1978 New England Patriots season

1978 New England Patriots season
Head coach Chuck Fairbanks (suspended by team Week 16, reinstated Divisional Playoffs)
Hank Bullough (co-interim)
Ron Erhardt (co-interim)
General manager Chuck Fairbanks
Owner Billy Sullivan
Home field Schaefer Stadium
Record 11–5
Division place 1st AFC East
Playoff finish Lost Divisional Playoffs (Oilers) 31–14
Pro Bowlers FB Sam Cunningham
TE Russ Francis
T Leon Gray
G John Hannah
CB Mike Haynes
AP All-Pros G John Hannah (1st team)
T Leon Gray (1st team)
TE Russ Francis (2nd team)
CB Mike Haynes (2nd team)

The 1978 New England Patriots season was the team's 19th, and 9th in the National Football League. The Patriots finished the season with a record of eleven wins and five losses, and finished tied for first in the AFC East, winning their first division title in franchise history over Miami by a tiebreaker.

The 1978 Patriots set an NFL record for most rushing yards in a single season, with 3,165 yards on the ground.[1] The Patriots had four different players who rushed for more than 500 yards: running back Sam "Bam" Cunningham, 768; running back Andy Johnson, 675; running back Horace Ivory, 693; and quarterback Steve Grogan, 539.[2] The team also picked up an NFL-record 181 rushing first-downs.


New England Patriots 1978 staff
Front Office

Head Coaches

Offensive Coaches


Defensive Coaches

Special Teams Coaches

Regular season

Following a preseason hit in Oakland that paralyzed popular receiver Darryl Stingley for life, the Patriots staggered to a 1–2 start before upsetting the Oakland Raiders on the road. From there the Patriots stormed to win nine of their next 12 games, establishing an NFL record for rushing yards at 3,165. The Patriots clinched their first division title with a 26–24 win over the Buffalo Bills with one game remaining.


Week Opponent Result Stadium Record Attendance
1 Washington Redskins L 14–16 Schaefer Stadium 0–1
2 at St. Louis Cardinals W 16–6 Busch Memorial Stadium 1–1
3 Baltimore Colts L 27–34 Schaefer Stadium 1–2
4 at Oakland Raiders W 21–14 Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum 2–2
5 San Diego Chargers W 28–23 Schaefer Stadium 3–2
6 Philadelphia Eagles W 24–14 Schaefer Stadium 4–2
7 at Cincinnati Bengals W 10–3 Riverfront Stadium 5–2
8 Miami Dolphins W 33–24 Schaefer Stadium 6–2
9 New York Jets W 55–21 Schaefer Stadium 7–2
10 at Buffalo Bills W 14–10 Rich Stadium 8–2
11 Houston Oilers L 23–26 Schaefer Stadium 8–3
12 at New York Jets W 19–17 Shea Stadium 9–3
13 at Baltimore Colts W 35–14 Memorial Stadium 10–3
14 at Dallas Cowboys L 10–17 Texas Stadium 10–4
15 Buffalo Bills W 26–24 Schaefer Stadium 11–4
16 at Miami Dolphins L 3–23 Miami Orange Bowl 11–5
Divisional Houston Oilers L 14–31 Schaefer Stadium 0–1


AFC East
New England Patriots(2) 11 5 0 .688 6–2 9–3 358 286 L1
Miami Dolphins(4) 11 5 0 .688 5–3 8–4 372 254 W3
New York Jets 8 8 0 .500 6–2 7–5 359 364 L2
Baltimore Colts 5 11 0 .313 1–7 3–9 239 421 L5
Buffalo Bills 5 11 0 .313 2–6 4–10 302 354 W1

Notable games


Tragedy blackened a 21–7 Patriots win over the Raiders when, late in the second quarter, Darryl Stingley jumped after a Steve Grogan throw and was crushed in the jaw by Jack Tatum of the Raiders. The hit paralyzed Stingley for life. The tragedy was also a turning point in Chuck Fairbanks' relationship with the Sullivan family; he was already upset over the previous season when the Sullivans overruled him over new contracts with John Hannah and Leon Gray, and with Stingley he'd worked out agreement on a contract extension before the team traveled to Oakland, but the Monday after the game Stingley's attorney telephoned Chuck Sullivan about the contract and Sullivan said, "We don't have a contract with Stingley." Fairbanks, according to Hannah, "was livid. He decided right then that he wouldn't stay with an organization that treated its folks like that."[3]

Week 3

Hosting the Colts on Monday Night Football at a rain-soaked Schaefer Stadium the Patriots were down 34–27 on a one-man scoring rampage by the Colts' Joe Washington, who scored by throwing a 54-yard touchdown to Roger Carr, catching a 23-yard score from Bill Troup, and after a game-tying Sam Cunningham touchdown run in the fourth returned the ensuing kick 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Week 4

1 234Total
Patriots 0 777 21
Raiders 14 000 14

Returning to Oakland nearly six weeks after Darryl Stingley's near-fatal injury, the Patriots rallied from a 14–0 second-quarter gap by forcing three Ken Stabler interceptions and scoring 21 unanswered points by Russ Francis, Horace Ivory, and Sam Cunningham. The team visited Stingely in the Oakland-area hospital where he was still staying and his jovial banter with the team warmed their spirits enormously.

