The New England Patriots are arguably the most successful franchise in the history of the National Football League. The franchise boasts a 489-386-9 win-loss record, won five Super Bowls, and appeared in five others. Obviously, it takes a lot of great players to make a franchise this great, but who are the best of the best? The cracked minds here at Last Word on Pro Football put our heads together to create the New England Patriots All-Franchise team.
Creating the New England Patriots All-Franchise Team
Quarterback – Tom Brady
Duh. It should go without saying that the greatest quarterback of all time is also the greatest Patriots quarterback of all time. After famously arriving in Foxboro as a sixth-round pick, Tom Brady has gone on to set record after record. Brady has broken countless NFL records and could easily break even more before his career ends.
It’s nearly impossible to select the greatest year of Brady’s career, as so many of his season’s eclipse what most quarterbacks could ever dream of doing. There was, of course, the famous 2007 season, where Brady threw for a then-record 50 touchdowns in route to a perfect 16-0 regular season. In a suspension-shortened 2016, Brady threw for an NFL-record 28 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Later in that season, Brady put together the greatest comeback of all time, eliminating a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI while winning the fifth Super Bowl of his career.
Put simply, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in the history of both the Patriots organization and all of football. Brady is without peer and easily wins the starting quarterback job on this All-Franchise team.
Running Back – Sam Cunningham
While the 1970’s Patriots never won a championship, the core of that group was filled with strong talents across the board. One of the more underrated players on those Patriots teams was running back Sam Cunningham. The Patriots selected Cunningham with the 11th overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft, and he immediately became a part of the running back rotation.
After undergoing some relative struggles as a rookie, Cunningham took a solid command of the starting job in the 1974 season. Starting all ten games in which he played, Cunningham recorded 811 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, including a league-leading 75-yard scamper.
While he posted solid numbers throughout his career, Cunningham’s best years likely came during the 1977-1978 seasons. In 1977, Cunningham recorded 1,015 rushing yards, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for just the first time in his career. In 1978, Cunningham was the starting running back for a historical unit. The 1978 Patriots ran for 3,165 yards, a record that still stands to this day. Cunningham started 14 of the teams 16 games that season, and his impressive work earned him a Pro Bowl selection.
Cunningham spent all ten years of his career with the New England Patriots, finishing with 5,453 rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns. Additionally, Cunningham recorded 210 receptions for 1,905 yards and six touchdowns. The Patriots recognized his greatness in 2010, inducting him into the team Hall of Fame.
Wide Receiver – Stanley Morgan
When discussing the all-time great Patriots receivers, it’s Stanley Morgan and then everyone else. No other receiver in Patriots history boasts his combination of dominance and longevity in a Patriots uniform. Morgan first joined the Patriots as a first-round pick in the 1977 NFL Draft, and immediately earned a job with the first-team offense, starting 14 games.
In an era where passing the football was harder to do, Morgan managed to record his first 1,000-yard season in just his third year in the league. A dominant deep threat, Morgan averaged over 20 yards per reception in each of the first six years of his career. The best year of Morgan’s early career like came in 1979, when he led the league in yards per reception and touchdowns.
While Morgan never eclipsed 20 yards per reception after 1982, he still managed to be one of the best receivers in the game. The best season of Morgan’s career came in 1986, when he recorded 84 receptions for 1,491 yards and ten touchdowns. Morgan ended his career with 557 receptions for 10,716 yards and 72 touchdowns.
Wide Receiver – Randy Moss
While Randy Moss spent just over three seasons in New England, he certainly made every game count. Moss is arguably the most physically gifted receiver in football history, and is generally accepted as the second-best wideout in history, behind only the legendary Jerry Rice. Combining a player of his skill with Tom Brady was completely unfair to the rest of the league, as the duo combined for an astonishing 39 touchdowns in just 36 games.
Moss’ greatest season in New England was also arguably the greatest season any wide receiver ever had. Brady and Moss took the league by storm in 2007, as the duo connected for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns over the regular season. Moss’ 23 receiving touchdowns are still an NFL-record to this day.
