We're into the Top 20 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: 14
THE YEAR: 2003
THE GAME: Patriots 17, Titans 14
THE PLAY: Adam Vinatieri kicks 46-yarder in arctic conditions vs. Titans
WHY IT’S HERE: For four seasons, we’d listened to Bill Belichick talk about complementary football, “all three phases”, the importance of special teams and field position. We’d all developed a better understanding and respect for it. But no game brought it all home better than the frigid AFC Divisional Playoff game the Tennessee Titans.
It all unfolded during the final 20 minutes of play. A Daniel Graham fumble set Tennessee up at their 47 with 2:06 left in the third and the score tied at 14-14. On first down, Willie McGinest sniffed out a screen to Frank Wycheck -- which may have been a double-pass in the making -- and notched a 10-yard sack. The Titans punted to the Patriots 5. New England flipped the field with a 13-play drive to the Tennessee 39, followed by a punt down to the Titans 7. When Tennessee tried to climb out of its end, McGinest struck again with a sack of Steve McNair.
Now there was 6:49 left. The Patriots took over at the Titans 40. Faced with a fourth-and-3, the Patriots went for it with 5:14 left at the Titans 33 so they could get closer for Vinatieri. The drive stalled at the Titans 27 after a drop by Graham. But Vinatieri knocked the rock-hard ball through from 46 yards during the coldest game in Gillette history.
PLAY NUMBER: 13
THE GAME: Patriots 24, Colts 14
THE PLAY: Ty Law picks Peyton Manning on second drive in AFC Championship
WHY IT’S HERE: Understand this: The Patriots still weren’t regarded as the best team in football at this point. The 2001 Super Bowl was seen as lightning in a bottle. In 2002, they missed the playoffs. And throughout 2003, the impression was they’d gotten by with smoke and mirrors. After the Patriots beat Tennessee in the game described in Play 14, Titans offensive lineman Zach Piller gave voice to the sentiment.
The Colts were the better team, the feeling went. They played in a better division, had the better quarterback, would take care of business. But the Colts first drive ended with a Manning pick on a ball thrown from the Patriots 5. The Patriots had a 10-0 lead when the Colts got the ball again. And on the first play of the drive, Manning was picked by the great Ty Law. The Colts broke on that play. On their next drive, the Colts snapped the ball out of the end zone for a safety. On the drive after that, Marvin Harrison was stripped. Manning threw two more picks to Law before the game was over. And while they rallied somewhat to make it interesting at the end, the Manning meltdown at the outset left a mark.