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Former Patriots running back Andy Johnson passes away at age 65

Johnson spent nine seasons with the Patriots.

The New England Patriots of the 1970s had one of the premier offenses in the NFL: Behind one of the best rushing attacks in league history, the team found itself in the top 10 in points scored six times between 1974 and 1980. A core member of the Patriots' running back group back then was Andy Johnson, who appeared in 97 games for the team between 1974 and 1982.

On early Wednesday morning, Johnson passed away at age 65.

Johnson started his football career as a quarterback in his hometown of Athens, Georgia before joining the University of Georgia as a dual-threat passer. In his three collegiate seasons with the Bulldogs, he appeared in 33 games and was most dangerous with the football in his hands: While he completed just 117 passing attempts for 1,518 yards over the course of his college career, he carried the ball 431 times for 1,799.

His productivity as a runner put him on the Patriots' draft radar and the team selected Johnson in the fifth round of the 1974 NFL draft. After a rookie campaign during which he saw most of his action in the kicking game, Johnson's role expanded and he quickly established himself as a fixture on New England's offense as both a ball carrier and pass receiver – a true dual-threat running back.

As such, Johnson was routinely among the most productive offensive skill position players on the Patriots and was a part of the record-breaking 1978 rushing attack that gained 3,165 rushing yards – a record that will never be broken. Overall, Johnson spent all nine of his NFL seasons in New England and finished his career with 491 carries for 2,017 yards and 13 touchdowns as well as 161 receptions for 1,807 yards and an additional 9 scores.

After leaving New England, Johnson played one additional season with the USFL's Boston Breakers before retiring from football. In 1996, he was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and was also voted to the Patriots' team of the 1970s.

Johnson, as the Patriots announced yesterday, passed away yesterday after a battle with an undisclosed illness. He is survived by his wife and their three children.