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1976 New England Patriots season


1976 New England Patriots season

1976 New England Patriots season
Head coach Chuck Fairbanks
General manager Chuck Fairbanks
Owner Billy Sullivan
Home field Schaeffer Stadium
Record 11–3
Division place 2nd AFC East
Playoff finish Lost Divisional Playoffs (Raiders) 24–21
Pro Bowlers TE Russ Francis
T Leon Gray
G John Hannah
CB Mike Haynes
AP All-Pros G John Hannah (1st team)
TE Russ Francis (2nd team)
CB Mike Haynes (2nd team)
Previous season      Next season
< 1975      1977 >

The 1976 New England Patriots season was the seventh season for the team in the National Football League and 17th season overall.

After a nine-year stretch in which they posted just one non-losing season amid eight losing years, the Patriots turned around their fortunes, going 11–3. The team had gone just 3-11 the previous season, and was considered a "Cinderella team" in 1976.[1] Coach Chuck Fairbanks was named NFL Coach of the Year, and cornerback Mike Haynes was named NFL Rookie of the Year.

The 1976 Patriots rushed for a total of 2,957 yards and scored 376 points, both second-best in the league. The 2,957 yards rushing were the fifth-highest total in NFL history at the time.[2] The team's 5.0 yards per rush was the best in the NFL, as were their 50 takeaways.

The Patriots made only their second playoff appearance in their history and first since 1963, but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders in the first round of the playoffs. Earlier in the season, the Patriots handed the Raiders their only loss of the season with a final score of 48–17, but a controversial roughing the passer penalty on Ray Hamilton on a Raiders drive late in the playoff game dimmed the Patriots' hopes of defeating the Raiders again.

Despite the playoff loss, the team has been considered one of the most talented in Patriots history;[3] in 2004, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who was an assistant coach for the Detroit Lions in 1976, called this Patriots team "loaded," a "who's who team."[4]


New England Patriots 1976 staff
Front Office
  • President – Billy Sullivan
  • Executive Vice President – Chuck Sullivan
  • Assistant General Manager – Jim Valek
  • Director of Player Personnel – Bucko Kilroy
  • Assistant Personnel Director – Mike Hickey

Head Coaches

Offensive Coaches

  • Quarterbacks/Special Assistant to the Head Coach – John Polonchek
  • Offensive Backfield – Ron Erhardt
  • Receivers – Ray Perkins
  • Offensive Line – Red Miller
  • Offensive Assistant – Ernie Adams

Defensive Coaches

Special Teams Coaches

  • Special Teams/Offensive Backfield – Tom Yewcic


Week Date Opponent Result Stadium Record Attendance
1 September 12 Baltimore Colts L 13–27 Schaefer Stadium 0–1
2 September 19 Miami Dolphins W 30–14 Schaefer Stadium 1–1
3 September 26 at Pittsburgh Steelers W 30–27 Three Rivers Stadium 2–1
4 October 3 Oakland Raiders W 48–17 Schaefer Stadium 3–1
5 October 10 at Detroit Lions L 10–30 Pontiac Silverdome 3–2
6 October 18 New York Jets W 41–7 Schaefer Stadium 4–2
7 October 24 at Buffalo Bills W 26–22 Rich Stadium 5–2
8 October 31 at Miami Dolphins L 3–10 Miami Orange Bowl 5–3
9 November 7 Buffalo Bills W 20–10 Schaefer Stadium 6–3
10 November 14 at Baltimore Colts W 21–14 Memorial Stadium 7–3
11 November 21 at New York Jets W 38–24 Shea Stadium 8–3
12 November 28 Denver Broncos W 38–14 Schaefer Stadium 9–3
13 December 5 New Orleans Saints W 27–6 Schaefer Stadium 10–3
14 December 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers W 31–14 Tampa Stadium 11–3
Divisional December 18 at Oakland Raiders L 21–24 Oakland Coliseum 0–1

Notable games

Four Steve Grogan interceptions and a fumble doomed the Patriots as the Colts ran roughshod at Schaefer Stadium 27–13, this despite the sacking of Colts quarterback Bert Jones for 40 yards and 179 rushing yards by the Patriots.

The Pats rebounded with 278 rushing yards and four touchdowns (two rushing scores by Andy Johnson, a Grogan rushing score, and a four-yard toss to Russ Francis) in a 30–14 rout of Miami. Bob Griese had one touchdown throw and three picks.

Forcing six Steeler fumbles, the Patriots wiped out a 20–9 third-quarter gap as Steve Grogan threw to Russ Francis and Darryl Stingley and ran in a touchdown for 21 second-half points and a 30–27 win.

