"We should beat them easily," laughs former quarterback Steve Grogan. "The 1978 team was a veteran team. On offense we could grind it out on the ground against anyone, and we could also throw the ball when we had to."
Spurred on by Grogan's bold prediction his '78 teammates seize control of the game from the outset. Grogan directs his team on two long first quarter scoring drives, connecting with tight end Russ Francis and wide receiver Harold Jackson on touchdown passes for a commanding 14-0 lead.
Jim Plunkett was the Patriots franchise quarterback for five seasons, and as the second quarter begins the former Heisman Trophy winner hooks up with his favorite target, Randy "The Rabbit" Vataha on a 51-yard bomb that puts the ball on the 5-yard line. Three plays later Plunkett finds Reggie Rucker in the end zone for the score that cuts the margin to 14-7.
As the half winds down the '78 Pats demonstrate why they are the best rushing team of all-time. They run the ball on seven of nine plays in a time-consuming, 80-yard drive, with Grogan following Hall of Fame guard John Hannah into the endzone from 6 yards out to re-establish his club's 14-point lead at 21-7.
With their backs to the wall the '74 Patriots defense rises to the occasion and shows why they were one of the best rush defense units in the NFL. They hold the '78 Pats without a first down the entire third quarter while their punchless offense continues to struggle.
It takes a big play by the littlest Patriot to get them back in the game. Mini-Mack Herron brings the crowd to its feet with a skittering, slashing 18-yard punt return that brings the ball across midfield. Energized by the outstanding effort by the 5-5 running back, the sluggish '74 New England offense roars to life. Three straight Plunkett completions produce the touchdown that slices the lead to 21-14.
That's as close as the '74 Patriots would get. Their last chance evaporates when safety Doug Beaudoin picks off Plunkett to seal the victory. As the final minutes tick down team owner Billy Sullivan makes his appearance on the sidelines in his familiar top coat and fedora hat. This time he gets to shake hands with fans on both sides of the field, in what surely must be a proud moment for him. Chances are he'll still be smiling when his '78 team takes on his only Super Bowl club, the 1985 Patriots, in the second round.
Schaefer Stadium, Foxboro MA
Temp: 46 Wind: 10-20
|1974 New England Patriots||0||7||0||7||-||14|
|1978 New England Patriots||14||7||0||0||-||21|
NE '78-Francis 3 pass from Grogan (Posey kick) 9:57
NE '78-H.Jackson 33 pass from Grogan (Posey kick) 5:55
NE '74-Rucker 8 pass from Plunkett (J.Smith kick) 12:17
NE '78-Grogan 6 run (Posey kick) 0:20
NE '74-B.Adams 16 pass from Plunkett (J.Smith kick) 4:53
|**NE '74**||**NE '78**|
NE '74-Herron 10-24 Cunningham 14-23 Plunkett 2-9 Tarver 1-0
NE '78-A.Johnson 12-74 Cunningham 25-64 Grogan 7-25
NE '74-Herron 6-65, Rucker 6-86, Vataha 3-87, B.Adams 3-39, Cunningham 1-10, Windsor 1--2
NE '78-H.Jackson 4-90, Francis 4-36, Morgan 2-35, A.Johnson 1-3, Hasselbeck 1-18
NE '74-Plunkett 20-30-3-285, 2 TD
NE '78-Grogan 12-15-1-182, 2 TD
NE '74-Herron 3, Rucker 1
NE '74-Neville 1, L.Gray 1, Hamilton 1
NE '78-Hunt 1
NE '74-Bolton 1-0
NE '78-Clayborn 1-0, Beaudoin 1-0, Fox 1-0
NE '78-Shoate 1
Game MVP:Grogan NE '78