Tag Archives: 1976 Patriots Playoffs

New England Patriots News 5-20, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 20, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, all the best to our friends at HMEA today and their annual “Walk/Run for Independence. This will be the first time in 10 years we can’t attend but a work trip beckons. Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-20, & AFC East Notes

Andy Johnson Was a Gem and Would Fit Right in Today:
So sad this week to learn that former Patriots running back Andy Johnson passed away after a long fight with cancer. Growing up in the Chuck Fairbanks era, the Patriots had a stable of excellent running backs and were fun to watch. They had Johnson, Sam Cunningham, Don Calhoun, Horace Ivory, Mosi Tatupu and others. The 1976 and 1978 teams were true running back by committee teams and the Patriots set the NFL rushing record without a back gaining more than 768 yards.

The 1976 Patriots team was a juggernaut on the ground, averaging 5.0 yards per rush and an incredible 210 yards per game rushing. The ‘78 team set the record for team rushing (3165 yards) in a season, but the 1976 squad was even better. Johnson rushed for 699 yards and six scored and caught 29 passes for four more touchdowns that year.

Johnson was drafted in the 5th round, (112th overall) in the 1974 draft. Johnson was a quarterback at the University of Georgia and led the Bulldogs to an 11-1 record as a sophomore. The Patriots converted him to running back and he was a very good rusher, and excellent pass receiver (he was the leading receiver for the 1976 team) and could throw the ball on a trick play here or there as well as play special teams.

He was the type of player Bill Belichick would have loved today.

When hearing the news of his passing, I reached out to Patriots Hall of Fame Linebacker Steve Nelson as the two were teammates for several years in New England. Nelson though saddened, wasn’t shocked by the news.

“It was really sad to hear that Andy passed on so young (65) today,” Nelson said. “We’d heard that his cancer ( Esophageal) had progressed so bad that he had trouble eating solid food for the past year and had dropped an incredible amount of weight.”

“Andy and I were drafted the same year (1974) and we were roommates on the road for the first three years in the league together. After he played for the Patriots for about eight years he finished up his football career for the Boston Breakers in the USFL in 1983.”

“He was a great football player and teammate and an even better guy.”

Johnson leaves behind his wife Charlotte and three children.

Matt Light Honored as the Newest Member of the Hall:
Former Patriot LT Matt Light is the latest member of the Patriots to be elected into the team’s Hall of Fame. Light, in a fan vote, outdistanced former LB Mike Vrabel and DL Richard Seymour this spring and will be inducted on September 29 during the 10th anniversary of the Hall at Patriots Place.

Light played left tackle for 11 years and started 153 of the 155 games he appeared in during his Patriots career, including another 20 playoff games. Light was an integral member of three Super Bowl titles and garnered three Pro Bowl selections, and a first-team All-Pro selection.

Light was always approachable and affable with a quick wit and that no doubt played into his selection. He said all the right things after being selected, stating, “I was extremely fortunate not only to make it to the NFL but make it to an organization that took winning first. Right behind that were so many other things that made my experience extremely special, whether it was the community service side and giving back, and the people that I got to meet, and raising my family here in New England.”

As I stated on our Patriots 4th & 2 podcast this week, I had no issue with any of the three finalists as they are all worthy. But as for Seymour, he belongs in Canton and should be wearing two jackets, one gold, one red.

Patriots OL line up helmets after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Shelton, “it kinda sucked at first” 5th Year Option Denied, But Ready to Run:
New Patriots defensive lineman Danny Shelton was a bit disappointed that the Patriots turned down his fifth-year option just after trading for him but looks upon it as a chance to excel.

“Obviously, it sucked at first,” Shelton said. “At the same time, you’ve got to think of it as an opportunity. For me, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here for the year and to just try my best to dominate and put myself out there and see what happens after that.”

Shelton is trying to shed some extra weight and get to his playing weight of 335 and he’s been doing more running than ever before.

“I feel like my body is adjusted now to all the running, man. It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “But, I like it.”

He was asked about running the hill behind the Patriots practice facility and although he admitted he “waved at it”, hasn’t experienced it yet but knows the team places an extremely high premium on conditioning.

“That’s what I’m focusing on, and that’s why I like the change,” Shelton said, when asked about improving his endurance level. “I know my body will be more trained for endurance, and more trained for fourth quarter/overtime. I’m excited for the rest of the year.”

“I’m expecting to be at 335 and dominating at 335,” he added.

Patriots Football is back! (SBalestrieri photo)

Kraft, Latest Figurehead to be Deposed in Kaepernick Collusion Case:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the latest in a series of NFL owners and front office personnel to be deposed in the Colin Kaepernick vs the NFL collusion suit.

