We’re up to our 12th day of 25 celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1996 AFC championship team. A few days ago, we talked about the job offensive coordinator Ray Perkins did that season with the Patriot’ offense. Well, the guy leading the charge on the field was Drew Bledsoe.
We are absolutely thrilled to have Drew and offensive lineman Todd Rucci joining us to reminisce about the season on the latest episode of the New England Football Show LIVE Monday night at 8. It’s also a good excuse to look back at just how special that season was for Bledsoe.
The 1996 campaign was arguably the best season of his career. With Bledsoe slinging the rock, Rucci, Max Lane, Bruce Armstrong, Will Roberts and Dave Wohlabaugh were the guys charged with trying to give Drew a clean pocket while keeping him upright. Bledsoe was sacked 30 times that season, but threw 27 touchdowns with 15 interceptions.
The 4,086 yards Bledsoe threw for that season were the third-most of his career behind 4,555 in 1994 and 4,359 in 2002 with Buffalo. As we mentioned in our piece on Perkins, that 1996 offense finished second in points scored (418) only behind Brett Favre and the Packers (456). The 26.1 points per game the offense averaged that year was also good enough for second in the NFL behind Green Bay and ahead of Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the 49ers. Bledsoe and his line also helped the 96 team rack up 5,369 yards, good enough for sixth in the league.
Bledsoe dropped back to throw the ball 623 times in the regular season, the third most of his career. The 373 completions were also good enough for the third most of his career, with a 59.9 completion percentage his fifth-best.
On November 3rd that season, Bledsoe and the line had their best day, blowing out the Dolphins 42-23. Bledsoe threw for 409 yards that day, the most he had in a game all season. Drew also had two touchdown passes and completed 73.2% of his throws that day. In wins over Baltimore (46 points) and San Diego (45 points) Bledsoe threw for four touchdown passes.
In the Super Bowl XXXI loss to Green Bay, Drew actually had his best performance of the playoffs statistically (25/48, 215, 2 TD’s) despite the four interceptions and five sacks (thanks Reggie White). In the wins over Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, Bledsoe threw for a total of 313 yards and one touchdown with Curtis Martin and the defense doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
As for the linemen, it’s Armstrong that often gets remembered as the “guy” of that unit, but Lane, Rucci, Wholabaugh and Roberts were all pretty consistent during their time as Patriots. Let’s also remember, there were guys like Zach Thomas, Bruce Smith, Tony Siragusa, Tony Bennett, Mo Lewis and future Patriot Bobby Hamilton in the division to contend with multiple times a year.
While Bledsoe’s career as a Patriot may not have ended how he or any of his biggest supporters envisioned it, the fact of the matter is, if he’s not taken No. 1 overall, the future of the organization could have been very, very different. Bledsoe eventually helped bring people back into Foxboro Stadium, The 1996 team in particular played a huge role in making people not only fall in love with the Patriots, but Bledsoe, Parcells and many others kept this franchise from going to St. Louis or Connecticut with that run.
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for Day 13 of our 25 days celebrating the 1996 AFC champions. More importantly, tune in tomorrow night as Todd and Drew talk about that magical season!