The New England Patriots have been a model of stability and consistency this century. A major reason for that is having one of the most durable quarterbacks of all time under center: Tom Brady, who has been the undisputed starter since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
However, Brady has to start his 17th NFL season on the sidelines due to a four-game suspension. This, in turn, has forced New England to start third-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in his place. With Garoppolo injuring his shoulder in Sunday’s 31-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins – putting his status for today’s game against the Houston Texans in doubt – the team will likely start yet another quarterback.
As soon as Jacoby Brissett takes the first snap, he will become the second quarterback to start a game for the Patriots this season; Brady, once back, will be the third. This instability is unheard of in New England since Bill Belichick took over as head coach 16 years ago. In fact, it is unheard of since Robert Kraft took over as team owner in 1994 as the last time the Patriots started more than two quarterbacks in a single season was two years prior to Kraft’s purchase of the franchise, in 1992.
The 1992 Patriots had four players start at quarterback.
Three of the four failed to win a game.
Head coach Dick MacPherson’s team came off a 6-10 season and opened their 1992 campaign, the first of James Orthwein’s tenure as owner, with Hugh Millen as the quarterback. Coming off an up and down 1991 season, the then-28-year old started his second year in Foxboro with the worst game of his career, turning the ball over five times in a 14-0 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams. Millen, who suffered a shoulder injury on opening day, improved his play slightly over the next four games but the Patriots still lost each contest to start the year 0-5.
MacPherson made a quarterback change the following week. Out was Millen, in came third-year veteran Tom Hodson. The then-25-year old played a solid game against the then-undefeated Miami Dolphins and did something Millen was unable to do his first five games: Hodson did not turn the ball over. But even with improved quarterback play, the team was unable to score enough points to win – New England lost 38-17 and Millen was back as the starter.
However, neither his performance nor the Patriots’ win column improved in week 8 as the Millen-led team lost 19-17 to the Cleveland Browns coached by Bill Belichick. Because of the bad offensive output as well as Millen re-aggravating his shoulder, MacPherson made another quarterback change and put Hodson back in charge.
Hodson was unable to repeat his prior success, completing only 52% of his passes for 229 yards and two interceptions before exiting the Patriots’ week 10 game with a fractured thumb. His replacement: second-year quarterback Scott Zolak, who has not yet appeared in an NFL game. When Zolak entered the contest against New Orleans in the fourth quarter, he was unable to save New England from going 0-9. He was, however, able to save them from going 0-10.
In week 11, the Patriots traveled west to face the divisional rival Colts. New England was 0-9 entering the game, Indianapolis 4-5. Given their injury situation, lackluster offensive play and the fact that they headed into the matchup with a first-time starter at quarterback, New England was the underdog. The first-time starter, however, went 20 for 29 for 261 yards, threw two touchdowns and only one interception. He led his team on a game-tying field goal drive in the final moments of regulation. He then led his team to another field goal to secure it’s first win of the season. The Patriots left Indiana with a 37-34 victory under their belts, while Zolak was named the AFC’s player of the week.
One week later, Zolak led New England to another victory, this time over the New York Jets. It was the team’s final win of the season. The Patriots improved their record to 2-9 despite the quarterback completing only 7 of 16 pass attempts for 102 yards. While Zolak was mediocre against the Jets, he was bad the following week when the Patriots were blown out 0-34 in Atlanta – 9 of 16, 58 yards, two interceptions. As quickly as Zolak became the starter, as quickly he found himself back on the bench.
The following week, Hugh Millen returned as the starting quarterback. However, the team’s offense did not improve as the Patriots failed to score for the second straight week. Millen re-injured his throwing shoulder during the contest and was replaced by Zolak, who went 6 of 20 for 55 yards while the team went to 2-11. Zolak was back as the starter the next week but did not finish the game due to an ankle injury.
Zolak was replaced by the fourth man to start at quarterback for the 1992 Patriots: Jeff Carlson. The then-26-year old was in his first season in Foxboro and started his first NFL game the week after replacing Zolak. In the grand tradition of New England’s ‘92 squad, Carlson struggled during his two-game tenure as the starting quarterback. The team lost its final two games of the season, finishing with a 2-14 record; tied for worst in the league.
1992 was a bad year for the Patriots’ quarterbacks.
1992 was also a bad year for the forward pass in general as the average team threw 18.4 touchdowns and 18.5 interceptions. New England was worse than the average team. The Patriots finished the season with 13 passing touchdowns and 19 interceptions, while scoring a mere 205 points (42 of which came on defense and special teams). In short, New England’s offense struggled mightily – as did the four men starting games at quarterback.
Hugh Millen, who spent the following season as a backup with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, finished with seven starts, losing them all, completing 124 of 203 pass attempts (61.1%) for 1,203 yards, 8 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Tom Hodson, who spent the following season as a backup with the Miami Dolphins, finished the season with three starts, losing them all, completing 50 of 91 pass attempts (55.0%) for 496 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Scott Zolak, who spent the next six seasons as a backup with the Patriots, finished the season with four starts, winning two of them, completing 52 of 100 pass attempts (55.0%) for 561 yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Jeff Carlson, who never played another down in the NFL, finished the season with two starts, losing them all, completing 18 of 49 pass attempts (36.7%) for 232 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions.
Four men, one job, mostly the same miserable result.
The 1992 season was a disaster for the Patriots. However, the season paved the way for some major changes. The vintage red and white uniforms were replaced with a new look, the logo was changed and – most importantly – the team received some talent on the sidelines and on the field: Bill Parcells was brought in to coach the squad and drafted franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe with the first overall selection.
Since then, New England has never had any inconsistency at the most important position. Until now – at least for one week.