November 22, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Jim Plunkett, 1971

Quarterback, New England Patriots



Age:  24 (Dec. 5)
College: Stanford
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 220

Prelude:
Plunkett’s college career got off to a slow start due to a medical problem and then being redshirted for a year, but once he demonstrated his outstanding ability as a long passer, he became a highly productive quarterback. As a senior, he threw for 2715 yards and led Stanford to its first Rose Bowl victory in 19 years. He also received the Heisman Trophy and, in what was viewed as a strong draft class for quarterbacks, Plunkett was the first overall pick of the Patriots for 1971. He moved directly into the starting lineup.

1971 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 328 [6]
Most attempts, game – 35 at Miami 10/17
Completions – 158 [9]
Most completions, game – 18 at NY Jets 12/12
Yards – 2158 [10]
Most yards, game – 228 at Dallas 10/24
Completion percentage – 48.2
Yards per attempt – 6.6 [20]
TD passes – 19 [2, tied with Bob Griese]
Most TD passes, game – 4 vs. Buffalo 11/14
Interceptions – 16 [9, tied with Bob Berry & Daryle Lamonica]
Most interceptions, game – 4 at Cleveland 11/21
Passer rating – 68.6 [11]
200-yard passing games – 3

Rushing
Attempts – 45
Most attempts, game - 7 (for 52 yds.) at NY Jets 12/12
Yards – 210
Most yards, game – 52 yards (on 7 carries) at NY Jets 12/12
Yards per attempt – 4.7
TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: PFWA
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI, NEA, Sporting News

Patriots went 6-8 to finish third in the AFC East, which was the team’s best record in five years.

Aftermath:
Plunkett’s outstanding first season was followed by a rough year in 1972 in which he passed for only 8 TDs while giving up 25 interceptions. A weak offensive line forced him to take a pummeling, and the team’s progress was fitful, with the best record 7-7 in 1974. Plunkett passed for a high of 2550 yards in ’73, but his best completion percentage was 51.3 and he always had more interceptions than TDs, including a league-leading 22 in 1974. In 1975 he lost the starting job to mobile rookie Steve Grogan. Plunkett was traded to the 49ers and it seemed like a perfect fit when the team got off to a 6-1 start in 1976, but then lost five of the last seven and finished with a losing record in ’77. Plunkett was released prior to the 1978 season and signed by the Raiders, where he sat on the bench for two years before an injury to new starting QB Dan Pastorini in ’80 gave him a new opportunity. Oakland went 9-2 with Plunkett behind center and went on to win the Super Bowl. He played another six years with the Raiders and quarterbacked the team to another NFL title in 1983. While he was not always consistent, Plunkett was hard-working and persistent in the face of adversity. For his career, he completed 1943 of 3701 passes (52.5 %) for 25,882 yards and 164 TDs with 198 interceptions. His record as a starting quarterback was a break-even 72-72, although the postseason tally was 8-2 with two championships.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

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