the league during the regular season. In the playoffs, they dominated the Dolphins and the Steelers. Only the offense’s ineptness (and a key turnover by the one and only Mike Vrabel on a Bledsoe sack) kept them out of the AFC Championship game. Chris Slade was an All-Pro, Ted Johnson was still in his prime (before his shoulders and head started getting banged up), as were Lawyer Milloy and Todd Collins. Ty Law, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi were coming into their own. And Henry Thomas was a stud on the D-line. The only blight was No. 1 draft pick Chris Canty.

  4. That was definitely a “what might have been” season.

    The December loss to Pittsburgh in Foxboro–courtesy of Bledsoe’s famously horrendous late-game INT to a defensive lineman that allowed the Steelers to tie the game–put the Pats into the Wild Card round at 10-6, instead of in with a first round bye at 11-5 (they would have been tied with Pittsburgh at 11-5 had the Pats won the regular season game, and they would have won on the head-to-head tiebreaker).

    With a first round bye, the Pats would probably have faced either Miami or the Steelers at home in round two, and then faced Denver in Foxboro in the AFC title game. The Broncos probably were a better team, but it would have been interesting to see the Pats play them at home for the right to go to the Super Bowl a second consecutive year.

    If I recall correctly, the Pats were playing very shorthanded in that playoff game at Pittsburgh–without Ben Coates and Martin I think. Still, they had a shot to win it with a FG late in the game, but none other than Steelers’ rookie Mike Vrabel, I believe, strip-sacked Bledsoe to force the game-clinching turnover.

    That was Pete Carroll’s best coaching job IMO. He walked into an impossible situation–following a legend and inheriting a team that just went to the Super Bowl, meaning that anything short of a return trip, and a victory, would be considered disappointing. But in ’97 he was good. He showed what a great defensive mind he has late in the year when he began devising these crazy blitz packages that no team managed to figure out. They got unbelievable pressure on the QB over the last few weeks of the season as I recall–constant, unrelenting pressure–and it helped them surge to the division title.

    It was all downhill after that year, of course, for Mr. “pumped and jacked,” who proved that his demeanor and style was definitely better suited for the college game.

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