Prior to the 1985 NFL Season, the New England Patriots have never won a playoff game in the Super Bowl era. The last time the team won a postseason game in any league was the AFL’s Divisional Game against the Buffalo Bills in January 1964. The Patriots won 26-8; Lyndon B. Johnson was President of the United States and the Beatles have not yet played a show on American soil.
Fast forward 21 years. It was the first full season of Raymond Berry’s head coaching career and his team, after starting its 1985 campaign 2-3, entered the playoffs as an 11-5 wild card team. If the Patriots wanted to advance to the Super Bowl, they had to do so without playing a single game in Foxboro’s Sullivan Stadium. And they did, becoming the first team in league history to reach the title game without having hosted a playoff contest.
The team that has not won a playoff game in the Super Bowl era would have to square off against a team that has not allowed a single point in its two 1985 postseason games: the Chicago Bears.
Super Bowl XX: New England Patriots vs. Chicago Bears
Date: January 26, 1986
Stadium: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans LA
Final Score: New England Patriots 10, Chicago Bears 46
Super Bowl XX started well for the Patriots. On the Bears’ second offensive play, star running back Walter Payton fumbled the ball and the Patriots’ Larry McGrew recovered. After three incomplete Tony Eason passes, Tony Franklin kicked a 36-yard field goal to give New England a 3-0 lead. The fastest score in Super Bowl history at that time was also the first points Chicago’s mighty defense surrendered during the 1985 playoffs.
The game, however, would only go downhill from that point on – at least from the Patriots’ perspective. Before the first quarter ended, the team surrendered two field goals and a touchdown, while turning the ball over twice (one fumble apiece by Eason and running back Craig James). The Patriots ended the quarter with -19 yards of offense; the first positive play being a 3-yard run by James with 12 seconds left in the first period.
Chicago would score another touchdown early in the second quarter to extend their lead to 17 points (20-3). Berry decided to become active and benched Eason, who went 0-for-6 and was sacked three times. In his place he inserted veteran Steve Grogan, who took over an offense that had amassed -36 yards at that point in the game.
The Patriots entered halftime down 23-3 – and the third quarter did not go any better. The team continued to struggle on offense and was unable to stop the Bears on defense. New England gave up three more touchdowns – among them a 28-yard interception return and William “Refrigerator” Perry’s famous 1-yard touchdown run – and was down 44-3 before scoring on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Grogan to wide receiver Irving Fryar early in the fourth quarter.
The final points of Super Bowl XX were – surprise, surprise – scored by the Bears. This time, however, it was the defense which recorded a safety after Grogan was sacked in the endzone; the fourth time Grogan was sacked that day.
Overall, the Patriots were out-gained 123 to 408 in their first Super Bowl appearance, turned the ball over six times and surrendered seven sacks. The Bears’ 46-10 win was the most lopsided Super Bowl to that point (it has since been surpassed by the San Francisco 49ers’ 55-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in 1989).
The Patriots’ 1985 season may have ended in defeat, but it was still a success. Prior to opening day, few people believed that New England would be capable of reaching the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. The team came up short on the game’s biggest stage, but put itself on the map for the first time – if only for one year.