Moss never failed to put up less than 1,000 yards or fewer than ten touchdowns in his full three seasons with the team. The talented deep threat led the league in touchdowns in both 2007 and 2009 and was borderline unstoppable throughout his Patriots tenure.
Wide Receiver – Gino Cappelletti
The first great Patriots receiver has withstood the test of time to remain one of the best to ever wear the jersey. One of the original 1960 Boston Patriots, Gino Cappelletti was a true do-it-all player, serving as the teams wide receiver, kicker, and defensive back.
Not only could Cappelletti do everything, but he could do everything well. Cappelletti finished his 10-year professional career ranked in the top ten in the AFL in yards and receptions. Thanks to his work in both the kicking and passing game, Cappelletti is the all-time leading scorer in the AFL. From 1961-1969, Cappelletti accounted for a staggering 34% of the Patriots points, which remains a record to this day.
The best season of Cappelletti’s career likely came in his MVP-winning 1964 campaign. In that season, Cappelletti recorded 49 receptions for 865 yards and seven touchdowns while hitting 25 field goals. In total, Cappelletti recorded a then-record 155 points on the season. That record lasted all the way through 2005 when Adam Vinatieri broke the mark.
Tight End – Rob Gronkowski
It’s hard to keep a player as good as Ben Coates off a list like this, but the league has never seen anything like Rob Gronkowski. Arriving in Foxboro as a second-round pick in 2010, Gronkowski immediately began to build his legend.
Gronkowski put the world on notice in 2010 when he became just the third tight end in history to record 10 touchdowns in his rookie year. He followed that up with arguably the greatest season a tight end ever had in 2011. Gronkowski led all tight ends with 1,327 yards and led the league with 17 touchdown receptions. He caught over 72% of the passes that went his way and put up highlight reel catches every single week.
Injuries have limited Gronkowski’s overall production, but there’s no better tight end when healthy. Gronkowski is arguably the greatest red zone threat in football, scoring ten or more touchdowns in all but one season in which he’s played at least 14 games. The big tight end is a four-time All-Pro and has the physical prowess to completely take over a game at a moment’s notice.
Left Tackle – Matt Light
Deciding between Matt Light and Bruce Armstrong wasn’t easy, as both players had phenomenal careers serving as the blindside protector. However, in this list, Light edges out Armstrong by the narrowest of margins.
After winning the starting job as a rookie in 2001, Light went on to protect Tom Brady’s blindside for the entire duration of his career. Despite being a rookie, Light immediately showed he belonged in the NFL, as the 2001 Patriots offensive line was one of the best in the league. Light helped block for a rushing attack which averaged 112.2 yards per game, and 133 yards in Super Bowl XXXVI. Light’s work was so impressive that he earned a spot on Football News 2001 All-Rookie team.
Light’s legend continued to grow as his career went on. He was part of an offensive line that famously held Julius Peppers and the Carolina Panthers defensive line sackless in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Light’s almost-annual battle with Indianapolis Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney was always must-see TV. Both players were among the best at their craft, and both were incredibly familiar with the other. Oftentimes, the winner of that battle decided the winner of the game.
Light retired after 11 years at the left tackle position. In all, Light ended his career with three Pro Bowl selections, one First-Team All-Pro nomination, and three Super Bowl championships. Light’s contributions to the team will soon be immortalized, as he is set to be this year inductee into the Patriots Hall of Fame.
Left Guard – John Hannah
It’s incredibly rare in the world of professional football to find a player who was the consensus best to ever do it. Nonetheless, the Patriots have the consensus best guard in football history in John Hannah. Drafted fourth overall in 1973, Hannah immediately earned a starting role that he would never relinquish.
There were no weak aspects of Hannah’s game. He was a phenomenal pass blocker, and probably the best run blocker in the league. The 1978 Patriots hold the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single season, and Hannah’s blocking had a lot to do with that.