Lawyers have already spoken to John Elway of the Broncos, owner Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome, as well as Dallas owner Jerry Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Kaepernick filed a grievance against the league claiming collusion last fall, and remains unsigned by any team. His suit claims the league is blackballing him for kneeling in protest during the national anthem while playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

And all of these owners, coaches, and GMs had quarterback openings on their team.

Patriots Sign OL King Cut WR Lacy:
The Patriots re-signed offensive linemen Jason King and in a corresponding move have released UDFA rookie WR Chris Lacy. King had been signed to a futures contract on Feb. 6, 2018 and was released on May 10.

King is a 6’4, 310 pound OL from Purdue who was signed by the Patriots as a UDFA in 2017. He bounced between the Patriots active roster and the practice squads of both New England and Baltimore last season.

Lacy was a UDFA 6’3, 205-pound wide receiver from Oklahoma State who caught 20 passes for 264 yards as a senior.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Set to Retire Thurman Thomas’ #34 Jersey:
The Buffalo Bills announced this week that Thurman Thomas’ # 34 jersey will become the third number retired in franchise history when the Bills host the Patriots on Monday Night Football Oct. 29. Thomas will join quarterback Jim Kelly and defensive end Bruce Smith to receive the honor.

Thomas, already a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Bills’ Ring of Honor spent 12 seasons in Buffalo and one season with the Miami Dolphins, amassing 12,074 yards rushing and 65 touchdowns on 2,877 career attempts. A true dual-threat running back, Thomas added 4,458 yards and 23 touchdowns on 472 catches.

Thomas led the league in yards from scrimmage for four straight years and was a key part of the Bills K-Gun attack that went to four straight Super Bowls.

Dolphins Offense Plans on Playing Faster More UpTempo in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are planning on dusting off their early 2016 season offensive game plan on playing faster and more uptempo now that Ryan Tannehill is back under center. They tried it early in 2016 while the team was struggling and going 1-4 and then scrapped it for a more methodical approach.

But as a piece in the Palm Beach Post suggests, it was not without merit. The Dolphins trailed the Patriots 31-3 and then mounted a huge comeback that came up just short in the 31-24 loss.

“We get a lot of practice at a no-huddle offense,” Tannehill said after the game. “It’s kind of what we are. We have the ability to go huddle or no huddle and we kind of got the pressure on them. We kind of got them on their heels a little bit.”

The onus and all of the focus will be on Tannehill as this is it for him. He’ll have to prove he’s the franchise QB or the team will move on from him. He’ll have to get on the same page with several newcomers, including Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, as well as rookies Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe.

Prosecutors Drop Felony Case Against Jets Robby Anderson:
The New York Jets WR Robby Anderson may have dodged a bullet in a felony case in Florida where he was facing four felony counts after leading police officers on a high-speed chase thru Miami-Dade County. After being pulled over by police officers, Anderson reportedly threatened to sexually assault the officer’s wife in retaliation for pulling him over.

He was also arrested in another case where he assaulted a security officer and pushing a police officer in May of last year at a concert in Miami.

Anderson, who had career highs with the Jets had 63 receptions, 941 yards and seven TDs in 2017 and although rumors were swirling that he’d be cut loose, the Jets are standing by him with CEO Christopher Johnson stating at the league meeting this spring that he believes Anderson will turn over a new leaf.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Making A Case for Chuck Fairbanks for the Patriots Hall

Steve Balestrieri
April 5, 2016 at 6:00 am ET


Fairbanks built strong Patriots teams thru the Draft and is Worthy

The Nomination Committee for the Patriots Hall of Fame will meet on Wednesday and begin deliberations for the final three names for the fans to vote on for the next member of the Hall.

With the early 2000’s Super Bowl teams’ members now retired and eligible, there will be plenty of names to pick thru and all of them are deserving. This piece is being written because while most of the fans who will vote are too young to remember anything but success, the Patriots had some very dark years and those of us who lived thru them know and appreciate the teams of today.

But there was a brief lull in the doldrums of the mid-to-late 60’s and before the Super Bowl team of 1985 and that was during the tenure of Chuck Fairbanks. Fairbanks was lured away from Oklahoma where the Sooners had become a national power under his watch to take over the worst team in football. While at Norman, Fairbanks’ teams were 52-15-1 and had a couple of powerhouse teams that won back-to-back Sugar Bowls in 1971-72 before leaving for Foxboro. He coached Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens during his tenure.

His 1971 team went 11-1 and ended up losing the “Game of the Century” to Nebraska. But that team rushed for 5196 yards and averaged a ridiculous 472.4 yards per game.

