A look at the Patriots’ top efforts through the years on Monday Night Football.
Sept. 27, 1976: All-World
The magnitude of “Monday Night Football” in its heyday was such that a star could be born not only with a great play or performance, but even by catching Howard Cosell’s eye. So it was that Patriots tight end Russ Francis first earned notice — and a nickname – from Cosell not during a live Patriots game, but while he was narrating the highlights of the Sunday games at halftime of a Redskins-Eagles game in Week 3, 1976. Francis had totaled 139 receiving yards the previous day in the Patriots’ 30-27 win over the Steelers, prompting Cosell to label him an “All-World tight end.” The moniker stuck, occasionally to Francis’s chagrin — he once told Cosell that defenders hit him harder because Cosell had raised his profile so much. But when he played on Monday nights, Francis lived up to the nickname, catching seven touchdown passes in prime time as a Patriot. “He was our Gronk,’’ said Steve Grogan. “Especially in the spotlight.”
Oct. 18, 1976: Running Men
The Patriots earned their first “Monday Night Football: victory in their second appearance, which came four years after their first. That second impression on a national audience couldn’t have been more impressive, at least on the field. Quarterback Steve Grogan ran for 103 yards on seven carries – including a 41-yard scoring run – and the Patriots picked up a franchise-record 330 rushing yards on 47 carries in a 41-7 victory over Lou Holtz’s hapless Jets. “They’re on the verge of becoming an immense team,’’ acknowledged Howard Cosell. Unfortunately, the victory was marred by mayhem in the Schaefer Stadium stands and parking lots, leading to dozens of arrests.
Sept. 18, 1978: Extraordinary Joe
In the early years, the Patriots were often on the wrong side of the exceptional. The Colts entered their Week 3 matchup with the Patriots searching not only for their first win, but their first point. The Colts, playing without injured star quarterback Bert Jones, had been outscored, 80-0, in their two losses. But on this rainy night in Foxborough, a one-man offense would emerge. Joe Washington, a speedy second-year running back acquired in a trade with the Chargers in the offseason, threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Roger Carr, caught a 23-yard scoring pass from fill-in quarterback Bill Troup, and, after the Patriots’ Sam Cunningham had tied the score at 27 late in the fourth quarter, returned a skidding kickoff 90 yards for the winning touchdown in the Colts’ 34-27 win. “What a night, he’s done it all!’’ exclaimed Howard Cosell, for once without a hint of hyperbole.
Nov. 23, 1998: Bledsoe’s Break
Patriots fans might have arrived at Foxboro Stadium in a foul mood after news broke earlier in the week that owner Robert Kraft had a stadium deal in Hartford for the 2001 season. But they left in a mood to celebrate after Drew Bledsoe threw a touchdown pass to Shawn Jefferson with 34 seconds left to give the Patriots a 26-23 win over the Dolphins. The victory was impressive enough, but the degree of difficulty only added to the satisfaction: Bledsoe had broken his index finger on his throwing hand on the final drive when he banged it on guard Todd Rucci’s helmet. Despite the injury, which would require the implanting of a pin during surgery, Bledsoe finished with 423 passing yards and one great quip: “I didn’t know if I was hurting the team or helping the team,” he said afterward. “[But] I would be damned if I was going to let [good friend and backup Scott] Zolak come in. My life would have been over if he threw a touchdown in that situation.”
Sept. 9, 2011: 517
As one of the longest-running stars of the NFL stage, it should come as no surprise that Tom Brady is among the most accomplished performers in the history of “Monday Night Football.” The Patriots have prevailed in 14 of Brady’s 20 starts on Mondays. He has thrown three or more touchdown passes nine times on Mondays, with four four-touchdown performances. There are plenty of outstanding performances to choose from, yet it’s rather simple to identify the best. The 2011 season opener against the Dolphins was one of those four-touchdown performances, but it’s another number that’s truly extraordinary. Brady threw for a career-high 517 yards in the Patriots’ 38-24 victory, including a 99-yard score to Wes Welker. It remains the lone 500-yard passing game of Brady’s career.