If you thought the sky had fallen on New England after Bill
Parcells quit as Patriots coach in late January, think again. As
linebacker Chris Slade demonstrated right after Parcells left
town, the 1997 Patriots may be even more determined and more
dangerous than the team that won last year's AFC championship.
Four days after Parcells resigned to take over the Jets, Slade
walked into a press conference with his new coach, Pete Carroll.
Slade's face glowed: He had just signed a five-year, $12.75
million contract, and he had been told by Carroll that he would
be an every-down player. That stood in stark contrast to last
November, when Parcells removed Slade from the starting lineup,
prompting the two-year starter, who was to become a free agent
after the season, to vow that he would not play another year for
"If they offered me $10 million a season and Bill was still
here, I wouldn't stay," said Slade, who has had 29 1/2 sacks in
four seasons with New England. "Maybe I shouldn't say that, but
that's how I feel."
Like many of his teammates, Slade didn't particularly care for
Parcells' hubris. But he has found a friend in Carroll, who
began to woo the 26-year-old soon after being hired. Carroll's
first act, in fact, was to tell the front office that Slade must
be re-signed. The new coach envisions Slade and defensive end
Willie McGinest forming a dynamic duo on defense. "With Chris
and Willie, we have two guys on the edge who can fly up the
field and create a lot of problems," Carroll says.
And so a new era begins. Carroll's first head coaching stint
lasted just one forgettable season, 1994, with the Jets. For
the past two years he was the defensive coordinator for the
49ers, an experience that seasoned him for his second go-around
in a top job. Carroll is junking Parcells' read-and-react,
two-deep zone defense to install a gambling, attacking style
that will feature man-to-man coverage and five-man fronts. The
underpinnings of this D will be Slade and McGinest, with the
latter playing the "elephant," a role out of the 49ers' system
in which a pass rusher constantly moves around on the line of
scrimmage, looking for a crevice through which to attack the
In New England's enchanted run to the Super Bowl, the defense
allowed just five touchdowns in the seven games preceding the
meeting with Green Bay. All the key players are back, and
they'll be joined by two new cornerbacks: free agent Steve
Israel, who will play in nickel situations, and Kansas State's
Chris Canty, who showed immediately that he might be a steal
when, on the first day of minicamp, he intercepted three passes.
With the scheme change and player additions, the Patriots'
defense now appears ready to assert itself as a dominating one.
That's a scary thought for the rest of the AFC, considering that
the New England offense, which sent four players to the Pro Bowl
last season, is already as potent as any around.
Of course, it's also one Drew Bledsoe injury away from
mediocrity. Bledsoe, the fifth-year quarterback, is the
franchise. He had another impressive season in '96--his 27
touchdown passes ranked third in the NFL--but he needs to show
more poise if the Patriots are to be a marquee team. Bledsoe was
the 11th-rated passer in the AFC last season on third downs; his
rating in such situations was 65.0, almost 20 points off his
Carroll hopes to remedy this by stretching opposing defenses
with more deep routes--added for wide receiver Terry Glenn, who
last year set the NFL record for receptions by a rookie. The
longer routes, in turn, should open things up underneath for Ben
Coates. The Pats tight end caught 84 passes in '95, but his
production dropped last season with the emergence of Glenn and
wideout Shawn Jefferson. Look for Coates--who became the
highest-paid tight end in the league this off-season, with a
three-year, $7.5 million contract extension--to be featured more
prominently in the offense, once again becoming Bledsoe's
favorite third-down target.
