September 16, 2011

1984: Eason Rallies Patriots from 23-0 Deficit to Beat Seahawks

The New England Patriots were 1-1 and had lost badly in the season’s second week as they hosted the 2-0 Seattle Seahawks on September 16, 1984 at Sullivan Stadium. After two years under Head Coach Ron Meyer, the Patriots were coming off an 8-8 record in ’83 and appeared to be on the upswing. The team had a solid veteran quarterback in Steve Grogan while the 1983 first round draft pick, Tony Eason from Illinois (pictured at right), was waiting in the wings. RB Tony Collins, who ran for 1049 yards in ’83, was joined by Craig James, a talented two-year veteran of the USFL. WR Stanley Morgan’s production had been eroding, but he was joined by the 1984 first draft pick, WR Irving Fryar from Nebraska. The defense included Andre Tippett, the pass rushing star of a fine linebacking corps, CB Raymond Clayborn and SS Roland James in the backfield, and a decent line.

Seattle, coached by Chuck Knox, had reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history in ’83. The offense was led by QB Dave Krieg, who had beaten out veteran Jim Zorn at midseason, and steady WR Steve Largent. However, they had lost star RB Curt Warner to a season-ending injury in the opening game. But they had a fine defense that included SS Ken Easley, CB Dave Brown, ends Jacob Green and Jeff Bryant, and NT Joe Nash.

There were 43,140 fans attending on a sunny and clear day in Foxboro. The Seahawks got the ball first and went three-and-out, and the resulting punt was returned 55 yards by Fryar to the Seattle 10 yard line. However, on New England’s first play, Grogan fumbled while being sacked and Bryant recovered for the Seahawks at the 21. Seattle drove 54 yards in 11 plays that resulted in a 42-yard Norm Johnson field goal for the first points of the game.

Following a three-and-out series by the Patriots, the Seahawks took just five plays to put more points on the board. In a third-and-six situation, Krieg completed a pass to WR Paul Johns for 23 yards to the New England 43, and two snaps later he went to WR Daryl Turner for a 41-yard touchdown. While Johnson’s extra point attempt was missed, Seattle held a 9-0 lead.

In the second quarter, Johns returned a punt 47 yards for another touchdown for the Seahawks and, two plays after the Patriots got the ball back, Grogan was intercepted by Easley, who returned it 25 yards for a TD. With the game barely six minutes into the second period, Seattle held a 23-0 lead. New England’s offense had been ineffective, with Grogan throwing three incomplete passes and an interception.

Tony Eason was at quarterback when the Patriots got the ball back, but there was no immediate change – he threw two incompletions and was sacked on his first series. The teams continued to trade punts until New England took possession at the Seattle 44 with two minutes to play in the half. The young quarterback finally completed his first pass, for 12 yards to TE Derrick Ramsey, and seven plays later, Eason took off on a 25-yard touchdown run and the halftime score was 23-7.

It had been an ugly first half for the Patriots, who gained just 70 yards and had three first downs to 168 yards and nine first downs for Seattle. But the late momentum in the second quarter seemed to carry over into the second half. On its first possession, New England went 80 yards in seven plays, capped by Eason’s two-yard touchdown pass to Ramsey.

It was now Seattle’s offense that couldn’t move, and the Patriots began to win the battle for field position. Midway through the third quarter, following a punt that started them off at the Seahawks’ 49, the Patriots drove to another score. Tony Collins started the seven-play drive off with a 21-yard run around end and, following an Eason pass to WR Stephen Starring for a 13-yard gain down to the one, RB Mosi Tatupu went up the middle for a TD and, with the successful extra point, it was now a two-point game at 23-21.

The teams again traded punts but, with the third quarter running down, Seattle moved the ball to the New England 31. However, on the last play of the period, Krieg was sacked by Tippett for a 15-yard loss and the Seahawks were forced to punt to start the final quarter. The Patriots largely kept the ball on the ground during the resulting 15-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a 32-yard Tony Franklin field goal and a 24-23 lead.

Big plays by the defense then allowed the Patriots to take control of the game. On the first play of Seattle’s ensuing possession, LB Steve Nelson sacked Krieg, forcing a fumble that was recovered by NT Lester Williams. Two plays later, Tatupu took off around right end for a 10-yard touchdown, and New England’s lead was extended to 31-23.

Krieg went to the air when Seattle got the ball back, DB Dave Dombroski intercepted a pass near midfield, and the Patriots had possession again at the Seahawks’ 44. The breaks definitely were going New England’s way when, on the first play, Collins fumbled after picking up five yards but teammate Starring picked up the loose ball and advanced to the 20. Three plays later, Eason completed a 15-yard pass to Fryar in the end zone with just under two minutes left to play. It provided the final margin as the Patriots came away with a remarkable 38-23 win.

New England outgained the Seahawks (291 yards to 252) and had more first downs (22 to 16). Seattle was clearly missing Curt Warner at running back, gaining just 37 yards on 28 rushing plays. The Seahawks also turned the ball over three times, to two suffered by the Patriots.

Tony Eason completed 12 of 22 passes for 126 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Tony Collins (pictured at left) ran for 107 yards on 20 carries while Stephen Starring caught 4 passes for 46 yards.

For Seattle, Dave Krieg was successful on 17 of 35 passes for 265 yards with a TD but two interceptions. Paul Johns had 8 pass receptions for 105 yards. But FB David Hughes led what there was of a running attack with 18 yards on 8 attempts while 34-year-old RB Franco Harris, well past his prime and in his final season, contributed 13 yards on 10 carries.

New England lost the next week to Washington but then won three straight games. However, when Coach Meyer tried to fire defensive coordinator Rod Rust, he himself was sent packing and was replaced by all-time great receiver and former assistant coach Raymond Berry. The team ended up with a 9-7 record, good enough for second place in the AFC East but below preseason expectations.

Seattle recovered to go 12-4, placing second in the AFC West but securing a wild card playoff spot; the Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Raiders in the first round but lost to the Dolphins in the Divisional playoff.

Tony Eason continued as the starting quarterback the rest of the way and completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 3228 yards with 23 touchdowns against just 8 interceptions to rank third in the NFL (93.4 rating). However, Tony Collins lost his starting job to Craig James and ended up with barely more than half of his ’83 output (550 yards). Irving Fryar had injury problems and distinguished himself more as a punt returner than a pass receiver, but Stephen Starring emerged to catch 46 passes for 657 yards and Derrick Ramsey set a club record with 66 receptions, for 792 yards and seven touchdowns.