The Tuna: Willie McGinnest and the Loss to the Browns

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The Patriots entered the 1994 season with momentum coming off the ’93 season.  While the team finished 5-11, they won their last four games of the season and won a shootout against the Dolphins,  preventing the Fish from making the playoffs.  Robert Kraft was now in full control of the team and beginning his working relationship with Bill Parcells.  With a season of high hopes on the horizon, the team would head into the spring and the NFL Draft and select a player who would be a staple in the Patriots defense for years to come. 


Photo courtesy of twitter.com


With the draft complete, Parcells, Bledsoe and Kraft were ready for a season with expectations of the playoffs for the first time in years.  However, not everything always goes the way you envision them. 
The team rallied around each other and a symbol - a shovel.  The shovel symbolized a reminder of lessons learned and hard work.  This win began a winning streak of seven straight games.  The Patriots coming off the bye at 3-6 built momentum off the Vikings win that would lead them into the playoffs for the first time under Parcells. 

The Browns were prepared for Bledsoe and they knew he would try to connect with Coates.  The Browns had the answer for that.  The Patriots lost to the Browns 20-13, the Dawg Pound saw their Browns move on in the playoffs but optimism remained in New England.  They took a huge leap in 1994, and heading into 1995 the tone for a future Super Bowl team would be crafted in a important 1995 NFL Draft. 


The Patriots held the fourth overall selection in the 1994 NFL Draft and Parcells looked to add to his defense.  The team had one player in their sights and he was completely shocked they selected him.  The Patriots, holding the fourth overall pick, selected USC linebacker Willie McGinnest.  Heading into the draft, Parcells and McGinnest only met once ahead of the draft to chat.  McGinnest thought that going into the draft he would be selected by the Dallas Cowboys.  In fact, McGinnest had Cowboys representatives at his house for a draft viewing party, but Parcells and the Patriots threw a wrench into things by selecting the linebacker. 

The Patriots selected three players in that draft who would impact the team.  McGinnest, tackle Max Lane, who would anchor the line for a few years for Drew Bledsoe, and linebacker Marty Moore.  Moore and McGinnest were two players from that 1994 draft that would be part of that 2001 Patriots Super Bowl team.   

The Patriots dropped their first two games of the season in losses to the Dolphins and Bills.  The team scoreed 35 points in back-to-back games in a losing effort.  They did that in front of an electric Foxboro Stadium.  The Patriots were two years removed from the worst record in the league, but it was starting to look like more of the same in Foxboro.  In the first two weeks of the season, there was one common theme, Parcells was having Bledsoe throw and often. 

Heading into Week 3, the Patriots traveled to Cincinnati and it was a back and forth battle until the end.  The Patriots got their first win of the season with a 31-28 win over the Bengals.  The Patriots would rack up another two wins against the Lions on the road and the Packers at home.  They trailed the Packers by 10 in the third quarter, 10-0 and the defense stepped up and Bledsoe threw picture perfect passes to Vincent Brisby, brining the Patriots back into the game.  Matt Bahr hit a knuckleball type kick with :04 seconds to play giving the Patriots a huge comeback win over Farve and the Packers.  The win would be their last for five weeks as the Patriots went on a four game losing streak with the bye week submerged between the losses. 

The crowds still flocked to Foxboro despite the four game losing streak because Patriots Nation recognized the potential of their young team led by Bledsoe and Parcells.  The Patriots, coming off four straight losses, welcomed the Minnesota Vikings into Foxboro and things got ugly and quick.  The Patriots quickly got down 20-0 and Parcells finally had enough.  He told his team to pick up the shovel and dig themselves out of the hole and stop standing around, and the team responded.  The Patriots came out of the half, 68 yards on six plays to get on the board and the offense was starting to come together.  The defense dug in as they helped lead a huge comeback over the Vikings.  Bledsoe completed 45 passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns in a comeback win in overtime over the Vikings.  

Ben Coates was one of the key players in 1994 and was Bledsoe’s go-to receiver.  He would be the 1994 All-Pro tight end and he would made it extremely difficult for defenses to plan against the team.  He broke out for 94 catches for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns.  Coates played in 142 games over nine seasons as a Patriot and is now a Patriots Hall-of-Fame tight end.

Speaking of Patriots Hall-of-Fame players, rookie Willie McGinnest, who is now in the Patriots Hall, played in all 16 games his rookie season and started seven of those games.  He made 43 tackles, 29 of them solo with 4.5 sacks.  It would be a great preview of the player he would become under Parcells and his tough, blue collar style defenses. 

The Patriots finished the regular season 10-6 and they met the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the playoffs.  This game had a plot to it, it featured the student versus the teacher as Bill Belichick led the Browns against Parcells and the Patriots.  These two teams met earlier in the regular season and Belichick and the Browns got a 13-6 win in Cleveland over the Patriots.  Parcells hoped their second matchup would yield a different result. 

The Browns took an early lead 3-0 as Browns Vinny Testaverde led his team down the field to set up the games first score.  The Patriots scored the game's first touchdown, Bledsoe hooked up with running back Leroy Thompson to give the Pats a 7-3 lead.  But Testaverde and the Browns proved to be too much.  Browns wide receiver Michael Jackson caught seven balls for 122 yards to lead the Browns offense. 


The Browns were prepared for Bledsoe and they knew he would try to connect with Coates, the Browns would have the answer for that. The Patriots would lose to the Browns 20-13, the Dawg Pound saw their Browns move on in the playoffs but optimism remained in New England. They would take a huge leap in 1994 and heading into 1995, the tone for a future Super Bowl team would be crafted in a important 1995 NFL Draft. 


Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisHenrique

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Boston Sports Syndicate: The Tuna: Willie McGinnest and the Loss to the Browns
The Tuna: Willie McGinnest and the Loss to the Browns
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