The Raiders suffered their only loss of the season in a 48–17 slaughter by the Patriots. Ken Stabler had a touchdown throw to Fred Biletnikoff but was sacked four times while Steve Grogan ran wild with three touchdown throws (to Darryl Stingley and Marlin Briscoe) and two rushing scores; Andy Johnson and Jess Phillips rushed in additional touchdowns.

The Patriots never got on track as Grogan threw five picks and the Lions, led by running back Horace King and quarterback Greg Landry, stampeded the Patriots 30–10. One of the members of the Lions staff in this game was assistant special teams coach Bill Belichick, who introduced a two tight-end set on Detroit's offense that was rare for the NFL at the time.

Mike Haynes became the first Patriot to ever return a punt for a touchdown as he fielded a second-quarter punt at his 11 and stormed to the Buffalo endzone. The Patriots won 20–10 as Sam Cunningham rushed for 141 yards and a score while Joe Ferguson of the Bills threw four picks. O. J. Simpson threw a punch at Mel Lunsford and both players were ejected after the ensuing fight.

  • November 14 at Baltimore Colts:

Battling for the division lead, the Colts and Patriots combined for 35 first-half points. In the first quarter Roger Carr caught a 22-yard pass from Bert Jones for the Colts while Al Chandler caught a two-yarder from Steve Grogan. Grogan ran in two second-quarter touchdowns and Don McCauley ran in a score for a 21–14 Patriots lead at the half. The two defenses then shut each other out, as Jones was picked off twice by Mike Haynes and sacked five times in total; Lydell Mitchell was limited to 52 rushing yards and the Patriots held on for the 21–14 win.

The Jets hosted the Patriots at Shea Stadium and raced to a 10–0 lead in the first quarter behind a Pat Leahy field goal and a Greg Buttle fuimble-return score, but the Patriots behind Steve Grogan throws to Andy Johnson and Darryl Stingley took a 14–10 lead entering the second quarter. From there the game collapsed for the 3–7 Jets as Joe Namath threw six interceptions; Mike Haynes grabbed three and Tim Fox had one, while Prentice McCray ran in two (totalling 118 yards) for touchdowns. With Sam Cunningham injured Don Calhoun became the workhorse back for New England, rushing for 109 yards. Namath was benched in the fourth quarter and Richard Todd took over; he threw a touchdown to Clark Gaines but was later picked off by Bob Howard. Grogan threw for just 83 yards and three scores as the Patriots routed the Jets 38–24.

The Patriots amassed their highest rushing yardage of the year as Don Calhoun (177 yards), Andy Johnson, and Ike Forte ground up 332 yards on the ground. Mike Haynes also returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown as the Patriots sacked Denver's quarterbacks nine times, led 31–0 at the half, and cruised to a 38–14 final.

  • December 18 at Oakland Raiders:

The 1976 AFC Divisional Playoffs. This would become the infamous "Ben Dreith Game" as officiating became a major controversy with numerous questionable penalties. Bill Lenkaitis had not been flagged for holding all season yet was flagged three times in this game. No penalty was called when George Atkinson of the Raiders hammered Russ Francis in the facemask and broke his nose; Steve Zabel popped Francis' nose back into place. There was also controversy over a Sam Cunningham run in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter where he went out of bounds; John Hannah claimed the sideline official moved the first down marker just before Cunningham went out of bounds, denying him a first down.[5] On the play following this Cunningham run, on 3rd and 1 at the Raiders 28-yard line, Steve Grogan changed the snap count to draw the Raiders offsides, but instead Hannah, Leon Gray, and Pete Brock all jumped offsides ("I should have known better," Grogan said afterward). On the next play (3rd and 6) Grogan threw to Russ Francis but Francis could not raise his arms because of holding by the Raiders Phil Villapiano, holding so blatant that according to Francis, "(he left) bruise marks on my arm....when I saw Phil at the Pro Bowl that year, he came right out and told me he had done it."[6] The Patriots missed the ensuing field goal attempt and the Raiders took possession. In the final minute of the fourth quarter Raymond Hamilton of the Patriots was flagged for roughing the passer against Ken Stabler of the Raiders on a 3rd-and-18 play, even though replays showed no roughing; Dreith said the call was made because Hamilton had hit Stabler's helmet, but replays showed Stabler ducking away from Hamilton. Despite Patriot protests (Hamilton was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for his protests) the call stood. The Patriots stopped the Raiders on 3rd and 1 near the goal line but another personal foul penalty extended the Raiders drive, and on second and goal at the Patriot 1-yard line Stabler ran in the game-winning touchdown with ten seconds left in a 24–21 Raiders win. Patriot protests over Dreith's call were such that Dreith was not assigned to work any games involving the Patriots until 1987.


Template:1976 AFC East standings


New England Patriots 1976 roster

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive Backs

Special Teams


Template:Navbox season by team

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