By Zane Miller
On December 12th, 1993, the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots faced off in a late-season matchup, as the Bengals traveled to Foxborough, Massachusetts with just four games remaining for both teams. However, the two sides would have more in common than just that for the 1993 campaign, as they were both hoping for a quick and painless end to miserable seasons.
As far as playoff aspirations are concerned, it’s hard to think of a more meaningless game than this one, as both teams had been dead in the water for a long time prior to December. The Bengals held a 1-11 record coming into the afternoon, thanks in large part to an atrocious offense which would go on to rank last in the NFL by season’s end with just 187 points scored, or 11.7 points per game. With their defense not faring much better, as they would also be ranked in the bottom 10 teams in the league, they sought to at least get some positive momentum going into 1994 in their final remaining contests.
The Patriots, who were also saddled with a 1-11 showing at this point in the year, were looking to jumpstart their anemic offensive play as well. In fact, at this juncture, the team had scored exactly 11.7 points per game, further adding to the dubious comparisons between themselves and Cincinnati. This embarrassing offensive output spoiled a solid production from their defense, as they would take 11th in the 28-team league in points allowed with 286, or 17.9 points per game.
As for the starting quarterbacks, the Bengals would send in David Klingler, whom the team had taken sixth overall in the 1992 draft and was getting his first opportunity as full-time starter following the departure of longtime quarterback Boomer Esiason. However, his 1993 season had not gone according to plan, as he had thrown only three touchdowns with eight interceptions and did not claim his first win of the season until late November. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Klingler was forced to miss two games with a back injury at the midway point of the year.
For New England, they would be starting a young first-round pick of their own, with rookie and first overall pick of the 1993 draft Drew Bledsoe taking the reins of a disastrous organization which had gone 2-14 the previous season. After being thrown straight into the deep end, Bledsoe had unsurprisingly struggled in his debut year, throwing seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions leading up to the matchup against Cincinnati. Like Klingler, Bledsoe also suffered an injury which forced him to miss a significant amount of time, as he sat out three games to recover from a sprained knee. With that, the roughly half-capacity crowd at Foxboro Stadium was likely expecting a low-scoring affair. However, they had no idea of the horror show which would unfold before their very eyes.
The first quarter provided a preview of what was to come for much of the afternoon, as both teams tried fruitlessly to pass the ball in the windy conditions, leading to a scoreless opening frame. While both offenses continued to sputter for the remainder of the half, the Patriots would gather a bit of good fortune as Bledsoe hit tight end Ben Coates for an eight-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining, making it a 7-0 score at halftime. However, this would be the only offensive score of the entire game.
The second half saw a continuation of the sloppy play, as evidenced by one of the only ‘highlights’ from the half coming on a botched punt attempt by the Patriots. New England punter Mike Saxon bobbled the snap, which would set up the Bengals inside Patriots’ territory, however they would be unable to do anything with the opportunity. After both sides went scoreless through the third and most of the fourth quarter, Cincinnati would have one final chance to tie the game up, sitting with a fourth and goal at the 1-yard line. However, defensive linemen Mike Pitts and Ray Agnew would make the biggest defensive play of the game, stopping backup running back Eric Ball to force a turnover on downs with less than a minute to go. Although the Patriots had the ball back and only needed to run out the last 53 seconds, the game would not end so easily as the Bengals were able to burn their timeouts to force the Patriots to punt them the ball back for a last-ditch effort to send the game into overtime. Or so it seemed.
With New England lined up in punt formation, head coach and future Hall of Famer Bill Parcells had long snapper Marv Cook snap the ball over the head of Saxon and out of the end zone, resulting in the Bengals being awarded a safety with 20 seconds left. This would be of little consolation for Cincinnati, who would be pinned back in their own territory following the free kick. A miracle drive at a game-winning touchdown would not gather much traction, as the Patriots held on for the 7-2 win. In case you’re wondering, this game was not a Scorigami, as the 7-2 score had occurred twice previously, coincidentally both involving wins by the 1926 Kansas City Cowboys, as they took down the Hartford Blues 7-2 on October 31st of that year before doing the same to the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals less than a month later on November 28th.
While the game would be notable as Bledsoe’s first career win at home, there isn’t much information to go off of as to how this game played out, with it being mostly lost to time with no play-by-play data and limited video footage available. However, the minute-long postgame recap definitely sheds light on how absolutely sloppy the game was. Out of the six highlight clips shown, three of them involve dropped passes (four including a dropped interception after the initial deflection) which should have easily been made. While you may be thinking that there were at least a lot of defensive plays, this was also not the case as an interception by Patriots defensive back Terry Ray was the lone forced turnover for either team.
In reality, both punters were the busiest players on the field, with the Bengals' Lee Johnson punting it away right times while Saxon took the field five times for the Patriots.
Klingler ended the game with a rough statline of no touchdowns with a measly 89 passing yards to go with the aforementioned interception, while Bledsoe managed just one passing touchdown and 106 passing yards in the win.
Strangely enough, after the game, both teams went on to finish the season strong, as Cincinnati won two of their last three to end the 1993 season at 3-13, while New England swept their final matchups to finish at 5-11 with a four-game winning streak.
Link to stats database: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/199312120nwe.htm