Day 9 – 25 Days celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1996 AFC title

Nine days into our trip down memory lane, it’s time to look at the game that may have sparked the playoff push New England made in 1996, but it wasn’t a pretty one.

Riding a four-game win streak and sitting at 7-3, the Patriots had a golden opportunity to make quite a statement with John Elway, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffey, Rod Smith, Steve Atwater and the vaunted Denver Broncos visiting Foxboro Stadium on November 17, 1996. A win in this meeting would have put the Patriots one game behind the Broncos in the race for the top seed in the AFC.

What the young Patriots’ roster got instead was a slice of humble pie before the term even became relevant in this area as Denver hammered New England 34-8. The loss was the worst of the year for New England, falling to 7-4 in embarrassing fashion, but they did rally to win four of their last five games, a run we’ll get to later on during our 25-day project here.

The win for Elway moved him to 9-0 in his career at the time against the Patriots. This is also the game that Sharpe famously used the phone on the sideline to “call in the national guard” for the Patriots.

“I really don’t know what it is. I don’t want to try and figure it out,” Elway said of his 9-0 career record against the Patriots in a Washington Post story. “I just want to keep playing the way I’ve been playing against New England.”

Bledsoe had slightly better numbers than Elway (22/41, 212 yards, INT) but that’s only because Elway needed just 14 completions to throw for 175 yards, a TD and a pick.

Davis had two short rushing touchdowns and a receiving one with 210 total yards of offense including 154 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Curtis Martin was held to a stunning 13 yards on just seven carries.

One could say that this game was over as soon as a fake punt pass from Tom Tupa to Tedy Bruschi was dropped on the first New England possession, but in reality Denver was in a different class at this point.

The Broncos held the ball for 39 minutes, racked up 11 sacks and held the Patriots to just 218 yards total.

“We were completely outclassed today,” Parcells said in the same story referenced above. “We had no chance ever to win the game. I was completely disappointed by the way the team performed,” Parcells said. “I thought we would do better than that.”

It obviously wasn’t all puppies and rainbows that season, and we thought it was important to take a look at this game because of that. We’ll be taking a look at the winning streak that followed, the loss to Dallas, the wild comeback against the Giants, the playoff run and we’ll also continue taking a deeper look at some individual performances.

We appreciate the feedback so far and hope you’re enjoying our 25 day celebration of the 1996 AFC Champion New England Patriots.