Fresh off their first round victory over Bill Parcells' 1994 New England Patriots, the '86 Patriots come into this game against the Tuna's 1996 Super Bowl club as decided underdogs. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe is razor sharp at the outset, spreading the ball around to Terry Glenn, Shawn Jefferson, and Ben Coates. His club holds the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the first quarter, but despite their early domination they are twice forced to settle for Adam Vinatieri field goals and have only a 6-0 lead after one quarter.
After watching his '94 club get burned by Stanley Morgan, Parcells and his defensive coordinator Bill Belichick devise a scheme to keep the Patriots all-time leading receiver under wraps. With cornerback Ty Law holding Morgan without a catch in the first half, Eason turns to his other receiving threat, Irving Fryar. The former No. 1 draft pick makes two big catches to set up the first touchdown of the game, and the first quarter ends with the '86 Pats in front 7-6.
The second quarter belongs to Ray Berry's boys. With blitzes by Andre Tippett and Don Blackmon keeping Bledsoe at bay, Eason begins to execute his short passing game to perfection. Tony Franklin twice converts on short field goals to give his team a seven-point lead at halftime.
With three minutes left in the third quarter the '96 Pats come up with the big play that was their trademark. Special teams whiz Larry Whigham blocks a Rich Camarillo punt to set up his team only 25 yards from the end zone. On the very next play Curtis Martin bursts through a gaping hole for the touchdown that ties the score.
Although the scoreboard at Foxboro Stadium reads 13-13, the momentum has inexorably swung in favor of the '96 Pats. With Eason's ground game nonexistent, he is forced to throw the ball on every down, and Parcells turns the full fury of his defense on him.
"It's much harder when you aren't able to run the football," explains Steve Grogan. "The '86 club had a strong defense and Tony had a good year throwing the ball but it was tough when you went up against the top clubs because they knew we couldn't run the ball."
Eason resembles a deer in the headlights dodging pressure on nearly every play, as the beleaguered quarterback is sacked eight times in the game. Once again Bledsoe's club takes control of the game, and on the first play of the fourth quarter Martin scores the game-winner on a 10-yard run. Vinatieri tacks on a third field goal to cement the win, as Eason manages a late score against the prevent defense with only 15 seconds left on the clock.
Glenn, the 1996 AFC Rookie of the Year, earns game MVP honors with a tournament-high 11 catches. In typical fashion Glenn refuses to speak with the media after the game, leaving reporters to badger Bledsoe about why he didn't throw any touchdown passes. Things really get dicey when Parcells is asked if he outcoached Raymond Berry, which sets off a boisterous tirade by the Tuna. Oh, for the good ol' days.
Foxboro Stadium, Foxboro MA
|1986 New England Patriots||0||13||0||7||-||20|
|1996 New England Patriots||6||0||7||10||-||23|
NE '96-FG Vinatieri 23 7:11
NE '96-FG Vinatieri 42 1:51
NE '86-Eason 5 run (Franklin kick) 14:53
NE '86-FG Franklin 30 6:39
NE '86-FG Franklin 25 0:03
NE '96-C.Martin 25 run (Vinatieri kick) 2:37
NE '96-C.Martin 10 run (Vinatieri kick) 14:56
NE '96-FG Vinatieri 28 3:03
NE '86-C.Jones 8 pass from Eason (Franklin kick) 0:08
|**NE '86**||**NE '96**|
NE '86-Collins 7-23, C.James 6-21, Eason 4-10, Tatupu 1--1
NE '96-C.Martin 11-53, Meggett 7-30, Bledsoe 2-1
NE '86-Morgan 6-106, Fryar 6-129, Baty 5-39, Collins 4-36, C.Jones 2-19, Hawthorne 1-7
NE '96-Glenn 11-134, Coates 6-48, Jefferson 5-53, C.Martin 2-19, T.Brown 1--3
NE '86-Eason 24-38-0-336, 1 TD
NE '96-Bledsoe 25-41-1-251
NE '86-Eason 1
NE '96-Meggett 1
NE '86-Fairchild 1
NE '96-M.Jones 1
NE '86-McGrew 1-0
NE '86-B.Williams 1
NE '96-Slade 3, McGinest 2, M.Jones 1, Sagapolute 1, Bruschi 1
MVP: Terry Glenn '96 NE