Week 9

In a bizarre harbinger of Spygate, the Patriots exploded for eight touchdowns – Steve Grogan threw to Harold Jackson twice (David Posey missed the PAT on Jackson's second score), Stanley Morgan, and Russ Francis, and two rushing scores apiece by Horace Ivory and James McAlister – in a 55–21 slaughter of the Jets. Jets coach Walt Michaels suspected the Patriots were decifering his coaching staff's codes and that a rival team had tipped off the Pats to these codes – "This will never happen to us again", Michaels stewed afterward. "I know what they did, but by the time we figured it out, it was too late."

Week 11

The Patriots' seven-game winning streak crashed to a halt as the Pats stormed to a 23–0 lead in the second quarter but surrendered four unaswered Houston touchdowns (marred by two missed PATs by Toni Fritsch) and a 26–23 Houston win.

Week 13

The Patriots crushed the Colts 35–14, sacking Bill Troup eight times while snatching two Troup interceptions (Mike Haynes scored from Baltimore's 36-yard line with the first INT) for good measure. Harold Jackson, Andy Johnson, and Sam Cunningham rushed in touchdowns while Stanley Morgan caught a 75-yard touchdown strike from Steve Grogan.

Week 15

Playing in a snowstorm, the Patriots needed a win to clinch the AFC East. They trailed for most of this game as Roland Hooks and Terry Miller of the Bills scored on the ground and Frank Lewis caught a 21-yard touchdown from Joe Ferguson. The Patriots also suffered when linebackers Steve Zabel and Steve Nelson were injured. They rallied, however, behind rushing scores by Sam Cunningham, Steve Grogan, and Horace Ivory and a safety when Tim Fox ran Bills punter Rusty Jackson out of the endzone; Bills coach Chuck Knox allowed a safety because he feared punting out of his team's endzone.[4] In the game's final eight seconds the Bills led 24–23 but David Posey kicked the winning field goal from 21 yards out, clinching a 26–24 win.

Week 16

The celebration of the AFC East title was wiped out when coach Chuck Fairbanks, who'd been negotiating a head coaching position with the University of Colorado all season, was suspended just before New England's regular-season wrapup in Miami on Monday Night Football. Coordinators Hank Bullough and Ron Erhardt took over as co-head coaches for the game. The suspension of Fairbanks and elevation of Bullough and Erhardt took the team, radioman Gil Santos, and the ABC Network's Howard Cosell by surprise. The Patriots were crushed 23–3 by the Dolphins; Steve Grogan injured his knee during the game. Despite the loss the Patriots won the division on tie-breakers over the 11–5 Dolphins and secured a playoff bye.


To the surprise of everyone, Chuck Fairbanks was reinstated as head coach for the playoffs, but by then he had lost the respect of the locker room, and in their very first home playoff game the Patriots were massacred by the Oilers 31–14 behind three Dan Pastorini touchdown throws and an Earl Campbell rushing score. Steve Grogan, unable to push off on his injured knee, threw two interceptions and was knocked out of the game; backup Tom Owen managed one touchdown (a 24-yard strike to Russ Francis) while Harold Jackson caught a 24-yard score from Andy Johnson. Following the game Fairbanks left for good amid long-running acrimony with Billy and Chuck Sullivan; a lawsuit was settled on April 2, 1979 that gave the Patriots $200,000 and made Fairbanks liable if he took another NFL job before 1983, the period when his previous contract was supposed to end.[5]


All of the following players appeared in at least one game for the 1978 New England Patriots.

Name Position Notes
Steve Grogan QB Threw for 2,824 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 23 INTs
Sam Cunningham RB Rushed for 768 yards and eight touchdowns; also had 31 catches for 297 yards
Stanley Morgan WR Led team in reception yardage with 820 yards and five touchdowns
Harold Jackson WR Led team in touchdown catches with six; caught for 743 yards
David Posey PK Took over for John Smith after an early-season injury ended Smith's year
Leon Gray LG Selected First Team All Pro and Pro Bowl


  1. Pro-Football-Reference.com: In a single season, from 1940 to 2011, in the regular season, sorted by descending Rushing Yds
  2. Pro-Football-Reference: 1978 New England Patriots
  3. John Hannah with Tom Hale: OFFENSIVE CONDUCT: My Life On The Line (Chicago: Triumph Books), pp. 139–40
  4. Fox, Larry (1979) The New England Patriots: Triumph & Tragedy (New York: Atheneum), p. 283. ISBN 0-689-10992-X
  5. Fox, Patriots Triumph & Tragedy, pp. 317–8.

See also

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