We seem to have reached something of a lull in regards to what was an amazingly busy first week of free agency. The Patriots lost some players, gained some players, resigned some players, and left us all reeling just a little bit over the events that have transpired over the last couple of days. However, it would appear that most of the major signings have come and gone, and we once again find things quiet on the football front.
I, for one, am not going to complain. I could actually use a little bit of a break from the last few days. So I figured now would be a good time to take a brief step back and keep counting down the The Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012. Of course, now that I have posted this, the free agency floodgates are going to open again and the Patriots are going to sign four or five more players and I'm going to have no idea which way is up again. But I'll deal with that when it happens.
The list so far:
#20. The Patriots surprise everyone, sign
#19. The move up in the draft, select and in the first round.
#18. comes up with a huge 3rd down sack on , holding the to a field goal.
#17. picks off in the end zone to seal the game vs. the .
#16. A diving catch in the end zone shows off athleticism as well as his pearly whites.
#15. ’ forced fumble of to seal the game against the
And now, it's on to number 14.
14. New England engineers an 7-plus minute drive to close out the Dolphins and clinch the AFC East.
In a game that saw more back-and-forth than it should have, the Patriots were held scoreless in the 3rd quarter and found themselves on the verge of yet another blown 4th quarter lead. However, courtesy of a monster Jerod Mayo sack that held the surging Dolphins to a field goal, New England was able to hang onto a seven point lead as they got the ball back with 8:28 to play in the game. The Patriots had been struggling all half to get anything going, the Dolphins seemed to have figured out how to move the ball, and giving the ball back to Miami with a lot of time left on the clock would very likely spell disaster.
Fortunately for the Patriots (as well as all of the fans who undoubtedly started to get that awful feeling again), the Dolphins wouldn't get the ball back until it was too late. New England was able to engineer a 16 play, 77 yard drive that ate up seven minutes and eighteen seconds and forced Miami to use all of their timeouts. Of those 16 plays, a whopping 10 of them were Stevan Ridley runs up the gut, and the Fins couldn't do anything about it. And while the entire drive was the kind of smashmouth, will-imposing, clock milking drive that had been missing for some time and that the team reeeaaaaaalllly could have used in February of last year, there was one sequence in particular that I found especially fun to watch. After the first 1st down of the drive, which began on the Patriots 20 and saw a three yard off-tackle play by Ridley followed by an eight yard out to Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots found themselves at their own 31 yard line with just over seven minutes to play. The next five plays, in my opinion, defined the tone of the entire drive:
- 1st and 10 at the 31: Ridley up the gut (middle) for 8 yards.
- 2nd and 2 at the 39: Ridley up the gut (left) for 9 yards.
- 1st and 10 at the 48: Ridley up the gut (left) for 5 yards.
- 2nd and 5 at the Miami 47: Miami overcommits to the middle of the field, Tom Brady audibles and throws a short pass to Wes Welker (*sob*) for 6 yards
- 1st and 10 at the Miami 41: Ridley off-tackle(right) for 11 yards.
That run brought the Patriots down to the Miami 28, well within field-goal range, and started the Dolphins on the process of burning through their timeouts. Of course, New England would go on to generate two more first downs, kick a field goal, and give Miami the ball back down 10 points with no timeouts and 70 seconds left on the clock, essentially icing the game.
It wasn't high-flying. There were no trick plays, diving catches, or deep balls for touchdowns. It was just a simple group of plays which saw the Patriots offensive line overpower the Miami defensive line and allowed the best quarterback in the game to fool the defense into thinking run when he wanted to go through the air. It was a fantastic glimpse into the kind of offensive balance that simply hasn't been present as of late, and it was the kind of nerve-calming drive that allowed me to stop sweating, peel myself off my recliner, and open a few windows in order to air out the stank. It gave me hope that the Patriots had all of the tools necessary to go far in the playoffs and we no longer had to rely on Tommy B's arm all the time.
The fact that it helped seal yet another AFC East title wasn't too shabby either.