Aside from Bledsoe, the most important player on this team may
be third-year back Curtis Martin, who at $260,000 this season is
one of football's best bargains. Martin, 24, averaged more than
1,300 yards and reached the Pro Bowl in each of his first two
"The stage was set last year," says Carroll. "We're playing to
win a championship." A hollow statement when uttered by most
coaches, but, with the talent he has at hand, one that rings
true for Carroll.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER COVER [REGIONAL] Still Super? Drew Bledsoe and the Patriots eye another title shot
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Slade is one Patriot who's happy to be parceling out hits for a new regime. [Chris Slade and opponent in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 11-5 (first in AFC East)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 91.8 (26) 243.8 (3) 335.6 (7)
DEFENSE 93.9 (6) 237.7 (28) 331.6 (19)
Tough Act to Follow
Pete Carroll is the eighth coach since 1961 to take over a team
that had gone to the championship game (including the AFL title
game) the previous year. Three of those coaches guided their
teams back to the title game in their first season.
Title-game Coach, W-L Subsequent season's
team coach, W-L
1996 Patriots Bill Parcells, 11-5 Pete Carroll, ?
1993 Cowboys Jimmy Johnson, 12-4 Barry Switzer, 12-4
1990 Giants Bill Parcells, 13-3 Ray Handley, 8-8
1988 49ers Bill Walsh, 10-6 George Seifert, 14-2*
1967 Packers Vince Lombardi, 9-4-1 Phil Bengston, 6-7-1
1965 Bills Lou Saban, 10-3-1 Joe Collier, 9-4-1*
1961 Oilers Lou Rymkus/Wally Lemm, 10-3-1 Pop Ivy, 11-3*
1960 Eagles Buck Shaw, 10-2 Nick Skorich, 10-4
*team returned to league title game
PLAYER TO WATCH
At the end of the 1994 season, Todd Collins quit the Patriots
and returned to his Tennessee farm to raise chickens and
turkeys. Though 24 and healthy, the 6'2", 245-pound linebacker
had lost the fire. "I don't know if you'd call it burnout," he
says. "But I was taking football for granted." Not anymore.
Collins returned in '96 and emerged as the Pats' most athletic
defender. A trip to the Pro Bowl could be next. "I knew I would
come back eventually," says Collins. "It was almost a sin to
throw my talent and ability under a rock."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1996 STATISTICS
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Drew Bledsoe 13[*] 623 att. 373 comp. 59.9% 4,086 yds.
27 TDs 15 int. 83.7 rtg.
RB Curtis Martin 9[*] 316 att. 1,152 yds. 3.6 avg.
46 rec. 333 yds. 7.2 avg. 17 TDs
FB Sam Gash 396[*] 8 att. 15 yds. 1.9 avg. 33 rec.
276 yds. 8.4 avg. 2 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Terry Glenn 22[*] 90 rec. 1,132 yds. 6 TDs
WR Shawn Jefferson 107[*] 50 rec. 771 yds. 4 TDs
WR Vincent Brisby** 215[*] 66 rec. 974 yds. 3 TDs
TE Ben Coates 17[*] 62 rec. 682 yds. 9 TDs
PK Adam Vinatieri 234[*] 39/42 XPs 27/35 FGs 120 pts.
KR David Meggett 143[*] 34 ret. 23.0 avg. 0 TDs
PR David Meggett 143[*] 52 ret. 11.3 avg. 1 TD
LT Bruce Armstrong 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Max Lane 6'6" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Dave Wohlabaugh 6'3" 292 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Todd Rucci 6'5" 291 lbs. 16 games 12 starts
RT Zefross Moss[A] 6'6" 324 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LE Willie McGinest 67 tackles 9 1/2 sacks
LT Mark Wheeler 62 tackles 1 sack
RT Henry Thomas[A] 47 tackles 6 sacks
RE Ferric Collons 19 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB Chris Slade 69 tackles 7 sacks
MLB Ted Johnson 115 tackles 1 int.
OLB Todd Collins 65 tackles 1 int.
CB Ty Law 62 tackles 3 int.
SS Lawyer Milloy 84 tackles 2 int.
FS Willie Clay 92 tackles 4 int.
CB Steve Israel[A] 26 tackles 1 int.
P Tom Tupa 63 punts 43.5 avg.
[A] New Acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)
[*] *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 165)