While the Patriots were a somewhat-overlooked franchise during Hannah’s playing days, nobody overlooked Hannah’s dominance. In his 13-year career, Hannah earned All-AFC honors 11 times and was named to ten straight All-Pro teams from 1976-1985. Hannah also boasts the honor of being named to both the NFL All-1970’s and All-1980’s teams.
Hannah was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991, his first year of eligibility. Remarkably, Hannah was the first Patriot to ever earn that honor. While there have been several great offensive linemen to wear the Patriot colors, none have ever measured up to the greatness of John Hannah.
Center – Jon Morris
Jon Morris may be the most criminally underrated player in the history of the Patriots organization. Not many casual fans know about Morris’ contributions to the club, but he was arguably the best center in the history of the American Football League.
Morris first joined the Patriots as a third-round pick in the 1964 NFL Draft. Interestingly enough, the Green Bay Packers (of the National Football League) also selected Morris. Fortunately for Patriots fans, Morris elected to go to Foxboro instead of Wisconsin.
Despite being a third-round rookie, Morris immediately established himself as one of the best blockers in the game. Morris impressed under center, starting from day one and becoming one of the best centers in the league. He won the teams Rookie of the Year award, and also took home All-AFL honors along with a spot on the AFL All-Star team.
Morris carried his rookie success for the rest of his career. He was named All-AFL and All-Star in every season from 1965 to 1969. Morris was one of the toughest players of his generation, as he didn’t miss a single game during that timespan.
The AFL merged with the NFL after the 1969 season, and Morris went down in history as one of the best centers in AFL history. Morris was named Second-Team All-AFL, behind only Oakland Raiders legend Jim Otto. Otto, however, entered the league in 1960, and thus had four extra years of experience on Morris. Had the two entered the league at the same time, Morris likely would hold First-Team honors.
Right Guard – Logan Mankins
Ok, so this is sort of cheating. Logan Mankins spent his whole career at left guard, so technically he shouldn’t be eligible for this spot. However, he’s clearly the second-best guard in franchise history, and omitting him from this list would be a crime.
Much like Hannah, Mankins was a day one starter ever since arriving in Foxboro as a first-round selection. At his best, Mankins was a top-five guard in the league, as he was a brick wall in the passing game and a bulldozer in the run game. With Mankins, the Patriots could run it to the left with success for years on end.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about Mankins is his incredible toughness. While all offensive linemen need to be tough to play the position, Mankins was a different beast altogether. The longtime guard tore his ACL in Week One of the 2011 season. While this would end most players seasons, Mankins played through the injury for the duration of 2011. The Patriots went to the Super Bowl, and Mankins earned Second-Team All-Pro honors despite playing on essentially one knee for the entire season.
While the 2011 season may have been his most impressive considering the circumstances, it was far from his only accomplishment. Mankins was named to seven Pro Bowls in his 11-year career, earning Second-Team All-Pro honors five times First-Team All-Pro honors once. He was named to the Patriots all-2000’s team, and could easily find his way into the Hall of Fame once he’s eligible.
Right Tackle – Sebastian Vollmer
The New England Patriots don’t have the rich history at right tackle that they do on the left side. However, they still boast one of the better right tackles of his time in Sebastian Vollmer. The big German arrived as a second-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and started eight games his rookie year.
Vollmer took over the starting job in 2010 and enjoyed arguably the best season of his career. The behemoth tackle started all 16 games, providing great protection in route to earning Second-Team All-Pro honors.
Vollmer’s relative anonymity kept him from receiving any Pro Bowl nominations, but there was no denying he was one of the better right tackles in the league. Instead of individual accolades, Vollmer hung up his cleats as a two-time Super Bowl champion. The behemoth tackle started on the 2014 Patriots but was injured for the duration of the 2016 campaign before hanging up the cleats for good.
Defensive End – Richard Seymour
In only the second draft of Bill Belichick’s tenure, the New England Patriots selected Richard Seymour with the sixth overall pick. The rest, as they say, is history. Seymour was one of the best players on those early dynasty defenses. He was absolutely impossible to block for years on end and could eat up two or even three defenders at a time.
