By Brendon Rosenau, Patriots Daily Staff
Many 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.
- 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)
Chris Slade (LLB), Larry Whigham (Special Teams)
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.