After compiling only a 9-39 record in their last three seasons, the Patriots needed both a fresh start and a savior to deliver them back to respectability. In early January, Sam Jankovich resigned as Chief Executive Officer, and 12 days later Orthwein brought in Bill Parcells as the team's new head coach.
Parcells was only two years removed from winning his second Super Bowl as the head coach of the New York Giants. Parcells had ties to New England, having served as a Patriots assistant coach back in 1980, and he quickly impressed the local media in his introductory press conference, vowing to return the club to championship contention in short order.
Parcells's first order of business was to use his No. 1 draft choice (the first overall pick of the 1993 NFL draft) on quarterback Drew Bledsoe from Washington State. The 20-year old native of Ellensburg, Wash., possessed a cannon arm and seemed to be the answer to the Patriots long-time void at quarterback. Despite the presence of the rookie phenom and a massive turnover in overall team personnel, results were not immediately forthcoming. New England dropped Parcells's debut as head coach in Buffalo, 38-14, thanks to several turnovers. The following week New England saw a late rally to send the game into overtime go for naught, as the Detroit Lions scored a 19-16 win.
Parcells didn't get his first win as Patriots head coach until Week Five in Phoenix. Reserve quarterback Scott Secules came off the bench to replace an injured Bledsoe, who had gone down with an injured left knee shortly before halftime. Secules helped lead the Patriots to a 23-21 win over the Cardinals and was ably supported by running back Leonard Russell's 116 rushing yards. Secules 2-yard touchdown pass to Ben Coates in the fourth quarter provided the winning margin.
Bledsoe missed the next two weeks during which time the Patriots began a losing streak that would stretch to seven games. But Parcells's new band of Patriots was starting to gel as a team, and although victories were scarce, New England was extremely competitive in many of the losses. Although they were a miserable 1-11 after twelve weeks, the cumulative margin of defeat in eight of those eleven games had been a mere 21 points, signaling hope for improvement over the many one-sided losses the team had suffered a year earlier.
A defensive struggle against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13 resulted in a 7-2 win that ended the long losing streak. The following week New England posted its most impressive victory in several years, upsetting the Cleveland Browns at Municipal Stadium, 24-20. New England ran its winning streak to four games to close out the schedule, returning home to Foxborough to throttle Indianapolis 38-0 and upend the Dolphins, 33-27, in overtime.
The victory over Don Shula's Dolphins was particularly gratifying on several counts. The win ended a nine-game losing streak against Miami and eliminated the Dolphins from the postseason. The game also signaled the arrival of Bledsoe as a dominant NFL quarterback. Bledsoe threw for 329 yards and fired four touchdown passes, including a 36-yard scoring pass to Michael Timpson to win the game in overtime.
In addition to Bledsoe, several other players emerged under Parcells's tutelage. Russell became the first Patriot running back to crack the 1,000-yard barrier since 1988, carrying the ball a club record 300 times for 1,088 yards.
Bledsoe also developed a fine rapport with tight end Ben Coates, who developed into a star in only his third season with the Patriots. Coates led the team with 57 catches and eight touchdowns.
Although Parcells did not have a winning record to show for his first year in New England, he succeeded in building a foundation for the floundering franchise. During the last few weeks of the regular season, rumors about the Patriots being sold to interests in St. Louis dominated the headlines and detracted from the team's play on the field. The possibility of the fans losing their beloved franchise became a real possibility. It took more than Parcells's presence to save the Patriots.