As the old saying goes, records are meant to be broken. The NFL is no different in that regard as multiple all-time accomplishments have come and later gone. Tom Brady surpassing Peyton Manning's record for wins by a starting quarterback is just the latest of records to fall.
While records get broken nearly every season, one has stood the test of time. And unless the league changes its pass-favoring rule book drastically, it will continue to do so: the 1978 New England Patriots rushing for 3,165 yards; more than any other team in the Super Bowl era.
The Patriots during Chuck Fairbanks' tenure as head coach (1973-1978) have always had a strong ground game. It has never been better than during Fairbanks' final season. New England led the league in every important rushing statistic. Besides gaining the most yards, the team also was number one in the NFL in attempts (671), yards per attempt (4.7), rushing touchdowns (30) and first downs gained on the ground (181) – another NFL record.
After losing two of their first three games, the Patriots went on a seven-game win streak. One of the teams they defeated during the streak were the Miami Dolphins. While Miami would win the re-match in week 17, splitting the series allowed the Patriots to beat them out on a tiebreaker for the AFC East title – the first in franchise history. Overall, New England finished the regular season with an 11-5 record and the second seed in the AFC.
However, the team would eventually not take advantage of its playoff seeding. The Patriots, with Fairbanks already on his way out to take over the head coaching job at Colorado, lost the first ever playoff game in Foxboro 31-14 to the fifth-seeded Houston Oilers. It was the worst offensive outing by the league's top-ranked offense and the ground game failed to crack 100 yards for only the second time all season.
Still, their early playoff exit should not overshadow what the '78 Patriots were able to accomplish. They broke the previous rushing record, held by the 1973 Buffalo Bills. They had 11 200+ yards rushing games. They featured five players running for more than 300 yards during the season: Sam Cunningham (768), Horace Ivory (693), Andy Johnson (675), Steve Grogan (539), and Don Calhoun (391) – all behind one of the best offensive lines in NFL history. Led by All Pros Leon Gray and John Hannah, the line, which also consisted of Bill Lenkaitis, Sam Adams and Shelby Jordan, paved the way for the rushing record.
Together, all those players were able to establish a record that likely will never be broken. Maybe when it is all said and done, Tom Brady's career wins will join them in this regard.