1976 New England Patriots season

Season of National Football League team the New England Patriots

The 1976 New England Patriots season was the franchise's 7th season in the National Football League and 17th 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. It marked their first winning season as an NFL team (their last winning season came in 1966 when the team was still in the AFL). 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 (averaging five yards per carry) 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 carry was the best in the NFL and remains higher than all Super Bowl champions except the 1973 Miami Dolphins whose own run game was 5.0 yards per carry. The Patriots also led the league in takeaways at 50; the Patriots finished third in the league in turnover differential at plus-14.

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 24–21 in the first round of the playoffs. The Patriots held a 4-point lead in the 4th quarter. But a controversial roughing the passer penalty on Ray Hamilton on a Raiders drive late in the playoff game dimmed their hopes of defeating the Raiders again.

Earlier in the season, the Patriots handed the Raiders their only loss of the season with a final score of 48–17.

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][5]

After the season, offensive line coach Red Miller was hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos.[6][7][8] In his first season, he led them to the AFC's best record (12–2), their first-ever postseason appearance, and the Super Bowl.


NFL draft

1976 New England Patriots draft
Round Pick Player Position College Notes
1 5 Mike Haynes *   Cornerback Arizona State
1 12 Pete Brock  Center Colorado
1 21 Tim Fox *  Safety Ohio State
2 35 Ike Forte  Running back Arkansas
      Made roster    †   Pro Football Hall of Fame    *   Made at least one Pro Bowl during career


1976 New England Patriots 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


1976 New England Patriots roster

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive linemen

Defensive linemen


Defensive backs

Special teams

  •  2 Mike Patrick P
  •  1 John Smith K
Reserve lists
  • 65 Greg Boyd DE (IRTooltip Injured reserve)

Practice squad

  • Vacant - None

Rookies in italics


Week Date Opponent Result Record Venue Attendance
1 August 1 New York Giants W 13–7 (OT) 1–0 Schaefer Stadium 30,032
2 August 6 vs. San Diego Chargers L 17–26 1–1 Oklahoma Memorial Stadium 23,800
3 August 15 Green Bay Packers L 14–16 1–2 Schaefer Stadium 30,552
4 August 21 at Atlanta Falcons W 28–17 2–2 Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium 23,495
5 August 29 at Cleveland Browns L 27–30 2–3 Cleveland Municipal Stadium 36,016
6 September 5 Philadelphia Eagles W 20–7 3–3 Schaefer Stadium 32,254



Week Date Opponent Result Record Venue Attendance Game Recap
1 September 12 Baltimore Colts L 13–27 0–1 Schaefer Stadium 43,512 Recap
2 September 19 Miami Dolphins W 30–14 1–1 Schaefer Stadium 46,053 Recap
3 September 26 at Pittsburgh Steelers W 30–27 2–1 Three Rivers Stadium 47,379 Recap
4 October 3 Oakland Raiders W 48–17 3–1 Schaefer Stadium 61,068 Recap
5 October 10 at Detroit Lions L 10–30 3–2 Pontiac Silverdome 60,174 Recap
6 October 18 New York Jets W 41–7 4–2 Schaefer Stadium 50,883 Recap
7 October 24 at Buffalo Bills W 26–22 5–2 Rich Stadium 45,144 Recap
8 October 31 at Miami Dolphins L 3–10 5–3 Miami Orange Bowl 52,863 Recap
9 November 7 Buffalo Bills W 20–10 6–3 Schaefer Stadium 61,157 Recap
10 November 14 at Baltimore Colts W 21–14 7–3 Memorial Stadium 58,226 Recap
11 November 21 at New York Jets W 38–24 8–3 Shea Stadium 49,983 Recap
12 November 28 Denver Broncos W 38–14 9–3 Schaefer Stadium 61,128 Recap
13 December 5 New Orleans Saints W 27–6 10–3 Schaefer Stadium 53,592 Recap
14 December 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers W 31–14 11–3 Tampa Stadium 41,517 Recap
Note: Intra-division opponents are in bold text.

Post-season schedule

Round Date Opponent (seed) Result Record Venue Attendance Game recap
Divisional December 18 Oakland Raiders (1) L 21–24 0–1 Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum 53,045 Recap

Game summaries

The Patriots fell 30–27 in a Monday Night preseason game; rookie cornerback Michael Haynes ran back a punt but began celebrating at the five-yard line and was hit and fumbled; Darryl Stingley grabbed the fumble and scored. Entering the season the Patriots had never scored on a punt return in any game. The loss was the third of the six-game preseason.

Four Steve Grogan interceptions and a fumble doomed the Patriots as the “Shake & Bake” 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 interceptions.

Forcing six Steeler fumbles in heavy rain, 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. Don Calhoun's fumble in the final four minutes led to a Bradshaw touchdown, and after forcing another punt with 1:29 to go Bradshaw nearly fumbled away the ball but converted two first downs requiring 25 or more yards. With three seconds to go Roy Gerela missed a field goal and the Patriots had an upset 30–27 win.

Oakland Raiders (2–1) at New England Patriots (2–1)
Period 1 2 34Total
Raiders 0 10 0717
Patriots 7 14 141348

at Schaefer StadiumFoxboro, Massachusetts

  • Date: October 3
  • Game time: 1:00 p.m. EDT
  • Game weather: 60 °F (16 °C) • Wind 10
  • Pro-Football-Reference.com
Game information

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. During the third quarter a Raiders touchdown was twice wiped out on penalties and the drive ended in a Stabler sack on third-and-26.

