The Last Sub-.500 Season

The Patriots finished above .500 in 19 straight seasons between 2001 and 2019. But after a 5-11 season in 2000, the Patriots signed more than 20 free agents looking to rebuild. They also held the sixth pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. We looked back at the last time the Patriots finished below .500.


The 2020 season got us thinking about the Patriots last sub-.500 season. It’s incredible to stop and wrap one’s head around the fact that it came all the way back in 2000. The Patriots went 19 straight seasons finishing above .500 between 2001 and 2019.

Like in 2020, many of those games in 2000 were close, with the Patriots coming out on the losing end too frequently. Of the team’s 11 losses in 2000, nine were decided by one score. While we often enjoy looking back on successful seasons, we thought it might be interesting to recall that 2000 campaign. After all, one must remember the painful seasons to appreciate success.

It was Bill Belichick’s first season as the Patriots head coach. The criticism surrounding Robert Kraft’s decision to surrender a first round draft pick for Belichick’s services hung like a cloud above Foxboro Stadium. Nevertheless, Kraft believed in Belichick’s plan to build a winner. Tom Brady, it should be noted, was an unknown rookie fourth-string quarterback. So let’s go back to 2000. Perhaps if you are following the new Patriots Time Machine social accounts on Twitter and Instagram, this recap will provide some perspective as to what Belichick and the Patriots faced as they moved through the offseason heading into Kickoff Weekend in 2001.

Week 1 – Sept. 3, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21
New England Patriots 16

Belichick’s first game as head coach came against the Bucs and second-year quarterback Shaun King. Tampa Bay fumbled the opening kickoff and Adam Vinatieri’s 30-yard field goal opened the scoring. Mike Alstott’s 5-yard TD run gave Tampa a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. Troy Brown then returned a punt 66 yards for a TD before the Bucs answered on an 8-yard scoring pass to Reidel Anthony for a 14-10 Tampa Bay halftime lead.  A late-third quarter Kevin Faulk fumble set Tampa up at the Patriots 24 and four plays later, Alstott’s second TD made it 21-10. A 39-yard Drew Bledsoe-to-Terry Glenn scoring throw closed it to 21-16 (missed the 2-point conversion) with 3:01 left in the game. The Pats defense then forced a three-and-out, and the offense took over on their own 45-yard line with 1:53 remaining. New England drove only as far as the 22-yard line before three straight incompletions left them at 0-1.

Week 2 – Sept. 11, 2000 – Giants Stadium
New York Jets 20
New England Patriots 19

Belichick wanted this one badly. He had shunned the Jets for the chance to coach the Patriots and in Week 2, he was back in the Meadowlands for a Monday Night Football matchup. Four first-half field goals staked New England to a 12-7 halftime lead, which grew to 19-7 with 9:56 to go in the game after tight end Eric Bjornson caught a 6-yard TD from Bledsoe. The Jets answered with a 10-play, 85 yard touchdown drive to make it 19-14. The Patriots then drove to the Jets 35-yard line before a 1-yard loss and an 8-yard sack forced a punt. The Jets took over at their own 28 with 2:28 to go and needed only two plays take the lead. Vinny Testaverde connected with Dedric Ward for 44 yards and Wayne Chrebet for a 28-yard touchdown with 1:55 to go. Bledsoe was sacked twice on the Patriots final possession.

Week 3 – Sept. 17, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
Minnesota Vikings 21
New England Patriots 13

The Patriots offensive struggles continued in Week 3, but the defense also had trouble getting off the field. Minnesota opened the scoring on its first possession with a time-consuming 17-play touchdown drive to make it 7-0.  A pass interference at the Vikings 2-yard line helped the Patriots answer in just five plays when Kevin Faulk scored one play after the penalty to tie the game. The Vikings then mounted a 16-play drive to take a 14-7 lead. After a quick New England punt, Minnesota needed only five plays to score again when Daunte Culpepper connected with Matthew Hatchette for a 39-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead. The Patriots scored to make it 21-13 with about 11 minutes left and drove to the Vikings 14 with one minute to go before Bledsoe was sacked on fourth-and-seven to end the game.

Week 4 – Sept. 24, 2000 – Pro Player Stadium
Miami Dolphins 10
New England Patriots 3

The struggling offense wasted a strong defensive effort by mustering only a first half field goal in a 1o-3 loss in Miami that left the Patriots at 0-4. Bledsoe completed only 16-of-33 passes for 161 yards, and the Patriots rushed for only 56 in the loss. The game’s only touchdown came on a Jay Fiedler-to-Bert Emanuel 53-yard TD pass. Neither team scored in the second half.

