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!
PLAY NUMBER: 8
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.
PLAY NUMBER: 7
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.