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Top 10 Most Memorable Games at Foxboro: #7

Did you ever have one of those days that everything just seemed perfect? When the sun shined brightly and you had that little extra spring in your step? And no matter what decisions you made they all seemed to work out in the end?

On Sept. 9, 1979, Steve Grogan and the New England Patriots had one of those days, and the New York Jets were buried under the avalanche of a record-setting offensive explosion. The Patriots set four team records that day and equaled four more. When the sun officially set on the hapless Jets, the Patriots walked out of Schaefer Stadium with a 56-3 romp and in turn earned the first career victory for Head Coach Ron Erhardt, as well as the No. 7 spot on this top 10 list.

The fireworks came early and often as the Patriots receivers were seemingly left to wander through the Jets secondary unattended. Grogan relished his chance to redeem himself after a disappointing season-opener on the previous Monday night against Pittsburgh, and watching his two speed burners match up one-on-one against New York’s corners made it almost too easy.

“They just couldn’t cover anybody all day long,” Grogan remembered. “They played a lot of combination coverages and they kept leaving Harold [Jackson] and Stanley [Morgan] open all day. Ron let me go and I called the game. They kept double teaming Russ [Francis] and I kept going to Harold and Stanley on deep posts for touchdowns.”

Try five touchdowns — covering 208 yards. Basically, the Patriots game plan went something like this: run the ball effectively to start, then have Grogan drop back and figure out which of his targets was being single covered, then loft perfect spirals into their arms for touchdowns.

The first went to Jackson for 49 yards. Next it was Morgan’s turn for 37. Both of those came in the first quarter as the Patriots jumped to a 14-3 lead. The second quarter was more of the same. Morgan grabbed a 50-yarder just behind cornerback Bobby Jackson, who was burned repeatedly in the game. Late in the first half, Harold Jackson started and ended a brief one-play drive with a 44-yard touchdown to give New England a 35-3 halftime lead.

Jackson added another — for 28 yards — midway through the third quarter and Grogan and the rest of the starters watched from the bench as the backups finished off the Jets. Backup quarterback Tom Owen added a touchdown pass of his own — a 14-yard strike to reserve Don Westbrook — on the first play of the fourth quarter. Third-string quarterback Matt Cavanaugh took the final snaps for the Patriots as they completed the most dominating performance in franchise history.

“It seemed every time they tried to double, we had some single coverage on somebody going deep and they were wide open,” Grogan said. “We just continued to sling it down the field and just totally dominated them.”

Dominance perhaps doesn’t begin to accurately account for the Patriots performance. Grogan set a franchise mark with the five touchdown passes and incredibly threw for 315 yards on just 13 completions (in 18 attempts). Those numbers translate to a 153.9 passer rating.

The Patriots offense piled up 597 total yards, also a team record. They averaged 8.7 yards on their 72 plays and 13.5 per pass. To put that final number in perspective, St. Louis’ Kurt Warner, the NFL’s leading passer, currently averages 8.19 yards per attempt.

As is almost always the case in Patriots history, there was an off-field incident that garnered almost as much attention as the game itself. After the game, Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough and Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn were involved in an altercation in the locker room and exchanged punches.

Clayborn became agitated after showering when he returned to his locker, which was crowded with reporters interviewing Jackson just two lockers away. McDonough objected to Clayborn’s shoving and the two scuffled briefly before being separated by players and bystanders. Par for the course in Patriots lore.

On the field the game still represents the team’s highest scoring output ever and its largest margin of victory. Some more numbers to consider: Jackson finished with three catches, all for touchdowns, for 121 yards. Morgan also had three catches but managed to find the end zone “just” twice while racking up 102 yards receiving. Francis, despite the constant double-teaming, grabbed five passes for 82 yards, including a long of 37.

And the Patriots used their patented balanced rushing attack to amass 232 yards on the ground while holding the ball for more than 33 minutes despite fashioning six scoring drives that took five plays or less. The fact that the win came against the hated Jets only made it sweeter for the players and their fans.

“We couldn’t do anything wrong,” center Pete Brock recalled. “We were running up and down the field and [Grogan] kept throwing touchdowns. Beating the Jets was always something special, but beating them like that made it even sweeter.”

It was particularly sweet for Grogan, who just one week earlier after an overtime loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers heard a chorus of boos emanating from the home crowd. But the Jets always seemed to bring out the best in the lanky quarterback from Kansas.

“The Jets have always been a rival,” Grogan said. “When I played there it was always the Jets and Miami. They were the teams we always felt we needed to beat and for some reason we had great success against the Jets in those days. We had some great games with the Jets over the years, some very close ones, but we also had some games where we blew them out.

“I’ve talked to some people from New York since I retired, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but a lot of them called me the ‘Jet Killer’ because I, for whatever reason, seemed to play well against them.”

In fact, Grogan threw four touchdown passes in their 1978 meeting at Schaefer Stadium as the Patriots rolled to a similarly easy 55-21 win over New York. But as Grogan pointed out, there were also many close games in the rivalry.

Despite the back-to-back home blowouts, the Patriots eked out a 19-17 win at Shea Stadium in their second meeting in ’78. New England was in essence knocked out of the playoffs when it dropped a 27-26 decision in the next to last game of the ’79 season as the Patriots 9-7 mark left them one game short of the postseason.

But none of that meant a thing on Sept. 9, 1979, when the Patriots had all the answers and Jets were left wondering what hit them.

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