Top 10 moments of the Patriots' season
Top 10 Patriots moments of the season
The Patriots season is over? How did that happen? So many moments, so many games, so many months. My goodness. How do you boil those moments down to a Top 10? In this case, I didn’t look up any of the games. Or stats. At least until after I picked the moments. I just went with what came to mind, how I thought about them then and how I reflect on them now. Without further adieu…
10. Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance in Arizona and the emotion afterward
Well documented in this space, on TV and anywhere else is how good I think Garoppolo is and how good I think he can be. Still, after an uneven preseason, and having to share reps with Tom Brady right to the bitter end, who knew exactly what to expect in Arizona against a final four team from the season before? So what happened? All Garoppolo did was show incredible poise, make a bunch of big-time plays, and lead the Pats to a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Throughout it all, he was very even-keeled on the field. He remained that way right until the moment he completed his postgame interview with Michele Tafoya. The moment he stepped away and jogged off the field, Garoppolo let go with a loud and happy “wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Hell of a start…
9. Jacoby Brissett’s TD run vs the Texans
Less than a week after beating the Cardinals, Garoppolo was shredding the Dolphins to the tune of well over 200 yards and three scores before the end of the first half. Then he got hurt and Brissett and the Pats limped to the finish line in that win over the Fins. The next week, Brissett drew the start against a Texans team that believed it could make the leap (where have I heard that before?). The rookie quarterback wasn’t asked to do too much but his play action fake/QB keeper TD whipped the Gillette Stadium crowd into a frenzy. Man, did it get loud. Not only that, but the excitement shown by the offensive line as they sprinted into the end zone was a cool sight to see and one Brissett should take with him for a long time.
8. LeGarrette Blount humiliating the Dolphins defense
Wheel back to Week 2. Garoppolo was carving up the Fins defense in that first half but the Pats remained intent on doing something they couldn’t do with any consistency the year prior: run the damn ball. Blount played a big role in both the struggles in 2015-16 and the success in 2016-17. LGB also showed that while he may just be another guy (looking at you, Felger) he can do some things that are uncommon for a 250-pounder. Ask Byron Maxwell. Miami’s No. 1 corner tried to go low on Blount and came up empty. Not because of a shimmy shake or spin move. Because Blount hurdled Maxwell en route to a 26-yard gain. Anything is possible…
7. Flea-flicker TD to Chris Hogan in AFC title game
Wasn’t the prettiest TD pass Tom Brady threw this season, or even Hogan’s best catch. But it was one of those many moments in the course of the season where I said to myself, "They’re cooking bacon and eggs in someone else’s kitchen." Pittsburgh came in with all kinds of swagger. That was humiliating, especially when you consider Brady could have also hit Malcolm Mitchell with the same result. This was also a reminder to never, ever pick a Mike Tomlin team - that thinks doing what they do every week is actually a good thing - against a Pats team capable of morphing not just from game to game, but drive to drive.
6. Shea McClellin’s field goal block versus Baltimore
Shea McClellin making this list? I’m as surprised as you are. But McClellin grew on me as the season went along (despite a crappy Super Bowl) and helped filled the void created after the Jamie Collins trade. Rewind to Week 14. Big game against what we thought was a good team. Pats up 2-0 in the opening quarter. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is automatic from 34 yards, or anywhere else for that matter. But McClellin timed his run and leap over the center and swallowed up that kick. It was an impressive feat of athleticism and a reminder that Collins isn’t the only guy in the league capable of something like that. It also spoke to the Pats desire to compete on every play, in any situation. I’m not sure I’ve been around a team this competitive since maybe those early championship teams. Yep. Way back. 2001. ’03. ’04.
5. Chris Long’s strip sack to snuff out of the Jets
So many questions about this defense for so long, right until the bitter end. But here was another one of those plays by one of those guys that helped define the season. The Pats had made Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets look far better than they were for the entire game, and late into that fourth quarter, New York still had a chance to screw up the Pats bid for the top overall seed in the AFC. This is the kind of game you can’t lose. The kind of game the Pats did lose a year earlier. But Long came off the left tackle and didn’t look to break Fitz’s back. No. He went for the ball. He got it. Trey Flowers recovered. Long ran to the sidelines, silencing the Jet crowd. The moment the Pats defense realized where he was, they came over to jump on him. Attitude. Enthusiasm. Competitiveness.
