by Brendon Rosenau, Patriots Daily Staff
September 23, 2009

As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s, the New England Patriots went from a perennial AFL contender to permanent residence in the NFL cellar. Things started to turn sour in 1967, and the Patriots went 11-30-1 in their final three AFL seasons. Their foray into the NFL wouldn’t go any better as they won just 16 games in their first four years. However, 1974 looked like it was going to be different.

Led by Jim Plunkett at quarterback and a running attack featuring Sam Cunningham (still the team’s all-time leading rusher) and an unknown Mark Herron, the Pats began the season 5-0 and looked like a contender. The team also featured a second year left guard named John Hannah and a rookie linebacker by the name of Steve Nelson.

The season opened with a 34-24 win over Miami that ended a four game losing streak to the Phins. The Pats running game was solid with Herron and Cunningham combing for 165 yards and two scores. Certainly the win was a good sign, right? The following week, the Pats beat the Giants at Yale. Maybe this year the team was for real. The Pats capped the five game winning streak with a 24-0 blanking of the Jets. Could the Patriots really be in first place 1/3 of the way through the season?

Though suffering their first loss of the season to Buffalo a week later, the Patriots rebounded in Minnesota and beat the vaunted 5-1 Vikings 17-14 to apparently get back in the winning groove. But the win would be costly. On the final play of the game, Plunkett found tight end Bob Windsor for a rough-and-tumble 10-yard TD for the victory. However, Windsor broke his leg on the play and was lost for the season.

Injuries would go on to devastate the Pats as only Plunkett, Herron and rookie Andy Johnson appeared in all 14 games at skill positions. The Patriots lost six of their final seven to end the season 7-7 and finish in third place. What was a promising start for Chuck Fairbanks’ crew quickly turned into another disappointment for New England.

If you have any recollections of this team, we would love to hear them.

Leaders

  • Jim Plunkett 2457 yards (6th NFL), 19TD (4th), 22INT (T-1st)
  • Mark Herron 824 yards (9th), 7TD (T-8th), 38-474, 5TD (T-3rd, total TD); 2444 yards (1st)
  • Sam Cunningham 811 yards (10th), 9 TD (T-3rd) (2 rec) (6th TD)
  • Randy Vataha 22-561 yards – missed two games
  • Reggie Rucker 27-436, 4 rec, TD – missed four games
  • John Smith 90 points (16-22, 42-43)
  • Ron Bolton 7 INT (T-6th)

All Pro

  • Sam Cunningham (FB)
  • John Hannah (LG)

Pro Bowl

None