After two straight promising seasons under Meyer expectations rose in 1984. No less than three leading sports publications picked the Patriots to win the AFC East, and with a roster brimming with talent including the No. 1 pick in the entire 1984 NFL draft in wideout Irving Fryar, it seemed New England was primed for a run at the playoffs. But the 25th anniversary of the franchise typically became unpredictable. Injuries hit the team hard, and combined with shoddy pass protection, relegated the team to a disappointing 9-7 season.
It started with a bang in Buffalo, as Grogan hit Starring with a 65-yard scoring pass on the second play from scrimmage en route to a 21-17 victory over the Bills. The win proved costly, as Weishuhn went down with a severe career-ending knee injury.
The Patriots returned to Foxborough after dropping their second game of the season to the Dolphins in Miami and nearly drove all 43,140 in attendance to the exits before the end of the first half. New England looked pathetic in falling behind Seattle 23-0, and Meyer replaced Grogan with Eason in the second quarter. Eason sparked the greatest comeback win in team history, leading the Patriots to 38 unanswered points in a remarkable 38-23 triumph. The Patriots had not managed even a single first down before Eason's entrance, but the second-year quarterback was able to elude the Seattle pass rush and throw for two touchdowns and run for a third in the exciting comeback.
After the defending NFC Champion Washington Redskins pounded the Patriots into submission in Week Four the team started to gel. Eason passed the New York Jets silly in a 28-21 Patriots victory at the Meadowlands. Besides becoming the first Patriots quarterback in four seasons to pass for more than 300 yards in a game, Eason completed a club record 28 passes to 10 different receivers for 354 yards and three touchdowns.
Eason seemed a perfect fit for Meyer's one-back offense, which utilized two wide receivers and two tight ends. Eason found a favorite target in tight end Derrick Ramsey, who broke the club's all-time single-season receiving record with 66 catches. Tony Collins, Mosi Tatupu, and USFL refugee Craig James (who led the club in rushing with 790 yards) all cracked the 500-yard rushing mark while taking turns in the backfield. The maturing defense showed signs of becoming a top unit. Veteran cornerback Ray Clayborn helped secure his club's 17-16 win in Cleveland in Week Six with his 18th career interception. After a 20-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals the following week the Patriots boasted a 5-2 record and prepared to take on the undefeated Dolphins at Foxborough.
But all was not well below the surface with the team. Meyer had repeatedly angered his players with his harsh methods and public criticism, and when his club dropped a 44-24 decision to Miami, the dissension came to a boil. Meyer fired defensive coordinator Rod Rust after the loss, a move that resulted in an uproar from the players. Team owner Billy Sullivan responded by ousting Meyer, and thus for the second time in their history the Patriots fired their head coach at midseason despite his having a winning record.
Sullivan named Raymond Berry as Meyer's successor. Berry had been out of football for three years, and the new head coach spent most of the season letting his assistants run the games while he got familiar with his new personnel. In Berry's first game as head coach the highly inspired Patriots overcame a 20-3 deficit to post a 30-20 comeback win over the New York Jets. New England dropped a heartbreaker in Denver the following week. Despite rolling up nearly 500 yards of offense against the Broncos, the Patriots dropped a 26-19 decision when a Tatupu fumble was returned 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown with just under two minutes to play.
The Patriots offense continued to operate at peak efficiency over the next two weeks. New England crushed Buffalo, 38-10, and then decimated the Indianapolis Colts, 50-17, in the Patriots first ever visit to the Hoosier Dome. Eason broke his own mark for completions by hitting on 29 of his 42 attempts against the Colts.
With an 8-4 record it seemed as if the Patriots were on the verge of clinching a playoff berth, but the club then dropped three straight games (all to NFC opponents) to miss out on the postseason once again. The main culprit was a porous pass protection scheme that allowed Eason to be sacked 22 times in the three contests, a total that would swell to 66 (a new team record) by season's end.
Despite the midseason turmoil and the late season slump, the 9-7 season saw several players emerge to take on key roles. Tippett became a team leader, setting an NFL record with 18.5 sacks by a linebacker. For his outstanding effort, Tippett was named the team MVP and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Eason, in his first full season as the Patriots starting quarterback, set new team records for completions (259), completion percentage (60.1) and lowest interception percentage (1.8). He added 23 touchdown passes as well. Although the 25th anniversary season ended in disappointment, the future appeared bright for a young team on the rise.