We're down to the Top 2.
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: 2
THE YEAR: 2014
THE GAME: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
THE PLAY: Malcolm Butler picks off Russell Wilson at goal line to save Super Bowl
WHY IT’S HERE: Is it the biggest defensive play in NFL history? You’d have a tough time making a case for any play to be ranked ahead of it. The play itself – Malcolm Butler sniffing out a quick slant to Ricardo Lockette on second-and-goal from the 1 with 26 seconds left – was a singularly great football play. The historical importance of it to the Patriots franchise in delivering a fourth Super Bowl title and preventing a third straight Super Bowl loss is even more far-reaching. It’s a play that symbolized a lot of things the Patriots under Bill Belichick have been about. It symbolized that it doesn’t matter how you got to the Patriots, it mattered what you did when you got there. Butler, an undrafted rookie who made the team in a tryout the previous spring, was on the field because another undrafted player, Kyle Arrington was getting lit up. A bold move but one that had to be made. It symbolized preparation and attention to detail. During the week of practice leading up to the game, Butler arrived late when the Patriots scout team offense ran the play and Jimmy Garoppolo beat Butler with a throw to Josh Boyce. The play needed to be sniffed out – it was by Butler and Brandon Browner – then executed with a great jam by Browner and an unhesitating break by Butler. It symbolized maintaining poise, which the Patriots had to do after the ridiculous juggling catch by Jermaine Kearse put Seattle on the brink of victory. It symbolized a measure of risk-taking and coaching by feel, as Bill Belichick eschewed a timeout and let the Seahawks run the play. That the coaches locking brains at the point – Belichick and his predecessor in New England, Pete Carroll – added another chapter to the backstory. You could write a book about this play.
PLAY NUMBER: 1
THE YEAR: 2001
THE GAME: Jets, Patriots
THE PLAY: Mo Lewis changes course of NFL history with sideline hit on Drew Bledsoe
WHY IT’S HERE: While the Butler interception at No. 2 cemented legacies and places in history, the play at the top of this list was the one that started it all. If you paid attention to what Tom Brady was doing in training camp practices and preseason games (30-for-51 for 390 yards) and contrasted it with Bledsoe’s performances (so underwhelming he played the bulk of the fourth preseason game and went 14-for-22), you could see the gap between $100 million franchise quarterback and sixth-round afterthought was closing. But even with the Patriots losing at Cincy to open the season and Bledsoe playing poorly against the Jets, it was still going to be very difficult for Bill Belichick to press the eject button on Bledsoe. The team was building a new stadium and Bledsoe was the hood ornament for the franchise. With ownership trying to sell luxury suites and sponsorships, benching the only marketable player for the worst team in the league might not be prudent. Then Mo Lewis intervened. With 5:19 remaining and the Patriots trailing 10-3, Bledsoe was flushed to the right on a third-and-10 from the Patriots 19. As he neared the sticks, Bledsoe saw Lewis coming and slowed to go out of bounds, then seemed to remember it was third down and he needed to push forward. Lewis had all the momentum and his devastating hit sheared an artery in Bledsoe’s chest and gave him a concussion. It was a terrible injury that caused internal bleeding and put Bledsoe in some touchy moments in the hospital. And that’s what sucked. Here was a solid person of good character with a young family who’d given a lot for the franchise (albeit for a handsome paycheck) and now he was seriously hurt. But what happened in Bledsoe’s absence only confirmed what many suspected. He was an impediment to winning. It was that simple. I don’t doubt for a moment Brady would have eventually taken Bledsoe’s job even if the injury hadn’t occurred. It might have been that week anyway Bledsoe was so ineffective against the Jets. But the course of the 2001 season wouldn’t have been the same and almost certainly wouldn’t have ended with Bledsoe hoisting a Lombardi in the Superdome on Feb. 3, 2002.