by Brendon Rosenau, Patriots Daily Staff
It was clear early on in 1986 that the Patriots run to the Super Bowl was indeed something to savor. After the Pats were eaten alive by the Bears many New England fans thought it was the start of good things to come. The team had an enviable mix of rising young stars and wily veterans who still had plenty in the tank. However, immediately after the 1985 season officially ended things started to take a turn for the worse for New England.
On the Monday after Super Bowl XX head coach Raymond Berry made this astounding statement in the Boston Globe regarding a team-wide drug issue.
“I would say we may be 28th in the league as far as this problem goes,” he said. “But there are at least five players we know who have a serious problem and five to seven more whom we suspect very strongly. We have a situation that exists here that we feel is intolerable. It has been going on for a year…”
The six players that failed drug tests were notable players; Irving Fryar, Ken Simms, Raymond Clayborn, Tony Collins, Roland James and Stephen Starring. This issue, though, would be just the start of a tumultuous offseason for New England. Future Hall of Famer John Hannah retired as did defensive stalwart Julius Adams. Then in the summer Tony Eason, fresh off a 0-6 game in the Super Bowl was named the starter over Steve Grogan. Grogan said all the right things, but was privately ticked off at being passed over once again. The decision also caused a divide in the locker room. With all these issues, the Patriots still had talent and they did perform.
After starting the year 3-3 they went on a seven game win streak and finished the year 11-5, winning the AFC East and reaching the playoffs for a second consecutive year for the first time in franchise history. During that win streak it was old-reliable that stepped in and gave the Pats a huge boast. Grogan stated his second game of the year in Week 7 against Pittsburgh and led the Patriots to a 34-0 win behind 243 yards and three touchdowns. The win started the Patriots streak that saw them turn into a Super Bowl contender. The streak was snapped with a loss to Cincy and San Fran, but a win in the regular season finale in Miami had the Pats feeling good.
With a first place finish, N.E. had a bye into the divisional round where they had to travel to Mile High Stadium to take on the Broncos. The Pats led 7-3 in the first quarter when Stanley Morgan (3 catches, 100 yards) scored on a 19-yard pass from Eason. Denver took a 13-10 lead in the third, before Morgan put the Pats ahead 17-3 with a 45-ard score. New England though would become an early victim of the legend of John Elway. Wide receiver Vance Johnson caught the Pats secondary sleeping on a free play and hauled in a 48-yard score that put the Broncos ahead for good 20-17. A safety made the final 22-17. It would be eight long years before the Patriots reached the playoffs again.
- Tony Eason – 61.6%, 3328 yards (10th NFL), 19 TD (T-9th), 89.2 rating (4th)
- Tony Collins 412 rushing yards-3 TD; 77 catches (8th), 684 yards 5 TD
- Craig James – 427 rushing yards, 4 TD
- Morgan 84 catches (4th), 1491 yards (2nd) – 10 TD (T-5th)
- Tony Franklin 140 points (1st), 44 Extra Points (3rd), 32-41 Field Goals (1st)
- Garin Veris 11 sacks
- Andre Tippet 9.5 sacks
- Ronnie Lippett 8INT (T-5th)
- Brent Williams 4 FR (T-7th)
Mosi Tatupu, Stanley Morgan (WR), Brian Holloway (LT), Andre Tippett (LOLB), Don Blackmon (ROLB), Ronnie Lippett (LCB), Raymond Clayborn (RCB), Ton Franklin (K)
Tatupu, Morgan, Tippett, Clayborn, Franklin