It was the saddest and most surreal moment in “Monday Night Football” history. With Patriots kicker John Smith lining up for a go-ahead field goal with three seconds remaining, Frank Gifford said the chilling words, “I don’t care what’s on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth.” Cosell then broke the news to America: John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his apartment building in New York. The Dolphins won the game, 16-13 in overtime. It was hard to imagine caring about the outcome.
The record shows that Mosi Tatupu’s 38-yard touchdown run in the third quarter wasn’t just the Patriots’ final scoring drive of an eventual 35-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The touchdown was the last the Patriots would score at home on Monday night in 14 years. Once again, a Monday night crowd in Foxborough became unruly, with several fights breaking out in the stands. Foxborough officials responded in the most definitive way it could to prevent chaos from occurring again: it banned “Monday Night Football.” There would not be another MNF game in Foxborough until Oct. 23, 1995.
The Patriots had snapped their 18-game losing streak at the Orange Bowl a season earlier by upsetting the Dolphins in the 1985 AFC Championship Game, 31-14. This victory, in the final season the Dolphins played at the Orange Bowl, was even more important. Thanks to Steve Grogan’s late touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan in a 34-27 win, the Patriots clinched the AFC East title. A loss would have eliminated them from the playoffs.
As far as stadium christenings go, it’s hard to beat this one. The Patriots raised their Super Bowl XXXVI banner during a pregame ceremony, then opened Gillette Stadium with a 30-14 win over the Steelers. Brady threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns in the AFC title game rematch.
It rates as perhaps the most successful unexpected tactical move of Bill Belichick’s coaching career. With the Patriots trailing the Broncos, 24-23, at Denver in Week 9, the Patriots faced a fourth down from their 1-yard-line with just under three minutes remaining. Rather than risk a punt in such tight quarters, Brady ordered long snapper Lonie Paxton to fire the ball through the end zone for a safety, and 2 points for Denver. It wasn’t just an unconventional strategy; it was a winning one. The ensuing free kick pinned the Broncos in their own territory, the Patriots defense forced a three-and-out, and Tom Brady did the rest, finding David Givens for the winning touchdown with 30 seconds left.