The 1992 season began with optimism as fans hoped wins in two of the last three games in 1991 were a sign of things to come. But by the time the season ended on Dec. 27, the Patriots had only two wins, and the question on everyone's mind was whether the franchise had seen its last days in New England.
St. Louis businessman James Orthwein had purchased the club in May of 1992. Orthwein also bought out minority owner Fran Murray in November, and after a poor season that had seen attendance drop off dramatically (including a paltry near-record low 19,429 for a Dec. 6 contest against Indianapolis), rumors ran wild of Orthwein moving the team to his native St. Louis.
The season itself was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. The Patriots began the year by dropping a 14-0 decision to the Los Angeles Rams. The offensive lows that riddled the team the previous two seasons again proved to be an Achilles heel in 1992. The offense failed to produce a touchdown until the fourth week of the season and struggled mightily to score points all year long. They topped the 20-point mark in a game only once and by then, they had already recorded a franchise-record nine consecutive losses to begin the season.
The long losing streak took its toll on 61-year-old Patriots head coach Dick MacPherson. Following the team's eighth consecutive loss on Nov. 7, MacPherson was hospitalized with acute diverticulitis. The affable head coach was sidelined for two months after intestinal surgery and by the time he returned for the season finale against Miami, his team was in total disarray.
With assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia filling in for the ailing MacPherson, the Patriots mercifully ended their losing streak in Week 10 at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. Third-string quarterback Scott Zolak replaced the injured Hugh Millen and in his first NFL start and led the Patriots to a 37-34 overtime victory. Zolak completed 20-of-29 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns, celebrating his completions with a variety of gyrations that expressed his youthful exuberance.
Zolak rallied the Patriots to tie the game five different times, including a clutch, last-second drive that set up kicker Charlie Baumann's 44-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime at the end of regulation. Baumann then nailed an 18-yard field goal at 3:25 of the extra session to give the Patriots their first win of the year.
New England put forth its best effort of the season the following week against the New York Jets. Zolak did little more than hand off to running backs Jon Vaughn (110 yards in 20 carries) and veteran John Stephens (51 yards in 14 rushes), as the Patriots ground out a 24-3 decision over their division rivals. Stephens scored twice in the first half and Vaughn once as New England secured its only home victory of the year.
The brief winning streak came to an abrupt end with consecutive shutout losses to Atlanta and Indianapolis — the first time in club history that the Patriots had suffered back-to-back shutouts.
Injuries took their toll on Patriots quarterbacks in 1992, and by season's end, New England pressed lefty Jeff Carlson into service. With the first southpaw in team history taking the helm, three more losses followed to close out the abysmal season. A 16-13 overtime loss to the Dolphins on the season's final day seemed a fitting end to what had been a year of utter futility. The horrid 2-14 record was the worst in all of football in 1992, and the fact that the Patriots would be awarded the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft seemed little consolation