Scoring summary
Quarter Time Drive Team Scoring information Score
Plays Yards TOP OAK NE
1 Patriots Johnson 2-yard touchdown run, Smith kick good 0 7
2 Patriots Stingley 21-yard touchdown reception from Grogan, Smith kick good 0 14
2 Raiders Biletnikoff 15-yard touchdown reception from Stabler, Steinfort kick good 7 14
2 Patriots Briscoe 16-yard touchdown reception from Grogan, Smith kick good 7 21
2 Raiders 44-yard field goal by Steinfort 10 21
3 Patriots Stingley 15-yard touchdown reception from Grogan, Smith kick good 10 28
3 Patriots Grogan 2-yard touchdown run, Smith kick good 10 35
4 Patriots Grogan 10-yard touchdown run, Smith kick good 10 42
4 Patriots Phillips 11-yard touchdown run, Smith kick no good 10 48
4 Raiders Rae 1-yard touchdown run, Steinfort kick good 17 48
"TOP" = time of possession. For other American football terms, see Glossary of American football. 17 48

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.

The Patriots despite ten penalties exploded to 330 rushing yards (103 of them with a touchdown by Steve Grogan; Grogan said years later the score came after botching what was supposed to be a hand off to Sam Cunningham) as they annihilated the Jets 41–7. Alex Karras (whose grandnephew Ted would be drafted by the Patriots in 2016) was working the ABC Sports booth and read aloud Jets coach Lou Holtz's fight song for the team, a reworked version of the US Army's original march The Caissons Go Rolling Along.

The Patriots posted their first win over the Bills since 1971 as the two teams combined for nine turnovers, 125 yards in penalties, and 586 yards of offense in the 26-22 New England win. Sam Cunningham and O. J. Simpson combined for 229 rushing yards.

Despite 130 rushing yards from five Patriots backs New England fell at Miami 10–3; all scoring took place in the second quarter as Jim Mandich accounted for the game's only touchdown. The Patriots were also penalized eleven times for 80 yards.

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; the Bills also fumbled four times while the Patriots coughed up five turnovers (three fumbles and two INTs). 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 fumble-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.

With Archie Manning out for the year the Saints wound up using two quarterbacks (including ex-Bear Bobby Douglass) but managed only 236 total yards vs. 220 rushing yards from the Patriots led by Don Calhoun's 113 yards. In winning 27-6 Steve Grogan completed only nine of 23 passes but two of them were touchdowns, one to Al Chandler, subbing for injured Russ Francis. The win was the 100th career victory in the franchise's history.

Steve Grogan had his worst passing day of the season with just 40 yards in the air and a pick amid just four completions in 14 attempts. Six Patriots backs led by Andy Johnson rushed for 260 yards and three touchdowns while Sam Hunt picked off Steve Spurrier and ran back 68-yard touchdown. The game ended Tampa's winless first ever season.

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.[10] 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 the Raiders were barking out dummy snap counts themselves[11] and 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."[12] 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 (this one on Prentice McCray) 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 1980.


AFC East
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Baltimore Colts(2) 11 3 0 .786 7–1 11–1 417 246 W1
New England Patriots(4) 11 3 0 .786 6–2 10–2 376 236 W6
Miami Dolphins 6 8 0 .429 5–3 6–6 263 264 L1
New York Jets 3 11 0 .214 2–6 3–9 169 383 L4
Buffalo Bills 2 12 0 .143 0–8 2–10 245 363 L10


  1. ^ [Neft, David S.; Cohen, Richard M.; and Korch, Rich The Sports Encyclopedia: Pro Football, 12th Edition, p.306, Martin's Press, August 1994, ISBN 0-312-11073-1
  2. ^ The total is still 6th in NFL history for a 14-game season, Pro-Football-Reference.com: In a single season, from 1940 to 1977, in the regular season, sorted by descending Rushing Yds.
  3. ^ Farley, Glen (February 9, 2007). "Spirit of '76". Patriots.com. Archived from the original on May 19, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  4. ^ "Bill Belichick Press Conference". Patriots.com. December 1, 2004. Archived from the original on March 12, 2005. Retrieved June 15, 2009.
  5. ^ WBZ-FM Radio retrospective on 1976 Patriots
  6. ^ Mossman, John (February 1, 1977). "Ralston quits Broncs, Miller seen stepping in". The Day. (New London, Connecticut). Associated Press. p. 18.
  7. ^ "Ralston walks out on Broncos". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. February 1, 1977. p. 13.
  8. ^ "Following best year, Ralston quits Denver". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. February 1, 1977. p. 17.
  9. ^ "1976 New England Patriots (NFL)". Pro Football Archives. Retrieved October 22, 2023.
  10. ^ Felger, Michael (2004). Tales from the Patriots Sideline. Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58261-525-7. p. 42
  11. ^ John Hannah with Tom Hale (2013), OFFENSIVE CONDUCT: My Life On The Line (Triumph Books: Chicago, Illinois), p. 128
  12. ^ Felger, Patriots Sideline, p. 39
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New England Patriots
  • Founded in 1960
  • Formerly the Boston Patriots (1960–1970)
  • Based and headquartered in Foxborough, Massachusetts
Division championships (22)
Conference championships (11)
League championships (6)
Retired numbers
Current league affiliations
Former league affiliation