Official website of the New England Patriots

Foxboro Stadium History - 1974

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            They beat the powerful Los Angeles Rams, 20-14, in Week Three, but the most impressive win of the season came in Week Seven against the defending NFC champion Vikings in Minnesota. It appeared the Patriots were about to lose to the Vikings after dominating the game for three quarters. Two Minnesota fourth-quarter touchdowns erased what was a 10-0 Patriots lead and appeared to wrap up the game for Minnesota. But with 1:21 left to play, Jim Plunkett drove his club 76 yards to the Vikings 10-yard line. With only eight seconds remaining, Plunkett hit Bob Windsor at the 3, and the gutsy tight end struggled into the end zone for the game-winning score. It was as costly an effort as it was courageous, as Windsor severely injured his knee in the process and was lost for the rest of the year.  

The play represented the high watermark of the season, but also signaled the start of a rash of injuries that stripped New England of its top performers. The Patriots were especially hard hit at the offensive skill positions. Besides Windsor, wide receivers Darryl Stingley and Reggie Rucker also went down with injuries, leaving New England with virtually no experience at the position. When fullback Sam Cunningham was lost with a broken leg in Week 10, the Patriots fate was sealed. But despite their ill fortune, New England continued to battle each week, losing only once by more than a touchdown in the second half of the season.

One player who avoided the injury bug was the indispensable Mack Herron, the diminutive 5-5 waterbug of a running back whom the Patriots rescued from the CFL the previous season. Used mostly as a return man in 1973, Herron won a spot in the backfield alongside Cunningham and turned in an outstanding season. Herron became the first Patriot to lead the team in both rushing and receiving in one season, and set a new club record for touchdowns in a season with 12. Herron also set an NFL record with 2,444 combined net yards.

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            The Patriots offense netted 348 points to finish second in scoring in the NFL. But Fairbanks' refurbished defense was responsible for much of the turn around. The effective new 3-4 or stack defense enabled the Patriots to finish first in the AFC in rushing defense. New England allowed only 113.4 yards per game on the ground, an amazing feat considering the club had finished dead last in that category a year earlier.  

An effective pass rush was expected to be a problem with the 3-4, but the Patriots racked up 38 sacks to rank second in the conference. Four-year pro Julius Adams led the team with eight sacks and teamed with fellow linemen Ray Hamilton, Mel Lunsford, and Tony McGee to give New England a solid presence along the line of scrimmage. After seven straight losing seasons, the Patriots narrowly missed a winning season in 1974. With a young team that was loaded with talent the future appeared bright for this new band of Patriots. They would just need to take a step backward before they could move forward

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            If the Patriots were to improve on their 5-9 season of 1973, Head Coach Chuck Fairbanks had to find a way to improve his club's porous defense. His solution was to use the 3-4 defensive alignment (three down linemen, four linebackers) as his regular defense, something no other club in the NFL had tried. With a shortage of quality linemen but an abundance of young, active linebackers (including rookies Steve Nelson and Sam Hunt acquired in the 1974 NFL draft) the move seemed logical on paper, but NFL experts were dubious as to its effectiveness as a full-time solution.  

Fairbanks unveiled his new "Oklahoma Defense" at home against the Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins in the season's opening week. The Patriots stunned the football world, holding the Dolphins to a mere 89 yards on the ground while rushing for nearly 200 yards themselves in a 34-24 upset victory. The win was arguably one of the greatest upsets in franchise history, but was quickly brushed aside as New England started to roll up victories with amazing regularity.

The Patriots became the surprise team of the NFL over the first half of the 1974 season, winning their first five games and six of their first seven to stand atop the AFC East. The NFL schedule makers did the Patriots no favors in 1974 by assigning them the most difficult slate in the league, which included five of the eight 1973 playoff teams. While none of the Patriot wins in 1973 came against winning teams, in 1974 New England routinely polished off the league's best.

            [
13549.jpg

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            They beat the powerful Los Angeles Rams, 20-14, in Week Three, but the most impressive win of the season came in Week Seven against the defending NFC champion Vikings in Minnesota. It appeared the Patriots were about to lose to the Vikings after dominating the game for three quarters. Two Minnesota fourth-quarter touchdowns erased what was a 10-0 Patriots lead and appeared to wrap up the game for Minnesota. But with 1:21 left to play, Jim Plunkett drove his club 76 yards to the Vikings 10-yard line. With only eight seconds remaining, Plunkett hit Bob Windsor at the 3, and the gutsy tight end struggled into the end zone for the game-winning score. It was as costly an effort as it was courageous, as Windsor severely injured his knee in the process and was lost for the rest of the year.  

The play represented the high watermark of the season, but also signaled the start of a rash of injuries that stripped New England of its top performers. The Patriots were especially hard hit at the offensive skill positions. Besides Windsor, wide receivers Darryl Stingley and Reggie Rucker also went down with injuries, leaving New England with virtually no experience at the position. When fullback Sam Cunningham was lost with a broken leg in Week 10, the Patriots fate was sealed. But despite their ill fortune, New England continued to battle each week, losing only once by more than a touchdown in the second half of the season.

One player who avoided the injury bug was the indispensable Mack Herron, the diminutive 5-5 waterbug of a running back whom the Patriots rescued from the CFL the previous season. Used mostly as a return man in 1973, Herron won a spot in the backfield alongside Cunningham and turned in an outstanding season. Herron became the first Patriot to lead the team in both rushing and receiving in one season, and set a new club record for touchdowns in a season with 12. Herron also set an NFL record with 2,444 combined net yards.

            [
17563.jpg

]()

            The Patriots offense netted 348 points to finish second in scoring in the NFL. But Fairbanks' refurbished defense was responsible for much of the turn around. The effective new 3-4 or stack defense enabled the Patriots to finish first in the AFC in rushing defense. New England allowed only 113.4 yards per game on the ground, an amazing feat considering the club had finished dead last in that category a year earlier.  

An effective pass rush was expected to be a problem with the 3-4, but the Patriots racked up 38 sacks to rank second in the conference. Four-year pro Julius Adams led the team with eight sacks and teamed with fellow linemen Ray Hamilton, Mel Lunsford, and Tony McGee to give New England a solid presence along the line of scrimmage. After seven straight losing seasons, the Patriots narrowly missed a winning season in 1974. With a young team that was loaded with talent the future appeared bright for this new band of Patriots. They would just need to take a step backward before they could move forward

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