The Patriots dominated the news during the offseason on the Boston sports scene. Speculation on the future of the club finally came to an end when Robert Kraft became the fourth owner in the team's 35-year history. Kraft's purchase of the club gave the Patriots a solid ownership foundation for the first time in franchise history and insured the team would remain in New England for the immediate future.
The fans responded to the news in a big way. On Feb. 26, they bought an unprecedented 5,958 season tickets. It was easily the largest single-day sales record in Patriots history. For the first time, every home game was sold out as all of New England braced for a successful season in Bill Parcells' second year as head coach.
The season started off with a bang with Patriot quarterback Drew Bledsoe and his Miami counterpart, Dan Marino, putting on a show that brought back old AFL memories. The two quarterbacks combined for nearly 900 yards in the air, but Marino's five touchdown passes out-did Bledsoe's four in a 39-35 Dolphins win in Miami. The Patriots had one last chance to pull out the victory, but tight end Ben Coates fumbled deep in Dolphin territory to snuff out the Patriots last scoring bid.
New England put another 35 points on the scoreboard the next week in the home opener against the Buffalo Bills only to come away with another disappointing loss to a division rival. Three times the Patriots rallied back from 14-point deficits, tying the game at 35-35 on a 6-yard run by running back Marion Butts. But Buffalo kicker Steve Christie booted a 35-yard field goal to give the division-rival Bills a 38-35 win.
New England then went on a three-game winning streak, besting Cincinnati and Detroit on the road before returning home to nip the Green Bay Packers 17-16 thanks to kicker Matt Bahr's last second 33-yard field goal. But just as quickly as the Patriots had gained momentum they suddenly lost it. Four straight losses brought their record to 3-6 entering a Nov. 13 contest against the Minnesota Vikings.
It appeared the season was all but over when Minnesota raced to a 20-0 lead. Parcells decided to scrap his regular offense and employ a no-huddle attack the rest of the game. The results were spectacular, as Bledsoe rallied New England to a 26-20 victory in overtime with the most prolific passing display in NFL history. Bledsoe set NFL records for attempts and completions by hitting on 45-of-70 passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns. Bledsoe's final throw of the game was a 14-yard game-winning scoring toss to fullback Kevin Turner, a score that sent the sellout crowd at Foxboro Stadium into a frenzy.
The pulsating victory turned the Patriots season around, as they ran off seven straight victories to secure their first playoff berth since 1986. A 13-3 road win over the Chicago Bears in the season finale on Dec. 24 gave the Patriots a wild card playoff berth thanks to their impressive 10-6 regular-season record. Unfortunately the season ended in Cleveland against the Browns the following week. A rugged Browns defense shut down Bledsoe and the Patriots passing attack in a 20-13 Cleveland victory.
New England's success was based on a passing offense that rolled up more than 4,500 yards, a new team record. The Patriots success through the air helped to make up for a woeful running attack that finished near the bottom in the league and generated only 2.8 yards an attempt.
Tight end Ben Coates, who was voted the NFL's All-Pro tight end, set a club record with 96 receptions, a mark that also was an NFL single-season record for tight ends. Coates was one of six New England players to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl, as the Patriots sent their largest contingent to Hawaii since their 1985 Super Bowl season.
Bledsoe established four NFL and 19 team passing records in 1994, throwing 25 touchdown passes and completing a team-record 400 passes in 691 attempts for 4,555 yards, and at age 22, became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to go to the Pro Bowl. Bledsoe set team records for attempts, completions, yards, and also registered the eighth-highest passing yardage total in league history.