Rarely mentioned nowadays, there was a time when the Patriots were not considered an NFL dynasty. Before Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Gillette Stadium, the Patriots were just a mediocre also-ran franchise.
Ask some of your elders who grew up as fans of the team, and you will discover that dreams of even one Super Bowl win seemed to be rather unrealistic prior to the 21st century.
Outside of Brady, New England does not have a stellar quarterback history, although it can be considered respectable enough.
Let’s go back to the days when the Patriots were not considered the ultimate model of an NFL franchise and view the exploits of the top “non-Brady” quarterbacks in Pats’ history.
The Most Notable Patriots QBs Of The 20th Century
Before The Super Bowl Wins: Jim Plunkett
A Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall selection in 1971, Plunkett never reached stardom with the Patriots. He played for five seasons in New England, never leading the team to a better than .500 record.
Plunkett passed for 19 TDs twice, but interceptions were an issue, as he threw 22 or more in two of his five seasons. New England moved on to Steve Grogan, and Plunkett went on to win two Super Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP award with the Raiders.
Babe Of The AFL
Babe Parilli was the most successful of the Patriots QBs in the 20th century before Drew Bledsoe arrived. When the Patriots played in Boston and in the AFL, Parilli was a very successful passer, one who was acquired in a five-player trade in 1961. He was a three-time All-Star, passing for a franchise-record 31 TDs in 1964, a record that stood until Brady broke it in 2007.
Parilli also guided the Pats to a 10-3-1 record in ‘64. He is a member of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame and boosted the team to a 1963 AFL Championship Game appearance.
Eason Was The First Of The Super Bowl Patriots QBs
Brady was just eight years old when Tony Eason led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl appearance in January of 1986. While he suffered the distinction of becoming the first starting QB in the NFL to not complete a pass in a Super Bowl (to be fair, it was against the Bears, the greatest defense of all time), Eason does deserve some credit for getting the Patriots to that point.
Eason beat Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game as he passed for three touchdowns. With Eason at QB, New England became the first team in NFL history to win three games en route to a Super Bowl appearance. The Patriots also won the 1986 AFC East title at 10-4 with Eason at the helm.
Some Patriots fans will never forget that Eason was selected 12 spots ahead of Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft. He was notorious for taking sacks and never lived up to expectations overall. But he ranked in the top five in QB rating twice and also led the NFL with the lowest interception percentage in 1984. Eason’s run of up and down play ended after just three seasons, though.
Doug Flutie was not one of the most productive Patriots QBs, but he certainly drew his large share of attention in two stints with New England. He started nine games for the Patriots in 1988 and won six, although he had more interceptions (10) than TD passes (eight). He returned to New England in 2005 as a high-profile backup to Tom Brady.
Flutie certainly did not have a memorable run in a Patriots uniform either time, but he did stir interest because he was a local hero. For the fanfare that surrounded him, we are including Flutie in our rundown.
Grogan Was A Signature Patriots QB
In the pre-Brady days, Steve Grogan was the unquestioned dean of the Patriots. He played for New England from 1975 to 1990 and was one of the true earlier dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL. In 1976, he drove the Pats to an 11-3 record and their first postseason appearance in 13 years. Grogan rushed for 12 TDs that season, the most rushing TDs ever for a quarterback until Cam Newton surpassed the mark in 2011.
Grogan took the Patriots to 11 wins again in 1978 and led the NFL with 28 TD passes in 1979. He battled injuries during the 1980s but still finished his career as the team’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He brought New England to the postseason five times after the Patriots had made the playoffs only once from 1960 to 1974, and only Brady played more seasons for New England overall. Grogan was one of the most respected QBs in Patriots history and was highly regarded by those who were loyal in the pre-dynasty years of the franchise.
Drew Was The First “Savior”
The general NFL fan narrative on Drew Bledsoe now is that he is the ‘Wally Pipp” of pro football after Tom Brady took over for him in 2001 and far eclipsed him. But those who closely followed the Patriots in the 1990s will recall when Bledsoe was regarded as the team’s first true star quarterback.
Bledsoe came to New England with a ton of expectations when he was selected No. 1 overall by the Patriots in the 1993 NFL Draft. And early on, he delivered. He led the NFL in passing yards in 1994 and set Patriots records for completions, attempts, and passing yards that same year. In 1995, he had 179 consecutive attempts without an interception.
The Patriots had three 10-win seasons between 1994 and 1997 under Bledsoe’s leadership, culminating with a Super Bowl appearance in 1997. He still holds the NFL record for 70 passes attempted in a game. He was also a three-time Pro Bowler.
Prior to Brady taking over, Bledsoe was the most decorated passer in franchise history. But franchise historians will likely give their nods to Parilli, Grogan, and Eason to round out the all-time top 5.
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