The Patriots were expected to improve upon their 10-6 record by contending for the division title and conference championship in 1995. Instead, inconsistent play on both sides of the ball and an injury to Bledsoe led to a 6-10 finish and one of the more disappointing seasons in franchise history. A five-game losing streak early in the season effectively ruined any chances the Patriots had of returning to the playoffs. The lackluster season did little to dampen fan interest in the team, which reached an all-time high in 1995.
The season started on a high note with rookie running back Curtis Martin breaking off a 30-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns. The run was longer than any in 1994 for the Patriots and served to signal the arrival of a new star in the Patriots backfield. New England rallied from a 14-6 deficit at the start of the third quarter to defeat the Browns 17-14 and gain revenge for their playoff loss to Cleveland just eight months earlier. Bledsoe drove New England 85 yards and helped keep the drive alive with a 1-yard sneak on fourth-and-one to put the ball on the 2-yard line with just 1:14 left. Martin capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown leap with 19 seconds remaining to provide the game-winning margin.
New England's problems surfaced the following week against the Dolphins. Miami safety Michael Stewart limited Coates to only three catches while the Dolphins shut down the Patriots running game in a convincing 20-3 win. The loss was the first of five consecutive defeats.
The offense struggled mightily during the slide, producing only one field goal in three of the five losses. Without a speed threat in their wide receiving corps, opposing defenses keyed on stopping Coates and Martin, leaving Bledsoe with few options. Compounding the problems was a shoulder injury to Bledsoe in Week Three when he took a blind side hit from the 49ers Ken Norton in a game the Niners dominated, 28-3.
Renewed hope surfaced when New England snapped out of its slump with a 27-14 win over Buffalo in Week Seven before a national Monday night television audience. Martin was spectacular, rushing for 127 yards on 36 carries with a touchdown. But any hopes of the Patriots making the playoffs were dashed the following week against the expansion Carolina Panthers.
The Patriots yielded more than 400 yards of total offense to the Panthers and saw John Kasay's 33-yard field goal spell the difference in a crushing 20-17 defeat in overtime. Patriots punter Pat O'Neill managed only 32 yards per kick in the game, and his poor punting helped set up all four Carolina scores on drives that began inside Patriots territory. O'Neill was dismissed after the game and replaced by Bryan Wagner for the rest of the season.
With the playoffs now nothing more than a remote possibility, the Patriots played their best month of football in November, winning three of four games and finally resembling the 1994 playoff team. They polished off the New York Jets, 20-7, at the Meadowlands behind Martin's 170 rushing yards, which was a new mark for a Patriots rookie running back.
The following week, they had their finest performance of the season. Playing the Dolphins in Miami in Week 11, Parcells defeated a Dan Marino-led team for the first time with a 34-17 win. Bledsoe threw touchdown passes of 47 yards to Vincent Brisby and 8 yards to Coates, while Martin bludgeoned the Dolphins for 142 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Although Marino established a new NFL record for all-time passing yardage in the game, New England ruined his afternoon by sacking him twice and picking off two of his 37 passes in the impressive victory.
New England managed only two more wins the rest of the season, including a 35-25 victory over the eventual divisional champion Buffalo Bills in Week 12. Trailing 25-13 entering the fourth quarter, the Patriots broke loose for 25 points (15 in the final 1:23) to stun the Bills and sweep the series with their division rivals. Two weeks later the Patriots forced four turnovers in a 31-28 win over the New York Jets at Foxborough. But the season ended on a down note with consecutive losses to both Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.
Though the 1995 season was one of disappointment for both the team and fans, there were some positive developments. The biggest revelation of the season was the discovery of Martin as the running back that New England had sought for nearly a decade. The third-round draft pick from Pittsburgh compiled nine 100-yard rushing games en route to capturing the AFC rushing crown with 1,487 yards, breaking Jim Nance's club record set in 1966. Martin also broke Steve Grogan's record for touchdowns scored with 14. For his efforts Martin was voted to the Pro Bowl alongside Coates and offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong, who garnered his fourth consecutive trip to Hawaii.
!() Despite his shoulder injury, Bledsoe attempted (636) and completed (323) more passes for more yards (3,507) than any other quarterback in Patriots history. He also set a new franchise record for consecutive passes without throwing an interception. During a seven game span, Bledsoe threw 179 passes without throwing a single interception, breaking Tony Eason's team record set in 1986.