Seymour never recorded double-digit sacks in Foxboro, but he was never asked to. Those early dynasty defenses asked their defensive linemen to eat up space and free up the linebackers to make plays. Seymour’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed, as he was voted to five straight Pro Bowls from 2002-2006. Additionally, Seymour earned three First-Team All-Pro nods from 2003-2005.
Seymour played 105 games during his eight years in Foxboro, recording 39 sacks and 357 tackles. Additionally, Seymour recovered six fumbled and recorded two interceptions during his time with the Patriots. He retired from football in 2012, and should be inducted into the Hall of Famer before long.
Defensive Tackle – Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork was a fan favorite in Foxboro not only for his happy-go-lucky attitude but for the absolute force he was in the middle of the defensive line. The Patriots selected the Miami product in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, and Wilfork immediately became a franchise cornerstone.
For the next decade, Wilfork made a living eating up double teams and stopping running backs in their tracks. While he had many great moments in a Patriots uniform, the best game of his career likely came in the 2012 AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens. Wilfork finished that game with one sack and six tackles, but the stat line doesn’t tell the whole story. Throughout the game, Wilfork collapsed the Ravens interior line, limiting running back Ray Rice to just 3.2 yards per carry and never allowing quarterback Joe Flacco to get comfortable. Of course, Wilfork was also on the clean end of the most iconic play in New York Jets history.
Wilfork’s first and final season with New England ended in glory. He began his Patriots career with a Super Bowl victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and ended it with a Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
The five-time Pro Bowler spent two years with the Houston Texans, but he will always be a Patriot at heart. Wilfork hung up his cleats for good following the 2016 season, ending his career being Second-Team All-Pro three times, and First-Team All-Pro once.
Defensive Tackle – Houston Antwine
The 1960’s Patriots had one of the better defensive lines in the AFL, and perhaps no player on that unit was better than defensive tackle Houston Antwine. Joining the Boston Patriots in 1961, Antwine spent 11 seasons in New England torturing opposing quarterbacks and interior linemen.
Antwine played in all but one possible game from 1961 to 1970 and was a dominant force along the interior line. While he was a solid player his first two seasons with the Patriots, his career truly took off in 1963. Antwine earned First Team All-AFL honors in 1963, along with the first of six straight AFL All-Star nominations.
While sacks were not an official statistic in Antwine’s playing days, he’s unofficially credited with 39 takedowns over his career. Antwine consistently beat double teams and led the team in sacks in 1967, 1968, and 1969.
Antwine was so dominant that his consistently great play earned him a spot on the All-AFL team. By the time Antwine retired, he earned six All-Star nominations, five Second-Team All-AFL selections, as well as one First-Team All-AFL honor. Antwine was posthumously elected in the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2015.
Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Willie McGinest
It truly is amazing how much talent the Patriots defense boasted in the early 2000’s. While every positional grouping was stacked with talent, there was arguably no better player on those defenses than Willie McGinest. Drafted in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft, McGinest was one of the key defensive pieces responsible for bringing the Patriots to four Super Bowls.
McGinest was one of the best pass rushers in New England throughout his Patriots tenure. McGinest recorded 78 sacks in his 12 years in New England, good for third-most in Patriots history. The USC products biggest regular-season moment likely came in a 2003 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts held the ball at the Patriots 1-yard line, needing a touchdown to win the game. The Patriots stopped Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James in large part due to McGinest’s efforts. On fourth down, McGinest stuffed James in the backfield, causing a turnover on downs and effectively winning the game.
While McGinest was great in the regular season, he saved his best work for the postseason. McGinest holds the league record for playoff sacks with 16. The former first-round selection played his best in the biggest moments, routinely harassing the opposing quarterbacks. The best game of his playoff career came in 2005 when he recorded 4.5 sacks against Byron Leftwich and the overwhelmed Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line.
