The Matchup: Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots
All Time Head to Head Record: The Patriots lead the all time series 5-3. New England defeated Cincinnati 20-14 on 10/14/84. This victory marked the Patriots third straight win over the Bengals.
The Game: December 22, 1985
Season Team Records: Cincinnati Bengals (7-8), New England Patriots (10-5)
Overview: Cincinnati was just trying to finish the season at .500. They wanted the victory to assure themselves of their second 8-8 season in a row.
The Patriots, on the other hand, had a lot to play for. They were on the cusp of their first playoff berth since the strike shortened ’82 season (reached the postseason with a 5-4 record). If they beat Cincinnati at home, New England would enter the postseason as a wild card team.
Coaches: Cincinnati Bengals-Sam Wyche, New England Patriots-Raymond Berry
Notable Bengals: Boomer Esiason (qb), Eddie Brown (wr)
Notable Patriots: Craig James (rb), Tony Collins (rb), Robert Weathers (rb), Stanley Morgan (wr)
The Game: On a chilly 24 degree day in Foxboro, the mission was simple. If the Patriots beat Cincinnati they are in the playoffs as a wild card.
The Bengals limped into Sullivan Stadium losing three of their last five including a 27-24 loss to the Redskins the week before. The playoffs were not a reality but being a spoiler and dashing New England’s post season hopes sure was. The Bengals would not go quietly.
The Patriots were red hot winning seven of their last nine and were caught in an AFC East log jam. The Patriots and Jets were within a whisker of the Miami Dolphins for first place in the division. However, NY and New England just ran out of games and now were vying for wild card spots.
The Pats and Bengals traded field goals in the first quarter until Tony Eason and Stanley Morgan (four catches for 121 yards) connected on a 50-yard bomb for a touchdown. The Bengals countered with a 22-yard field goal to close the deficit to 7-6.
As Cincinnati scored field goals, the Patriots responded with touchdowns. The rushing attack of the Patriots made their presence felt in the first half as Tony Collins (10 rushes for 57 yards) scampered for a nine-yard touchdown to open the New England lead to 17-6. Tony Franklin continued the Tony scoring by kicking a 30-yard field goal barefoot in the frigid New England weather. New England would go into the locker room with a comfortable 20-6 lead.
Were the Bengals mailing in the season?
Maybe, but Boomer wasn’t.
Second year quarterback, Boomer Esiason continued his great sophomore season by connecting with receiver, Eddie Brown(5catches for 129 yards) on a 33-yard strike for six (his 26th passing TD on the season).
There was still fight in the black and orange from Ohio. After three quarters, New England clung to a seven-point lead.
The feisty Bengals scored the first points of the final frame and the word choke was being muttered all over New England.
Would the Patriots squander the opportunity to reach the post season for the first time in a non-strike season since ’78?
The three-headed rushing monster of Craig James, Tony Collins, and Robert Weathers wrestled the momentum away from Boomer and the Bengals.
Craig James had big runs in the game (25 rushes for 142 yards) but nothing was bigger than the 11-yard touchdown run that gave the Patriots breathing room at 27-17. The Sullivan Stadium faithful could exhale.
But they didn’t call him Boomer for nothing.
Boomer Esiason (18 for 39 for 270 yards, two TDs and one int) led his team down the field again, capped off by Cris Collinsworth’s eight yard touchdown grab. The lead was now 27-23 and the Patriots would make their fans squirm in the seats for the remainder of the game.
Who would be the hero this week for the Patriots? Who would assure that this magical ride for the red, white, and blue would continue?
Enter running back, Robert Weathers. The seldom used backup tailback from Arizona State only had 174 yards for the whole season. He was riding the pine behind studs, Craig James and Tony Collins.
Weathers saved his best for last.
With only two minutes left on a critical fourth-down play, Weathers broke a 42-yard run for a touchdown to ice the game. Sullivan Stadium was rocking as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The Patriots were 11-5.
They were going to playoffs as one of the AFC Wild Card teams.
And were heading to the Meadowlands to face the hated New York Jets.
What came next was purely magical.
Just ask the Jets, Raiders, and Dolphins.
Interesting Note: Fans after the victory ripped down the goal posts in celebration. However, after the leaving the stadium, the uprights got tangled in power lines and gave some fans the shock of their lives!
Post Script: The Patriots clinched an AFC Wildcard spot and became the first team in the Super Bowl Era to win three road playoff games. New England defeated the Jets, Raiders, and Dolphins punching their ticket to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, the New England did not “Berry the Bears” and the Cinderella ride was derailed quickly. After a short lived 3-0 lead, The Patriots were demolished by the “Monsters of the Midway” in the most one-sided Super Bowl in history (to that point), 46-10.
Joe Gill is a featured blogger for Boston Sports Then and Now.