We are into those jersey numbers where we’ll be talking repeatedly about a lot of defensive backs and some running backs. Today, we’ll start with one of the finest Patriots defensive players in franchise history, Ty Law.
When ESPN’s “NFL PrimeTime” was in the peak of its powers, Chris Berman would famously say about opposing quarterbacks, “They fought the law and Ty Law won!” It’s likely Law will someday find himself in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Taken with their 1st round choice in 1995, Law played his first ten seasons in New England. Law was arguably the most important player on the team for the 2001 and 2003 Super Bowl championship teams. In ’01, it was Law’s pick-six and excellent man to man coverage that put the Pats in a position to win against the heavily-favored Rams.
In 2003, Law’s performance against Peyton Manning and the Colts in the AFC Championship game was one for the ages. He knocked around Marvin Harrison and crew all day as well as intercepted three passes. His coverage was so brutal and so tight, the league changed illegal contact rules during the subsequent offseason.
After Law left the Pats following their third Super Bowl win, he joined the Jets. As a member of the Jets, Law had his best season in 2005 with ten interceptions for 195 yards. Law retired after 2009 and was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2014.
Law was the best DB to ever wear number 24, but not the first. That distinction belongs 1962 All-Star Dick Felt. Felt picked off 12 balls for Boston in the ‘60’s.
Running back Robert Weathers wore #24 for a few seasons in the ‘80’s where he played mostly special teams. His finest hour came in the 1985 AFC Championship at the Orange Bowl versus the Dolphins. He rushed for 87 yards in the slop as the Pats took advantage of grinding out the clock on a day Dan Marino and company were stuck in the mud.
Kyle Arrington wore 24, 25 and 27 during his Patriots career. Arrington was a dependable special-teamer and sometimes starting cornerback during the Belichick era. He played in two Super Bowls, but not well as you’ll recall. Indeed, his lackluster coverage of Seattle’s little-used Chris Matthews allowed Malcolm Butler to get into the game and my guess is you remember what happened from there.
The Patriots now employ veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore as the bearer of #24. He had an up and down tenure with the Bills before signing on with New England for huge money. As the 2017 season progressed, Gilmore improved. His penalty against Carolina cost the Pats the “W” in that one. However, Gilmore made a pivotal play in the AFC Championship game against the Jags and was practically the only person in Minnesota’s Stadium during Super Bowl LII to play any kind of defense.
Props to you if you remember Ross O’Hanley wearing #25 for the Patriots from 1960-1965. The 6’0” defensive back was a true New Englander, born and raised in Everett and playing at Boston College. Sadly, O’Hanley passed away due to a malignant brain tumor in 1972 and the tender age of 33.
Rick Sanford played free safety for the Patriots in the early 1980’s and scored on a 99-yard interception return in an otherwise crummy 1982 performance against the Bears.
Larry Whigham was probably the best #25 in team history as he played seven of his nine years in New England. Again, he was a core special teamer, but so good at his craft, he made the Pro Bowl twice.
Finally, there’s good ole’ Eric Rowe. Rowe played admirably in coverage of Julio Jones in Super Bowl LI. However, he was no match for Alshon Jeffery in Super Bowl LII. Rowe’s height would seem to give him an advantage on the outside but he’s failed to be consistent stopper as an Eagle and with the Pats.
At #26, Eugene Wilson career started like a lion and ended like a lamb. He was the starting free safety for the most part during the Patriots 2003 and 2004 Super Bowl championship teams but was relegated to backup during the 2007 almost perfect season.
The play I remember the most from his career was Mushin Muhammed’s touchdown against him in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Wilson was burned badly on a play that gave the Panthers a 22-21 in the fourth quarter. Adding injury to insult, Wilson was lost for the game on the play.
Logan Ryan was another two-time Super Bowl champion who wore #26. Ryan was a solid, under-the-radar corner on the 2015 and 2016 teams. He played great football in postseason wins against Houston and Pittsburgh on the road to the Super Bowl LI championship. He signed with Tennessee following the season and was missed in 2017.
Since we started this article with one of the best defensive players in team history, we’ll end it that way. Raymond Clayborn was a starting cornerback for the Patriots for an unreal 12 seasons. It’s safe to say that will never happen again. Clayborn intercepted 36 career passes and made it to three Pro Bowls.
He was primarily a kick returner in 1977 but was fantastic at that as well. He brought three to the house. In 1978, he was lined up across from Hall of Famer Mike Haynes forming the best cornerback duo in Pats’ history. After Haynes left for the Raiders midway through the 1983 season, Clayborn assumed the CB1 duties. He was at his best during the 1985 season leading New England to Super Bowl XX.