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.
- 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)
- Sam Cunningham (FB)
- John Hannah (LG)
I certainly remember that team, in a bittersweet sort of way. I was a young boy in the early 1970’s, and my favorite team was the Patriots. Most of my early memories of them were of them losing, losing, and losing some more. The rare high points were when they would upset a superior team now and then (like when they beat the Redskins in DC during Washington’s super bowl season of 1972). Then along comes the 1974 Pats, and they start out 5-0, then get to 6-1. I was so excited. Then all the injuries hit, and, as noted, they went 1-6 in the second half to miss the playoffs. But that was the first Pats team that had me excited about a possible playoff appearance, and they werent the doormats they were previously, so for that I am grateful and they are on the list of my all-time favorite Patriot teams. My all time favorite Patriots team, the 1976 team when I was 11 years old, fulfilled the promise that fell short with the 1974 team.
The players on the 1974 team that I remember loving most were Jim Plunkett, Randy Vataha, Sam “Bam” Cunningham, and “Mini” Mack Herron.
I remember that team well.
They beat some very good teams early in the season–Miami, Minnesota and the Rams to name three of them. They also played the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers very tough late in the year, but lost a close one.
The one game that stands out as the “turning point” was a home game against Buffalo when the Pats were 6-1; they lost 29-28 when John Smith’s last second FG attempt was blocked. That sort of sent them into a downward spiral from which they never recovered.
As I recall correctly, they could have finished 8-6 but they blew a huge early lead at Miami in the season finale and ended up losing that one too.
That was one very tough schedule they had that year.
They took a step back in ’75 when Plunkett was hurt right out of the gate, but that set the stage for Fairbanks’ incredible ’76 draft and the emergence of Steve Grogan the next year, when they fielded the best team in franchise history (prior to 2001, of course–the two Super Bowl losing teams from the 80s and 90s were not as good as that 1976 team). Ben Dreith is still a curse word in my house.
” 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”
Shouldn’t that be Mack Herron? It’s entirely possible Mack was a nickname and I’ve always thought it was his real name.