Linebacker – Andre Tippett
Long before Tedy Bruschi, Dont’a Hightower, and Jerod Mayo roamed the field, Andre Tippett made his living dominating from the linebacker position. After spending the majority of his rookie year as a backup, Tippett earned a starting role in 1983 and immediately transformed into one of the best linebackers of his time.
Tippett recorded an absurd 18.5 sacks in 1984 while earning the first of five-straight Pro Bowl nods. The linebacker showed that 1984 wasn’t a fluke, winning First-Team All-Pro honors in 1985 and leading the Patriots to their first Super Bowl appearance. Tippett’s 35 sacks over those two seasons were the most in league history to the point, and Tippett was arguably the second-best linebacker in football, only to Lawrence Taylor.
Tippett continued to dominate throughout his NFL career before retiring following the 1993 season. The former second-round pick retired with 100 sacks, a mark that is still the highest in Patriots history. In all, Tippett finished his career with five Pro Bowls, two First-Team All-Pro nods, two Second-Team All-Pro berths, and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tippett spent every year of his career with the Patriots, and was just the second Patriot selected to the Hall of Fame.
Linebacker – Tedy Bruschi
It wouldn’t be an All-Franchise list without including arguably the biggest leader of the early 2000’s Patriots defense. Bruschi was more than just a fiery leader, as number 54 was one of the best linebackers in all of football during his peak.
Bruschi first arrived in New England as a third-round selection out of Arizona. Too small to play his collegiate position of defensive lineman, the Patriots moved him to linebacker. While it took him a few years to become an everyday starter, he soon became the leader of one of the most dominant defenses in league history.
The longtime Patriots linebacker was at his best in the 2003 – 2004 seasons. During those two championship seasons, Bruschi recorded 253 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and six interceptions. In both seasons, Bruschi earned Second-Team All-Pro honors as well as a Pro Bowl berth in 2004.
However, perhaps the true greatness of Bruschi comes from his perseverance in the hardest of times. Just days after participating in the Pro Bowl, Bruschi suffered a stroke. After being brought to the hospital, doctors determined Bruschi had a small hole in his heart. While it was treatable, Bruschi’s career was in jeopardy.
Most expected Bruschi to miss the duration of the 2005 season at the very least. However, Bruschi tirelessly worked to get back on the field, and made his season debut on October 30, 2005. While he was never quite the same player, Bruschi still managed to play three more years in the league. All in all, it was an incredible career for an incredible player.
Linebacker – Mike Vrabel
One of Bill Belichick’s best traits is the ability to find diamonds in the rough, and that’s exactly what he did with Mike Vrabel. After spending four years as a backup on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Belichick brought Vrabel aboard prior to the 2001 season. The rest, as they say, is history.
Vrabel arrived in Foxboro and immediately became a starter on a dynasty defense. Most often lining wide in a 3-4 defense, Vrabel was the perfect fit for the Patriots scheme. In his eight years in New England, Vrabel recorded 604 tackles, 48 sacks, and 11 interceptions. He was one of the best players on one of the best defenses in the league, and teams oftentimes didn’t have an answer for him.
Of course, he also made quite the impact on offense. The Patriots famously used Vrabel as a tight end in goal-line sets to great success. The most famous catch of Vrabel’s career came in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Philadelphia Eagles. Brady threw a pass to Vrabel who, despite being held, managed to juggle the ball and bring it in for a touchdown. That play was far from his only success as a tight end, however. Vrabel finished his career with ten receptions, all of which went for touchdowns.
Cornerback – Mike Haynes
As previously mentioned, the 1970’s New England Patriots actually boasted a decent amount of success. While the roster was overall a solid unit, Mike Haynes may have been the second best player on those teams (nobody was better than John Hannah).
Haynes first arrived on the scene as a first-round draft pick in 1976 and had one of the better rookie years in Patriots history. Haynes made his mark at both cornerback, where he recorded eight receptions, and at punt returner, when he had an AFC-leading 608 yards. His year was so impressive that he was named to the Pro Bowl and took home NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Haynes spent seven seasons with New England, reaching the Pro Bowl five times while earning Second-Team All-Pro honors six times. Haynes finished his Patriots career with 86 starts, 28 interceptions and one pick-six. As a returner, Haynes gained 1,159 return yards and two touchdowns on 111 returns, good for an impressive 10.4 average.