Changes Coming in New England: The first thing he did was fix a Patriots draft system that was pretty much broken at that time. In his first draft Fairbanks landed HOF OL John Hannah, RB Sam Cunningham, WR Darryl Stingley as well as NT ‘Sugar Bear’ Ray Hamilton. A year later he brought in LB Steve Nelson, RB Andy Johnson and LB Sam Hunt. The core of his teams in New England was being put together. Russ Francis and Steve Grogan joined the team in 1975.

His first season 1973, the Patriots were still playing with a majority of players from the old regime that had gone 22-61-1 in the previous six seasons. Fairbanks’ team started slowly at 2-7 before finishing in third place with a 5-9 record. But the culture was changing and Fairbanks was building a solid team.

He changed the Patriots defense to a 3-4 that was still used by Bill Belichick in his Super Bowl winning years. In an interview with Steve Nelson a few years ago, he said that the calls for that Fairbanks 3-4 defense were still relevant to what the Patriots were doing in the early 2000s.

The 1974 season started off with the Patriots on fire leaping out to a 6-1 record before a rash of injuries decimated the team. The highlight of that season found the Pats on the road at 5-1 facing a 5-1 Vikings team.

Fran Tarkenton scrambled for a late touchdown giving the Vikings the lead. He then tripped over a television cable, thinking he was tripped by Pats CB Ron Bolton. Tarkenton turned and fired the ball into the face of Bolton igniting a brawl. But Jim Plunkett led the Patriots to a game-winning drive, connecting with TE Bob Windsor who broke numerous tackles getting into the end zone. Windsor blew out his knee on the game winning play setting the tone for the rest of the season.

Fairbanks team limped to a 1-6 finish to end the season 7-7, their highest win total since the 1966 season. The following year injuries and poor play rocked the team and they fell back to 3-11 season. But that wasn’t to last. The ’76 draft added Pete Brock, Mike Haynes, Tim Fox and Ike Forte.

Running Juggernaut: Plunkett was replaced at QB by Grogan, Fairbanks installed a punishing running game that average 210 yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush. The Patriots offense was the 2nd highest scoring team in the league averaging 27 points per game. In back-to-back games they beat Pittsburgh on the road, then annihilated the Raiders 48-17 in Foxboro. The team was now one of the AFC’s best.

For the divisional round of the playoffs, the 11-3 Patriots had to go on the road against the 13-1 Raiders. This was the infamous ‘Ben Dreith’ game. There was (among others), the phantom ‘roughing the passer’ penalty on Ray Hamilton that wouldn’t even be a penalty in today’s NFL never mind 1976, which set the Raiders up for a winning Kenny Stabler touchdown.

That Patriots team was primed to win the Super Bowl. The Steelers were badly beat up and a shell of themselves where Oakland dispatched them easily enroute to a SB win over Minnesota. Oakland rushed for 266 yards in that SB without nearly the running game New England had that season.

Ownership Breaks with the Coach: The Patriots were no longer a joke of a franchise without a permanent home and a losing attitude. The 1977 draft saw Fairbanks bring in Raymond Clayborn, Stanley Morgan, Horace Ivory and Don Hasselback. Fairbanks was building a winner and instead of embracing his ways, the ownership cut him off at the knees.

Fairbanks promised John Hannah and Leon Gray new deals in 1977 as they were the anchors of the offensive line that keyed the running game. But the Sullivans nixed the deals. For Fairbanks, it was an omen that this relationship wasn’t going to end well.

The 1978 Patriots once again were one of the top teams in the AFC. They rushed 3165 yards and 30 TDs which is still an NFL record and averaged 4.7 yards per rush. They were the 4th team in scoring in the NFL with 358 points and the 1st in yards with 5965. It was arguably their best team, and yet the relationship between Fairbanks and ownership was hopelessly fractured.

After starting 11-4, Fairbanks accepted the Head Coaching job at Colorado. Billy Sullivan fired him and Ron Erhardt coached the team in the season finale, a loss to Miami. Then Sullivan brought Fairbanks back for the playoffs, with a home game against the Houston Oilers. Any chance the Patriots had at going deep in the playoffs was gone. They came out flat and uninspired and Earl Campbell ran roughshod over them enroute to a 31-14 thumping in the franchise’s first home playoff game.

Fairbank’s career with New England was over way too quickly, a mistake on the part of ownership to trust in his system that was working, especially with his drafting.

After he left New England, he coached at Colorado for three years, did one season as the Coach/GM of the New Jersey Generals and was fired by Donald Trump. He then retired to Texas where he occasionally was the guest of then Cowboy’s coach Bill Parcells as a consultant with the draft and during training camp. He died of cancer in 2013.

The chances of Fairbanks getting one of the three slots by the nomination committee are slim. The Super Bowl teams from the 2000s beckon and the voters, the fans, most of whom weren’t even born during that era will give zero chance of Fairbanks being selected. They should.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.