Publish date:

1 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

It seemed too good to be true. Pete Carroll, the Jets'
42-year-old defensive coordinator, was going to be promoted to
head coach for the 1994 season. The players couldn't believe
their good luck; good old Pete was smart, energetic, the guy who
made practice less tedious, just one hell of a nice guy. Why, it
would be like one of their own was coaching them.

A few of us were a bit skeptical, though. One day in practice it
was mentioned to veteran center Jim Sweeney that players have a
habit of taking it easy when a coach isn't tough enough on them.
"Won't happen here," Sweeney said. "The veterans won't let
anyone quit on Pete."

You know the rest. The Jets were 6-5 and a playoff contender
that year, and then Miami's Dan Marino suckered them with that
fake-spike touchdown pass and things started falling apart. The
team went south on Carroll, losing five straight, and 12 days
after the season, owner Leon Hess fired Carroll and hired Rich
Kotite.

Now Carroll is 45, some gray hair is starting to show, and he
doesn't smile as much. And after two years of running the 49ers'
defense he's gotten a second chance, as coach of the AFC
champion Patriots. He's replacing a whip-cracker, Bill Parcells,
who takes over the Jets.

"I'm not going to change my personality," Carroll says. "I'll
always be me. Guys may start wondering why someone isn't yelling
at them, but I'm different. I've coached a lot of defenses that
have kicked the hell out of people, and I didn't scream at them.
That's not the way I do it."

New England players' comments on the change were for the most
part upbeat, but in some cases they bore an eerie resemblance to
'94: "I like Pete," says quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who never hit
it off with Parcells. "There's give-and-take. Before, there was
just take."

"Bill's yelling and screaming had worn itself out," tight end
Ben Coates says. "I don't think his leaving will affect us. Once
we're on the field, things will be the same, just quieter."

One thing that will be the same is that the Patriots will get
superior defensive coaching. It was defense that carried them to
the Super Bowl last year; they ranked 27th in the league after
11 games, but during their 4-1 stretch drive only three teams
allowed fewer yards. Add the first two playoff games, and New
England allowed five touchdowns in seven games, none in the
postseason--until the Super Bowl.

Carroll will build on that, adding his own concepts, which
include less zone and more man coverage behind a heavy attack on
the quarterback. It's a risky way to travel, but the guy who
could make it work is end Willie McGinest, who played like a
demon in the postseason last year. He'll man what the 49ers call
the elephant position, always lined up away from the tight end.
On the other side will be another gifted rusher, linebacker
Chris Slade. The new faces include cornerback Steve Israel, who
played in Carroll's nickel packages in San Francisco ("the
fastest defensive back I've ever seen," Carroll says), and
tackle Henry Thomas, a speed and stunt rusher.

The only noteworthy offensive pickup is mammoth drive-blocking
tackle Zefross Moss, who takes over for Max Lane. Green Bay's
Reggie White beat Lane for three sacks in the Super Bowl,
thereby changing Lane's job description to guard, the home of
failed tackles in the NFL. If those changes work out, then this
should be one of the league's more explosive attacks, featuring
Bledsoe, Coates, wideout Terry Glenn and the gifted runner
Curtis Martin, following the equally gifted blocking fullback
Sam Gash.

There's enough talent here for a Super Bowl repeat, only this
time it'll be quieter.

--PAUL ZIMMERMAN

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS With pass rushers like Ferric Collons declaring open season on quarterbacks, the Patriots should once again be in the Super Bowl hunt. [Kordell Stewart being tackled by Ferric Collons]

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 team Coach, W-L Subsequent season's 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

SCHEDULE SKINNY

Yes, Bill Parcells returns with the Jets on Sept. 14, but watch
out for the game preceding it: at Indianapolis. The Pats could
be ripe for an upset if they look ahead. There's also a
potentially troublesome stretch following the late September bye
week: at Denver, home against Buffalo; at the Jets, home against
Green Bay; and then road games at Minnesota and Buffalo.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 9 (tie)
Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .512
Games against playoff teams: 9

The Lineup With 1996 Statistics

Coach: Pete Carroll

Offensive Backs

QB Drew Bledsoe 623 att. 373 comp. 59.9% 4,086 yds.
27 TDs 15 int. 83.7 rtg.
RB Curtis Martin 316 att. 1,152 yds. 3.6 avg.
46 rec. 333 yds. 7.2 avg. 17 TDs
FB Sam Gash 8 att. 15 yds. 1.9 avg. 33 rec.
276 yds. 8.4 avg. 2 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Terry Glenn 90 rec. 1,132 yds. 6 TDs
WR Shawn Jefferson 50 rec. 771 yds. 4 TDs
WR Vincent Brisby* 66 rec. 974 yds. 3 TDs
TE Ben Coates 62 rec. 682 yds. 9 TDs
PK Adam Vinatieri 39/42 PATs 27/35 FGs 120 pts.
KR David Meggett 34 ret. 23.0 avg. 0 TDs
PR David Meggett 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[**]6'6" 324 lbs. 15 games 15 starts

Defense

LE Willie McGinest 67 tackles 9 1/2 sacks
LT Mark Wheeler 62 tackles 1 sack
RT Henry Thomas[**] 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 Jimmy Hitchcock 32 tackles 2 int.
P Tom Tupa 63 punts 43.5 avg.

[**]New acquisition
Rookie statistics for final college year
*1995 statistics