Haynes would go on to have great success with the Oakland Raiders and was eventually named to the NFL Hall of Fame. However, he is also in the Patriots Hall of Fame, and the team retired his number 40 in 1994.
Cornerback – Ty Law
If Ty Law wasn’t the best cornerback of his time, he was certainly within the top-five. Law was selected with the 23rd overall pick of the 1995 draft and was one of the key pieces to the Patriots early dynasty. While he was a starter on the 1996 AFC Champion Patriots, he didn’t truly become an elite cornerback until 1998.
Law broke out in a big way in 1998, intercepting nine passes while earning First-Team All-Pro honors. The nine interceptions led the league, and he was a one-man island. Law kept that form throughout his New England tenure, and he boasted the rare ability to take away any opposing teams best receiver.
Law’s biggest games came on the brightest stages. In Super Bowl XXXVI, Law was arguably the most important piece in limiting the St. Louis Rams offense. Lined up against Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce all game long, Law stepped up to the challenge and then some. Law famously recorded a pick-six against Kurt Warner for the game’s first touchdown. Were it not for Brady’s heroic game-winning drive, Law could have easily won Super Bowl MVP.
While that game was great, perhaps his best game came in the 2003 AFC Championship Round against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Lining up against Marvin Harrison all game long, Law recorded three interceptions and limited Harrison to just 19 receiving yards. Manning had no answer for Law, and the league MVP managed to put up just 14 points.
Safety – Rodney Harrison
Rodney Harrison may be the single greatest free agent signing in Patriots history. It’s crazy to think about now, but the league generally believed Harrison to be a washed-up asset entering 2003. Only Bill Belichick saw something in the former San Diego Charger, signing Harrison for pennies on the dollar.
Harrison responded by posting the best year of his career in 2003. Following Lawyer Milloy’s shocking release, Harrison took over as leader of the secondary and provided a physical, hard-hitting presence while still playing well in coverage. Harrison won First-Team All-Pro honors in 2003, recording 126 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions. He was the defensive captain on a team that won its second Super Bowl in three years.
Harrison continued his elite play for the duration of his Patriots career. Injuries forced Harrison to hang up the cleats following the 2008 season, but he retired with some phenomenal numbers. In his six years with the squad, Harrison recorded 441 tackles, nine sacks, and eight interceptions. In total, Harrison recorded 30.5 sacks over his NFL career, which is the most ever by a defensive back.
His impact went beyond just the stat sheet. Harrison brought a ferocious intensity which carried throughout the whole team. So much of the physical nature of those historic Patriots defenses came from Harrison’s heart and passion for the game. While Patrick Chung has done a fine job filling a similar role, there’s nobody in Patriots history who played strong safety quite like Harrison.
Safety – Devin McCourty
Outside of Brady and Belichick, there has been complete turnover from the team first three championships to their most recent two. By and large, this is a completely different roster with a completely different set of leaders. Defensively, Devin McCourty has been one of the biggest pieces in bringing championship defenses back to Foxboro.
McCourty initially entered the league as a cornerback out of Rutgers. In his rookie year, it looked as though McCourty might actually be the next great Patriots cornerback. The young rookie started all 16 games, recording seven interceptions while serving as the teams top cornerback. His play was so impressive that he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in just his first year.
However, after struggling through the next year and a half at corner, McCourty moved to safety when the Patriots acquired Aqib Talib. Finally, in his best position, McCourty thrived. The Patriots defense struggled mightily against the deep ball for most of 2011 and 2012, but those issues were completely erased with McCourty playing deep safety. He helped stabilize the defense and has been one of the best safeties in the league ever since making the switch.