Week 5 – Oct. 1, 2000 – Mile High Stadium
New England Patriots 28
Denver Broncos 19

Trips to Denver don’t traditionally go well for New England so expectations were low when the 0-4 Patriots visited the Mile High City. But Willie McGinest provided an early spark on the game’s first possession when he strip-sacked Broncos QB Brian Griese to set up and 11-yard Bledsoe-to-Brown TD for a 7-0 lead. After a Denver punt, New England quickly found the end zone again when Bledsoe connected with Glenn for a 44-yard TD that completed a three-play, 75-yard drive. New England then dealt a vital blow with just 25 second left in the half when Bledsoe hit running back J.R. Redmond on a wheel route for a 12-yard TD and a 21-3 halftime lead. Bledsoe threw an interception to open the second half, but the Patriots defense made a goal line stand, stopping Denver on fourth down from the 1-yard line to preserve their 18-point cushion. The Patriots took a safety when punter Lee Johnson stepped out of bounds with the team pinned at its own 1. Deltha O’Neal then returned the ensuing free kick 87 yards for a touchdown. Rather than let the momentum swing, the Patriots all but put the game away with a seven-play, 77-yard scoring march for a 28-11 lead. Denver added a late-fourth quarter TD to make it 28-19, but Belichick had his first win as the Patriots head coach.

Week 6 – Oct. 8, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
New England Patriots 24
Indianapolis Colts 16

The Patriots made it two in a row and earned their first home win of the Belichick era with a 24-16 win over Peyton Manning’s Colts. New England drove to a Vinatieri field goal on the game’s opening possession, but the Colts put up 10 unanswered in the second quarter to take a 10-3 lead with 14 seconds left in the first half. But following the late second quarter field goal, Tony Simmons returned the ensuing kickoff to the Colts 44-yard line. With just three seconds left, Belichick called on third-string QB Michael Bishop to throw a Hail Mary, which Bishop completed for a 44-yard TD pass to Simmons to tie the game at the half. The Colts opened the third quarter with a 22-play drive that consumed 10:19, but ended in only a field goal. Indy had the ball for a total of 16:47 on two straight possessions, but was outscored, 7-6, despite New England having the ball for just three seconds. The Patriots then used an 11-play drive to take a 17-13 lead on a short Bledsoe-to-Bjornson TD pass. After Ty Law intercepted Manning, the Patriots extended the lead to 24-13 on a Bledsoe-to-Glenn scoring toss before holding on for the eight-point win.

Week 7 – Oct. 15, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
New York Jets 34
New England Patriots 17

The rival Jets jumped out quickly to take a 14-0 lead courtesy of a 2-yard Curtis Martin TD run and a 21-yard Victor Green interception return for a touchdown. The Patriots answered with 10 straight points, but two more touchdowns in the second half sealed the Patriots fate as their two-game win streak came to a grinding halt.

Week 8 – Oct. 22, 2000 – RCA Dome
Indianapolis Colts 30
New England Patriots 23

The Patriots led this one 16-7 more than halfway through the third quarter thanks to a 19-yard Bledsoe-to-Redmond touchdown pass and three Vinatieri field goals sandwiching a 51-yard Colts TD pass from Manning to Marvin Harrison. A 78-yard Manning-to-Harrison TD pass made it 16-14, but the Patriots answered with a touchdown drive culminated by a Bledsoe 1-yard TD dive for a 23-14 lead. The fourth quarter was all Indy. Edgerrin James scored twice, and Vanderjagt closed the scoring with a late 36-yard field goal for the 30-23 Colts win.

Week 9 – Bye

Week 10 – Nov. 5, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
Buffalo Bills 16
New England Patriots 13 (OT)

Doug Flutie guided the Buffalo Bills to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, but New England hunkered down. Vinatieri kicked a field goal just before halftime and J.R. scored from one yard out with 9:00 left in the game to tie it, 10-10, with backup John Friesz having relieved Bledsoe at quarterback. Vinatieri gave the Patriots a 13-10 lead with 2:03 left, but Flutie drove the Bills to field goal range, setting up Steve Christie for the game-tying 48-yard field goal with :04 remaining to send the game to OT. The Pats won the coin toss, but went three-and-out to open overtime. The Bills needed only six plays to win it on Christie’s 32-yard field goal.

Week 11 – Nov. 12, 2000 – Cleveland Browns Stadium
Cleveland Browns 19
New England Patriots 11

It was Belichick’s first trip back to Cleveland as a head coach since his tenure coaching the Browns ended in 1995. It was a forgettable day for the Patriots, who lost their fourth straight for the second time in the 2000 season while they fell to 2-8. The teams traded first quarter field goals before Cleveland rattled off 16 straight via an Aaron Shea 9-yard TD catch from Doug Pederson and three Phil Dawson field goals. The Patriots finally found the end zone with 5:48 left in the game on a 2-yard TD pass from Bledsoe to tight end Rod Rutledge, but once again, it was too little too late for New England.

