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: 16
THE YEAR: 2014
THE GAME: Patriots 43, Bengals 17
THE PLAY: Brady keeper on fourth down vs. Bengals
WHY IT’S HERE: For a week after the demolition in Kansas City, all the doctors stopped by the Patriots hospital bed and came away shaking their heads. The consensus was that the condition was grave. Even the optimists believed the team wouldn’t return to its former vitality. It was an ugly week. So on Sunday Night Football, the Patriots came out against a talented Bengals team that beat the Pats in 2013 . . . and bullied them.
With Tom Brady putting the Patriots on his back, physically and emotionally.
On their first drive of the night, Brady had completions of 20 and 30 yards. He also scrambled for six yards and. on a fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 5, he plowed for four yards to set up a Stevan Ridley touchdown. The 10-play, 80-yard drive was cathartic for the team which -- after getting questioned so harshly -- became galvanized in a way that would carry them to their fourth Super Bowl title.
PLAY NUMBER: 15
THE YEAR: 2007
THE GAME: Patriots 38, Jets 14
WHY IT’S HERE: After two lost seasons in Oakland, the conventional wisdom on Randy Moss was that the party was over. He’d be a “what coulda been . . . ” enigma. Before the season, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King ranked Moss at No. 246 on his list of the NFL’s top 500 players.
Moss didn’t play in the preseason, nursing a purported hamstring injury, though my suspicion is that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Josh McDaniels and Moss all knew what was going to happen when the Patriots offense was unveiled and didn’t want anyone to get a preview. The Patriots -- ushered from the 2006 playoffs by the Colts -- should have won the Super Bowl the previous year, but contract discord (most notably with Deion Branch) sidetracked the roster and the Pats were relatively punchless. Not so in 2007 with Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney added.
So there was that anticipation at the start of the season and -- with the Patriots opening in New York -- a renewal of the Belichick-Eric Mangini frostiness, which began when Mangini left to coach the Jets and tried to lug players and coaches with him on his way out the door. The Jets had a plan in their back pocket to fix the Patriots’ little red wagon, though. More on that later.
With Tom Brady for the first time throwing to elite outside receivers, he went 22-for-28 for 297 yards and three touchdowns. Moss had 9 catches for 183 yards and a 51-yard touchdown in which Brady threw a moonball and Moss ran past defenders like Usain Bolt at sixth-grade field day. Asked about Brady, Moss said, “It's like a kid with a toy for Christmas and he can't open it. He didn't have all of his toys to play with. Now that he has all of his toys to play with, the sky's the limit.”
Somehow the NFL left the Moss catch off their list of his top catches of 2007. But what that game and play did was presage the most incredible offensive season in NFL history to that point.
As for the Jets’ plan? They decided to turn in a Patriots’ cameraman over to the NFL when they caught him taping from the sidelines. The stupid effort at future edge-gaining by the Patriots would be conflated into a mortal sin against the game. And that event would foreshadow a similar effort by the rest of the NFL in 2014. Can’t beat ‘em, discredit ‘em.