The 1983 season proved to be a wild ride with yet another unhappy ending. With the departure of long-time veterans Mike Haynes and Don Hasselbeck, Head Coach Ron Meyer fielded the second youngest club in the NFL.
The team avoided a serious loss when management was able to coax All-Pro guard John Hannah out of a premature retirement in August. Hannah's return further bolstered a roster loaded with talent, but youth bred inconsistency and led to a roller coaster season that saw the Patriots finish 8-8 and one game out of the playoffs.
Fans got an indication of what they could expect from their club in the season opener at the newly renamed Sullivan Stadium. In the first of many big plays in 1983, quarterback Steve Grogan hit rookie wide receiver Stephen Starring on a 73-yard touchdown bomb for New England's first score of the season. The Patriots rushed for more than 200 yards and rolled up more than 400 yards of total offense, but four turnovers, including a costly Tony Collins fumble in overtime, led to a 29-23 defeat against the Baltimore Colts.
After dropping their 17th straight game to the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl the Patriots returned home and got a record setting performance from Collins, who rushed for a new club record of 212 yards and scored three touchdowns in a convincing 23-13 thumping of the New York Jets. New England's young defense rose to the occasion, limiting 1982 NFL rushing champion Freeman McNeil to only 33 yards. Linebacker Andre Tippett displayed his first indication of future stardom by making three key plays on a goal-line stand to help choke off a Jets rally.
The Patriots rode the momentum of their big win into Pittsburgh the following week and evened their record with a 28-23 victory. But youthful inconsistency surfaced again over the next two weeks with the Patriots dropping consecutive games to the 49ers and Colts. Things appeared hopeless when New England fell behind to Dan Fouts and the high-powered San Diego Chargers 21-10 in Week Seven. But a key play by rookie linebacker Johnny Rembert helped turn the tide. Rembert stuffed Fouts on an attempted quarterback sneak at the New England 1-yard line to deny San Diego a sure touchdown. The effort spurred a 24-point fourth quarter by the Patriots, who went on to score an impressive 37-21 comeback victory.
Grogan became the club's all-time passing leader the following week in Buffalo when he tossed two touchdown passes and threw for 244 yards while safety Roland James picked off three passes (all in the fourth quarter) in a 31-0 rout of the Bills.
[!()]() After splitting the next two games New England hosted the Dolphins and scored their most impressive win of the season in a 17-6 victory. With three rookies and three second-year players in the starting defensive lineup, New England held the Dolphins to only 81 yards rushing and limited rookie quarterback Dan Marino to only 126 passing yards. Offensively, the Patriots ran the ball down Miami's throat, rushing for 224 yards en route to their seventh win over the Dolphins in their last eight games at Foxborough.
Disaster struck the following week when Grogan was lost for the rest of the season with a broken leg in a 31-0 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. Untested rookie Tony Eason (the Pats first-round draft choice from Illinois) was forced into action, and Meyer emphasized the Patriots running attack in order to take the burden off the rookie.
The strategy worked to perfection, as New England rattled off consecutive victories over NFC West opponents in December. Playing on a miserably wet, snowy day at Foxborough in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints the Pats gutted out a tough 7-0 win.
With their home schedule now complete the Patriots had to win their last two games of the season on the road to qualify for the postseason. Against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams the Patriots forced seven turnovers and succeeded in neutralizing All-Pro running back Eric Dickerson, as the Pats defeated the Rams 21-7 in one of their most impressive games of the year.
The Patriots needed a win in Seattle in the final week to clinch a playoff berth, but the tough Seahawk defense shut down the Patriots running attack and devoured Eason. Seattle converted two second half New England turnovers to break open a tight game and won going away, 24-6.
But the season wasn't a total failure. Second-year linebacker Clayton Weishuhn teamed with Tippett to give the Pats a formidable combination at linebacker. Weishuhn had a monster season, leading the team with an incredible 229 tackles.