Five biggest plays of the Patriots 2015 season
Five biggest plays of the Patriots 2015 season
by Phil Perry
It can be difficult to boil a single game down to a handful of important plays. Trying to do the same for an entire year is pretty futile. There are just too many moments that impact the outcomes of games, too many snaps with ripple effects that determine the successes and failures of a season. Still, there are plays both good and bad that can provide quick screen grabs of any team's up-and-down, months-long pursuit of a Super Bowl. We've highlighted five of them here.
Indy's swinging gate to nowhere
This was the regular-season game that most Patriots fans had circled on their calendars. It was perceived as an opportunity to exact some revenge on the Colts, who had helped spark the Deflategate controversy. The Week 6 game was closer than many expected, and it was eventually decided in part due to an Indianapolis fake punt that went horribly wrong. Down six points with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Colts lined up to punt then shifted suddenly. Nine players ran toward the Indy sideline as the Indy offense appeared ready to take the field. The goal, Colts punter Pat McAfee said later, was to trick the Patriots into subbing their defense in and catch them with more than 11 players on the field. When that didn't work, the Colts tried to get the Patriots to jump offsides. But instead of using a dummy hard count, the Colts actually snapped the ball. Patriots special teamers Brandon Bolden and Jonathan Bostic were ready for it, and the play was snuffed out. Disaster. The Patriots, who were up 27-21 at the time, took over at the Colts 35-yard line and scored six plays later. The Patriots eventually won the game, 34-27, and remained undefeated through five games.
It got harder for the Patriots to stay unbeaten as they got deeper into the season and their injury list grew. In Week 10 against the Giants -- a game that included an entertaining matchup between Odell Beckham Jr. and Malcolm Butler, a near punt-return touchdown by Danny Amendola, and a rare goal-line interception from Tom Brady -- the game came down to the leg of Stephen Gostkowski. Before he had his chance, the Patriots had to get him into range with a 12-play drive that began with 1:47 left on the clock. Down two points, Tom Brady complete passes to Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Dobson to get his team to the Giants 36-yard line. Gostkowski's boot from 54-yards away might have been good from 64, and the Patriots won a thriller, 27-26, for their ninth straight victory to start the season.
Eagles punt-block score
One week after falling to the Broncos on the road in Week 12, it stood to reason that the Patriots would bounce back. They were at home and going up against the lowly Eagles. It seemed to be the perfect remedy for what ailed them. Instead, things went haywire quickly. Philly special teamer Chris Maragos blocked Ryan Allen's punt at the end of the second quarter, allowing Najee Goode to scoop it up and score. That tied the game, 14-14, and was the second of five unanswered touchdowns posted by Chip Kelly's squad. Malcolm Jenkins' 99-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter was equally devastating for the Patriots, but the punt block was indicative of the type of afternoon New England was in for. Many have pointed to Nate Ebner's second-quarter dropkick as the watershed moment in this game, but the football was recovered on the Eagles 41-yard line after the play, which Patriots coach Bill Belichick compared to a mortar kick. It gave Sam Bradford and his offense solid field position and little else. Looking for a play that sparked the first Eagles scoring drive of the game? Look at the the third-and-10 pass play that Bradford completed to Jordan Matthews for 20 yards three plays after the drop kick.
Gronkowski spin cycle
The Patriots win in the Divisional Round over the Chiefs did not carry the same drama that their matchup with the Ravens did a year prior. Part of the reason for that was because of what Rob Gronkowski was able to do to keep the Chiefs at arm's reach over the course of the game. He scored his team's first touchdown of the game with an impossible-to-cover back-shoulder throw from Tom Brady. Later, with about 8:30 left in the third quarter, Gronkowski and Brady connected again to give the Patriots a two-score lead. From the 11-yard line of the Chiefs, Gronkowski sold a quick five-yard curl route. Brady held up the fake on his end by pumping, which got All-Pro safety Eric Berry to try to jump the route he thought was coming. By the time he bit, Gronkowski had run past him and toward the front corner of the end zone. The throw was an easy one for the Patriots quarterback and Gronkowski reeled it in despite taking a shot from a late-arriving safety as he secured it. That made the score 21-6, which proved to be a deficit the Chiefs weren't able to overcome. New England eventually won, 27-20.
Anderson plows ahead
The Patriots defense was a force against the Broncos running game throughout the AFC Championship, but CJ Anderson's one long-gainer was a game-changer. From their own 48-yard line, facing a third-and-one situation early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos lined up with a very heavy offensive set. With three tight ends and a fullback in the game, they weren't hiding their intentions: They wanted to pound the rock. Following pulling guard Louis Vasquez, Anderson was untouched through the line and was eventually angled out of bounds by Patriots safety Devin McCourty at the New England 22-yard line. It was a 30-yard gain that had the Broncos immediately in field-goal range. Denver settled for three points on the drive, but that made the score 20-12. All of a sudden, the Patriots needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to keep their season alive. They would come agonizingly close to doing just that, further amplifying the impact of Anderson's jaunt.