The Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012: Number 15

Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE

Our offseason countdown continues with the number 15 most memorable moment of the 2012 New England Patriots season.

I don't know for sure, but I think Free Agency starts today. I wish I knew the exact date and time when it officially began, but after hours of searching the internet, I couldn't find a single thing on any pending free agents, various team needs, or what players might be a good fit for which franchise. I think I overheard two people on the subway talking about it a few weeks ago, but other than that, I got nothing. But just in case it does start today, maybe later on this afternoon, I thought I'd sneak in a quick Top 20 Patriots Moment before things get too hectic.

To recap so far:

#20. The Patriots surprise everyone, sign Jeff Demps.
#19. The Patriots move up in the draft, select Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in the first round.
#18. Jerod Mayo comes up with a huge 3rd down sack on Ryan Tannehill, holding the Dolphins to a field goal.
#17. Devin McCourty picks off Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone to seal the game vs. the Buffalo Bills.
#16. A diving catch in the end zone shows off Brandon Lloyd's athleticism as well as his pearly whites.

Now, on to number 15.

15. Brandon Spikes’ forced fumble of Willis McGahee to seal the game against the Broncos

After a 2011 season that saw Peyton Manning sidelined with a neck injury, the greater sporting world was deprived of what had become an annual Manning vs. Brady showdown. And with the Colts holding the first pick in the 2012 Draft and the chance to grab future franchise QB Andrew Luck, Manning's NFL future was, for the first time, unclear. There was a lot of talk of him going to an NFC team like the Cardinals or 49ers. He scheduled visits with the Dolphins and Jets. Nobody knew for sure. But then, courtesy of John Elway and a buttload of money, Peyton Manning became a Denver Bronco. And as luck would have it, New England was scheduled to play the Broncos at Gillette on October 7th, 2012. Enter Brady vs. Manning, Part 13.

As usual, it was a much-hyped event. However, for much of the game, New England was in complete control, leading 31-7 late in the 3rd quarter behind strong running from Stevan Ridley and a few key Denver turnovers. What was supposed to me an epic showdown had the makings of a laugher.

However, this is Peyton Manning we're talking about here. He is the only quarterback in the history of the National Football League that can be down by four touchdowns with 15 seconds left in the game and will still find a way to come back and tie it. Anyone who has watched the Patriots over the last decade knows that no win is safe as long as #18 is under center, and once again, Manning began a comeback. He hit Eric Decker late in the third to bring the game to 31-14. The fourth quarter saw more ground-game dominance from the running backs; in all, the Patriots would amass over 250 yards on the ground, including a 1 yard rushing touchdown from Tommy B. A huge McGahee drop on 4th and 1 that gave the Patriots the ball back at midfield with the chance to put the game away. However, Denver brought the pressure and strip-sacked Brady on 4th and 5 to give the Broncos life. A few short plays later, Manning would hit Brandon Stokely in the end zone to bring the game to 31-21 with 6:43 to play.

New England was able to drive down the field on the ground after the ensuing kickoff, and managed to make it into Denver territory before Stevan Ridley, who had a great day overall with 151 yards and a touchdown, fumbled the ball away to give Peyton Manning yet another possession. And, as Manning is wont to do, he started moving the ball with deadly efficiency, including a huge pass to Demaryius Thomas on 4th and 1 that set the Broncos up inside the Patriots 20 with over 4 minutes on the clock.

Two plays later, Manning lined up in a 4 WR shotgun set with McGahee in the backfield. Patriots came out in a 3-3-5 Nickel, and Manning audibled into a draw play. McGahee crashed up the gut for six yards before running into a massive wall of Brandon Spikes, who once again found a way to jar the ball loose. Jermaine Cunningham fell on it, and the Pats were able to run out the clock from there.

Not only was this a great win over Peyton Manning that put the Patriots back over .500 on the year, but it also represented a great team win. Brady threw well, the backs ran well, and the defense made some key stops and turnovers when they needed them most.

Plus, I was at this game, which should make it especially memorable for me. However, courtesy of a mystery elixir on the train and more than a few 9 dollar plastic bottles of Coors Light, this one is a little fuzzy for me. So forgive me if there is anything here that I missed.

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