November 13, 2009

1994: Drew Bledsoe Completes 45 of 70 passes to Overcome Vikings

The fans at Foxboro Stadium on November 13, 1994 were treated to a passing frenzy as the New England Patriots (3-6) faced the visiting Minnesota Vikings (7-2). 22-year-old Drew Bledsoe, in his second year in the league, was rapidly developing into a very effective quarterback. On this day, he was facing off against Warren Moon, just a few days short of his 38th birthday, the veteran signal caller who was now in his first year with the Vikings.

In the first half, it looked as though Moon would win the showdown as he passed for 234 yards, including a 65-yard TD to WR Qadray Ismail, as the Vikings rolled to a 20-0 lead; the Patriots finally scored on the last play of the half as Matt Bahr connected on a 38-yard field goal.

New England utilized the no-huddle offense in the second half to good effect. Bledsoe completed a 31-yard TD pass to WR Ray Crittenden in the third quarter to cut the Minnesota lead in half, and in the fourth quarter he led the Patriots on an 87-yard drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown strike to RB Leroy Thompson. A 56-yard drive set up the game-tying field goal by Bahr with 14 seconds left.

New England received the kickoff in overtime and went 67 yards in a game-winning drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bledsoe to FB Kevin Turner. In the second half and overtime periods alone, Bledsoe filled the air with 53 passes, completing 37 of them for 354 yards and three TDs.

Overall, Bledsoe set NFL records both for passing attempts (70) and completions (45) in a game, totaling 426 yards with the three touchdowns and, perhaps most remarkably, no interceptions. With Warren Moon completing 26 of 42 passes for 349 yards and a TD, both teams combined for the most passes attempted (112) and completed (71) in a game.

Three New England receivers reached double figures, Leroy Thompson topping the list with 11 for 74 yards. TE Ben Coates also accumulated 74 yards on his 10 receptions, while WR Michael Timpson caught 10 passes and led the team with 113 yards. Not surprisingly, the Patriots ran the ball just 12 times (for 42 yards), but they were not a strong running team in ’94, ranking at the bottom of the NFL with a yards per carry average of just 2.8.

The game marked a turning point for the Patriots – they won their remaining six games to finish at 10-6, good enough for second place in the AFC East and a wild card spot in the postseason. They lost to Cleveland in the first round. The Vikings split the rest of their games and also ended up at 10-6, winning the NFC Central title and also losing in the first round of the playoffs to Chicago.

Drew Bledsoe led the league in four passing categories: attempts (691), completions (400), yards (4555), and, on the downside, interceptions (27), all of which were career highs. He was selected to the first of his four Pro Bowl appearances – impressive for just a second-year quarterback. His favorite receiver, Ben Coates, led the AFC with 96 receptions (for 1174 yards); Timpson nearly joined him as a thousand-yard receiver with 941 yards on 74 catches.

Warren Moon lost on this day, but as his statistics indicate, he had another solid season in his Hall of Fame career, passing for over 4000 yards (4264) for the third of four times.