4. A little bleep talk after beating the Bills in Buffalo
The Bills handed the Pats only one of two losses they suffered this season. You remember that it came at home, with Jacoby Brissett as the starting QB. You also remember how Brissett and fellow rookie Malcolm Mitchell were shoved in their pregame jog down the sidelines. That scene damn near got real messy. Coaches got involved and of course the Bills crowed about it both after the game and prior to the rematch in Buffalo weeks later. The Pats didn’t play a perfect game, surrendering 25 points, but they did hang 41 on Rex Ryan, his brother Rob and the rest of the Bills defense and Bills Mafia. Leading up to the game, several Pats players had said they were pissed about Buffalo’s crap talking, but promised to just play…then talk. Devin McCourty told me after the game, “Was that the thing of the year that they got in a little scuffle? Maybe it's the highlight of their season, but I think that's pretty sad if that's your highlight.” Moment reminded me of the Rodney Harrison/Mike Vrabel/Tedy Bruschi/Ty Law Pats. You can hit us, but we’ll eventually knock you out.
3. Tom Brady throws 4 TDs in his first-ever game in San Francisco
Brady threw for a bunch of TDs in this rainy game but two stand out. The first was to Danny Amendola. Pure scramble drill. Brady under siege. He threw the ball before Amendola had even spun toward the open area. It was perfection. Later, again on a scramble drill, Brady threw a seed to Mitchell and the rookie took it the distance. The drill this time was a little off. There were three receivers far too close together. The end result was the same. Late in that game, Pats fans had overtaken the stadium and chanted for Brady. The sun also came out from behind the clouds and we got a double rainbow. It was beautiful. And fitting.
2. Brady’s return from Deflategate suspension
After serving his four-game suspension, Brady returned to the Pats to play the Browns in Cleveland. I booked my trip months prior and couldn’t find a flight for less than $800 nor a hotel room near the stadium for under $300. This is Cleveland for crying out loud. But Brady’s return was something that was hard to put a price on. The moment the gates opened, the lower bowl of the stadium was filled with Pats fans in Brady jerseys. They chanted for him. They serenaded him. Both player and fans had a blast. Brady threw for 406 yards and three scores in his return, a 33-13 win. He ran for a first down and did his Usain Bolt imitation. And Bill Belichick let him go to the huddle in the fourth quarter, game already salted away, before pulling him for a curtain call. You don’t usually get those on the road. Brady did.
1. Super Bowl
I’m copping out here, but damn, from a Pats perspective, there were so many moments that were special. During the game, you had the Dont'a Hightower strip sack, the TD by Amendola to make it a 10-point deficit. The ensuing two-point conversion off the direct snap to James White. The Flowers sack to knock Atlanta to the edge of field goal range. The ridiculous catch by Julian Edelman that I was initially convinced wasn’t a catch. White’s second TD to make it a two-point game. Then going back to Amendola for the two-point conversion. Winning a coin toss for crying out loud. Beautiful throws by Brady to Amendola and Hogan in OT. Then White barely eeking the ball across the plane to complete the improbable comeback. What I remember after the TD: Blount tackling White in the end zone. Joe Thuney lying on the ground, exhausted. Brady looking like he had no idea what just happened. Hogan throwing both his hands to his head, in total disbelief. Missed the trophy presentation live. Raced onto the field and caught up with Logan Ryan and his young family. He was sitting there, legs spread out, his child loving the confetti. Duron Harmon putting his hand on my shoulder to tell me Brady was the Michael Jordan of football. So many of the players reveling in the attention, in the embrace of family and friends. Then the final scene to recall. Brady kissing his mom on the cheek. They were a family and in the end, it was all about family.