Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: Helmet Catch and Law’s Super pick


Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: Helmet Catch and Law’s Super pick

We're into the Top 10 now.

These are the plays of the Bill Belichick Era you best never forget. And probably can't. They're the ones that led directly to championships -- most for New England, a couple for the other guys. Or they're plays that signified a sea change in the way the New England Patriots under Belichick would be behaving from there on out.

I did my best to stack them in order of importance. You got a problem with that? Good. Let us know what's too high, too low or just plain wrong. And thanks for keeping up!


THE YEAR: 2007

THE GAME:  Giants 21, Patriots 17

THE PLAY: Helmet catch 

WHY IT’S HERE: As it was for the Patriots on play No. 9, the Helmet Catch didn’t deliver the Giants that Super Bowl win. There was a fourth down that New York converted on that drive. There was a coulda-been pick by Asante Samuel. There was a near strip by Adalius Thomas of Eli Manning. There was a third-and-12 conversion when Brandon Meriweather left Steve Smith. But the improbability of Eli Manning’s escape from the grabbing hands of the Patriots, the appearance of the play being over and the fact Eli was just flinging the ball at the roof and the catch itself which required otherworldly effort and a little bit of luck? It caused some buckling. Just with Tom Brady’s fumble being overturned against the Raiders six years earlier and Oakland losing focus, the helmet catch seemed to do the same to New England. The dirty details? It was third-and-5 at the Giants 44 and 1:15 remained. The play gained 32 yards and it came immediately after the Samuel play. If you’re from around here, the worst part is knowing the NFL Network will celebrate and commemorate that play like it’s the damn moon landing until the end of civilization.


THE YEAR: 2001

THE GAME:  Patriots 20, Rams 17

THE PLAY: Ty Law’s pick-6 in the Super Bowl

WHY IT’S HERE: From June 8, 1986 – the night the Celtics finished off the Rockets to win the NBA title – until February 3, 2002, New England sports fans absorbed tragedy, futility, soul-crushing defeats, ineptitude and dysfunction. Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots. All of them. There was the senseless death of Len Bias and the tragedy of Reggie Lewis. The ball between Buckner’s legs and the dysfunction of the franchise even as it rolled out talented teams with diva superstars. The Bruins? Really good sometimes. Enough to captivate but never willing or able to spend to get over the top. And the Patriots were a damn laughingstock. So, when Ty Law gave the Patriots a 7-3 lead in the second quarter of Super Bowl 36 against the heavily-favored Rams, the communal sense was, “Are you s*&*&*&*& me?! This really might happen?!!” That thought was comingled with the belief that fate would pull the rug out from under us again. Didn’t happen that day. And it didn’t happen in large part because of the performance of the Patriots secondary which pulverized the Rams receivers to a point where they didn’t want to compete. Law was the best player in that secondary. And he combined shutdown corner skills with Aliquippa, Pennsylvania physical toughness and a self-belief modeled after his hero Muhammad Ali. That Mike Vrabel  - the best scrap heap signing the Patriots ever made – smashing Kurt Warner and forcing the pick, Law was able to swoop in at the Rams 49 and hightail down the sideline and get one finger aloft. It was a No. 1 that could have also signified a new era in New England sports. The first of many championships in the new millennium.

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

File Photo

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

There's one gigantic hole to fill on the Patriots offensive line.

Replacing Nate Solder is no easy task and it's not exactly clear how the Pats will yet.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was first to report the Patriots would like to bring back Waddle or Fleming.

It now appears that one of the former backup tackle is taking a serious look elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport. 

It's not the best offensive line free agency market this season, so the Pats may prefer to bring back a guy they are familar with.

If Fleming is off the board, Waddle still remains as an option for New England.



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

AP Photo

How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.