Week 12 – Nov. 19, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
New England Patriots 16
Cincinnati Bengals 13

New England took advantage of a short field thanks to a Brandon Bennett fumble, which New England’s Otis Smith recovered at the Bengals 29. Six plays later, Tony Carter scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-0 Pats lead. Cincy answered late in the second when QB Scott Mitchell hit Peter Warrick for a 13-yard touchdown strike. From there, it was all field goals with Vinatieri making the final one from 22 yards with :03 left for the win.

Week 13 – Nov. 23, 2000 – Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit Lions 34
New England Patriots 9

Ugly. The Patriots actually led, 9-6, midway through the third quarter thanks to three Vinatieri field goals. From there, it was all Lions as they enjoyed a Thanksgiving Day second half feast that included four touchdowns, the last coming on a 101-yard interception return for a TD by Bryant Westbrook. The only notable element from the beating was that rookie Tom Brady saw his first action and completed his first career pass – a 6-yarder to Rutledge. The Patriots fell to 3-9 with the 34-9 loss.

Week 14 – Dec. 4, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
New England Patriots 30
Kansas City Chiefs 24

New England continued its late-season win-one-lose-one habit with a 30-24 win over the Chiefs in Foxborough. Bledsoe completed 33-of-48 passes for 282 yards and two TDs, as New England turned a 10-10 tie into a 27-10 lead midway through the third quarter. Bledsoe connected with Brown and Jermain Wiggins to provide the Patriots a needed cushion. Elvis Grbac threw a pair of fourth quarter TD passes for KC but it wasn’t enough as the Pats improved to 4-9 with the win.

Week 15 – Dec. 10, 2000 – Soldier Field
Chicago Bears 24
New England Patriots 17

The Patriots failed to score 20 points for the 10th time of the 2000 season in a 24-17 loss to the Bears. Shane Matthews completed 22-of-27 passes for 239 yards and a pair of TDs while the Patriots could muster only 38 yards on the ground. It was 10-10 at halftime, but a James Allen 16-yard TD run and a 6-yard Matthews-to-Allen TD pass made it 24-10. The Patriots moved within seven on a Bledsoe-to-Brown 7-yard scoring toss, but the Bears held on for the win.

Week 16 – Dec. 17, 2000 – Ralph Wilson Stadium
New England Patriots 13
Buffalo Bills 10 (OT)

The Patriots trailed late in a snowy fourth quarter, but managed to tie the game, 10-10, on a 13-yard Faulk touchdown run with 4:45 to go. New England actually had a chance to win it in regulation, but Vinatieri slipped and missed a 27-yard field goal with :01 left. The Patriots failed to score on overtime’s opening possession but then blocked Christie’s 30-yard field goal try after Buffalo had driven to the Patriots 12-yard line. With another opportunity, New England used 14 plays to move from its own 11 to the Buffalo 6-yard line with :23 left in overtime. Vinatieri’s 24-yard field goal won it for New England.

Week 17 – Dec. 24, 2000 – Foxboro Stadium
Miami Dolphins 27
New England Patriots 24

The two AFC East rivals played an entertaining season finale. Miami was heading to the playoffs while the Patriots were limping to the finish line. The first half saw back-and-forth action. Miami took an early 3-0 lead, but Tony Carter’s 1-yard TD run and Faulk’s 53-yard TD reception gave New England a 14-3 advantage. The Dolphins answered with a pair of touchdowns to take a 17-14 lead, but Bledsoe found Glenn for a 16-yard touchdown with :03 left in the second quarter to make it 21-17 at halftime. A Vinatieri field goal made it 24-17, but Lamar Smith tied it on a 1-yard TD run before Olindo Mare’s 49-yard goal with :09 left gave Miami a 27-24 lead. That led to one of the most bizarre endings in recent history. New England took over at its own 40-yard line with :07 remaining. Bledsoe dropped back to pass and appeared to be strip-sacked as time expired. With the game over, the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms. But the officials were notified that the play should have been ruled an incomplete pass, which meant the clock should have stopped with :03 left. The referee summoned both teams back to the field, and some Dolphins players reappeared with only a towel covering them. After a 35-minute delay, Bishop heaved a Hail Mary pass that fell incomplete and the Patriots 5-11 season was over. Little did anyone know in that down moment that the Patriots would not experience another losing season until 2020.