|1976 New England Patriots season|
|Head Coach||Chuck Fairbanks|
|General Manager||Chuck Fairbanks|
|Home Field||Schaeffer Stadium|
|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
|Previous season||Next season|
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 .500 season (1974) amid eight losing years, the Patriots turned around their fortunes, going 11–3 and rushing for 2,957 yards, then the fifth-highest total in NFL history. The Patriots made only their second playoff appearance in their history and first since 1963, but lost to the eventual Super Bowl XI 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 rouging 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 loss, the team has been considered one of the most talented in Patriots history; 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."
|New England Patriots 1976 staff|
Special Teams Coaches
|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|
- September 12 vs. Baltimore Colts:
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.
- September 19 vs. Miami Dolphins:
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.
- September 26 at Pittsburgh Steelers:
- October 3 vs. Oakland Raiders:
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.
- October 10 at Detroit Lions:
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.
- November 7 vs. Buffalo Bills:
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.
- November 21 at New York Jets:
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.
- November 28 vs. Denver Broncos:
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. 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." 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, and 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.
|New England Patriots||11||3||0||.786||376||236||W-6|
|Baltimore Colts *||11||3||0||.786||417||246||W-1|
|New York Jets||3||11||0||.214||169||383||L-4|
|Baltimore won the AFC East title on tiebreakers|
|New England Patriots 1976 roster|
- Farley, Glen (2007-02-09). "Spirit of '76". Patriots.com. http://www.patriots.com/news/index.cfm?ac=generalnewsdetail&pid=24095&pcid=0. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- "Bill Belichick Press Conference". Patriots.com. 2004-12-01. http://www.patriots.com/mediacenter/index.cfm?ac=audionewsdetail&pcid=85&pid=9898. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- Felger, Michael (2004). Tales from the Patriots Sideline. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58261-525-7. p. 42
- Felger, Patriots Sideline, p. 39