Bill Belichick sings praises about McCourty’s play, leadership, and all around personality. McCourty has been team captain ever since 2011, and in many ways is the perfect Patriot. In 2014, both McCourty and Darrelle Revis hit free agency, and it spoke volumes that the Patriots prioritized bringing back McCourty. That decision has paid dividends, as McCourty is the glue which binds the Patriots secondary together.
Kicker – Adam Vinatieri
It’s hard to think of any kicker more clutch than Adam Vinatieri. While he’s now known primarily for his big kicks, Vinatieri first received national attention all the way back in 1996. Facing the Dallas Cowboys, Vinatieri chased down returner Herschel Walker, preventing what would have otherwise been an easy touchdown. Not many kickers are capable of making plays like that, and it led then-coach Bill Parcels to tell Vinatieri “you’re not a kicker, you’re a football player.”
Of course, Vinatieri went on to accomplish far more than just taking down Walker in the open field. The longtime Patriot won three Super Bowls in New England, and his leg played a big role in all three championships.
In the famous “Snow Bowl” game against the Oakland Raiders, Vinatieri knocked home a 45-yard game-tying field goal in the midst of a swirling snowstorm. Later that game, he drilled 23-yard game winner to send the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game. In Super Bowl XXXVI, Vinatieri secured New England’s first ever Super Bowl, drilling a 48-yard field goal as time expired.
Two years later, Vinatieri did it again. In the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots offense had trouble getting the ball into the endzone. Fortunately, Vinatieri was on his game, going a perfect five for five on field goal attempts. In that following Super Bowl, history repeated itself. Vinatieri drove home the game-winning 41-yard field goal, giving the Patriots the lead with just four seconds left.
Vinatieri left the Patriots after the 2005 season, but not before recording an astonishing 18 game-winning field goals in the final minute or less. He’s arguably the greatest kicker in the history of football and should be elected into the Hall of Fame when he eventually retires from the NFL.
Punter – Rich Camarillo
This one was another fairly easy choice. Rich Camarillo enjoyed a 16-year career in professional football, spending his first seven years with the New England Patriots. Camarillo led the league in punting yards during the 1985 campaign and led the league in net average in 1983. While he wasn’t Ray Guy, he was still a solid and dependable presence for the Patriots special teams.
Camarillo’s last game in New England was Super Bowl XX against the famous 1985 Chicago Bears. While the team got pummeled, 46-10, Camarillo actually had a pretty nice game. The offense couldn’t do anything, so in many ways Camarillo was the best Patriot player on the field that day. Camarillo punted six times for 263 yards, including a 62-yard punt which pinned the Bears at the four-yard line. Camarillo’s punt was the longest in Super Bowl history and wasn’t broken until fellow Patriots punter Ryan Allen launched a 64-yard punt in Super Bowl XLIX.
Returner – Troy Brown
Troy Brown was never the most gifted athlete. He was never the fastest, biggest, strongest, or quickest guy on any team. However, he was the living embodiment of everything the Patriot Way is supposed to be. He was a great receiver, a surprisingly competent cornerback, and a phenomenal returner.
Brown served as the Patriots primary returner for the better part of ten seasons. While he briefly returned kicks exclusively in 1995 and 1996, his best work came as a punt returner. In his 15 seasons with the club, Brown recorded 252 punt returns, totaling 2,625 yards and three touchdowns. His three return touchdowns were the most in franchise history at his retirement. Additionally, Brown added another 87 returns for 1,862 yards as a kick returner.
Brown’s best season returning the ball came in the 2001 season. During a year in which he also caught over 100 passes, Brown was the lifeblood of the 2001 offense. Brown returned 29 punts for 413 yards and two touchdowns. His two touchdowns were the most in the league, as was his 14.2 yards per return.
Additionally, Brown’s biggest postseason return came in the 2001 playoffs. Facing the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers offense, Brown returned a punt for a touchdown for the first points of the game. Brown was also part of a block field goal return, in which he lateraled the ball to Antwan Harris for the touchdown. New England won that game by seven points, and Brown’s special team’s play was responsible for 14 points. Without Brown, the Patriots don’t go to Super Bowl XXXVI.
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