We have finally reached the top three in our Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012 countdown, which means that these last three posts in the series represent the absolute best of the best from last season. I actually had a lot of trouble ranking these moments in an order that I thought was fitting to their significance; in my mind, a case could be made for all of them to take the one slot. But ultimately, there can only be one truly top moment, which means that my last three picks may generate a bit of controversy. But that's the whole point of these lists, right?
What we have so far:
#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 #14. New England engineers an 7-plus minute drive to close out the Dolphins and clinch the AFC East.
#13. Baltimore Beats New England 31-30 in a disastrous weekend of replacement reffing.
#12. Julian Edelman's electric punt return TD against the .
#11. New England's 28 point comeback against the .
#10. forces a fumble to seal the game against the in overtime.
#9. Dual 100 yard days for Ridley and Bolden, dual 100 yard days for Welker and Gronk against the Buffalo Bills.
#8. playaction pass to Brandon Lloyd against the , the rout is on.
# 7. A fumble becomes a Brandon Lloyd touchdown, courtesy of
# 6. ’s over-the-shoulder touchdown catch against the Texans to ice the game in the playoffs.
# 5. pick six in his Patriots debut.
#4. Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower team up for a strip sack/fumble return for a touchdown in the season opener against the .
And now, a moment that could just as easily have been number one, but finds itself rounding out the top three:
3. Three Patriots touchdowns in 52 seconds against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night.
You'd be hard pressed to find a better day of the year than Thanksgiving. For most people, the only items on the agenda for the last Thursday of November are eat a lot of food, watch a lot of football, and take a lot of naps - which just so happen to be my three favorite things in the world. Thanksgiving is awesome enough as it is, but this past Thanksgiving gave everyone in Patriots Nation the added bonus of getting to watch New England travel to the Meadowlands (or whatever it's called these days) to take on the New York Jets for the second showdown of the year. The Patriots had escaped with one during their first meeting back in October, needing an overtime strip sack from Rob Ninkovich to seal the game and get the win. Both the Jets and the Patriots were coming off of big wins the week before, and everyone was expecting a contest that was just as close as when the last two teams met. At 4-6, the Jets were in a must win situation if they wanted to catch the 7-3 Patriots, and at home on national television seemed like the perfect opportunity to show both themselves and the world that they were contenders. America, well into its collective turkey coma, settled in for what promised to be an exciting, competitive game.
Exciting? Absolutely. Competitive? Not so much.
For the first quarter, the game was extremely close. Both teams traded three and outs to start the contest, and neither side could really get anything going offensively. Stephen Gostkowski shanked a 39 yard field goal attempt that would have given New England a 3-0 lead on their second drive, but other than that, neither team posed any real offensive threat. The Patriots were finally able to get a solid drive going with just under six minutes left in the first quarter, driving 66 yards in 15 plays before the refs blew the whistle with the ball on the Jets 7. The first play of the second quarter was a Tom Brady to Wes Welker touchdown pass to put the first points on the board and give the Patriots a lead that they would never relinquish.
At this point, I wasn't yet at a place where I could really enjoy this game. A scoreless first quarter was not what I had in mind, and I knew that the way the Jets were going to win this one was to keep the score low and capitalize on big play opportunities. My nerves were set even more on edge when Mark Sanchez was able to generate some offense on his ensuing possession and drove his team down to the New England 31 yard line before the drive stalled. Rather than go for the easy points, Rex Ryan decided to gamble on 4th and 1, figuring his power back Shonn Greene would be able to punch through the Patriots front line for a first down. What Rex Ryan didn't factor into his little gamble was a linebacker by the name of Brandon Spikes, who both stuffed Green and swatted the ball out of his hands, which bounced right into the arms of Steve Gregory. New England got the ball back on their own 17 with the chance to go up by two scores with 9:56 to play in the half.
Or four scores, to be exact.
New England came out in shotgun formation on the very first play of their ensuing drive. Brady, seeing a potential mismatch, sent Shane Vereen out on a short wheel route as he sent Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker up the seams on a double crossing pattern. New York's safeties and linebackers immediately jumped the Lloyd and Welker routes, leaving Vereen wide open on the left sideline. Tommy B hit Vereen in stride on the 25 yard line, and 83 untouched yards later, Vereen was in the end zone. 1 play, 83 yards, 16 seconds off the clock. The Patriots were up 14-0 with 9:43 left to play in the quarter. Nerves rapidly fading.
The ensuing kickoff went for a touchback, followed by a quick out route from Sanchez to Clyde Gates for 11 yards. That would be the last positive play of that possession, as Sanchez fumbled on the ensuing play (which we'll go into a bit more detail about a little later on) and Gregory once again was there to pick it up. 32 yards later, Gregory was in the end zone and the Pats were up 21-0. 36 seconds had elapsed since the last time New England was in the end zone. The rapidly quieting Jets crowd fell relatively silent.
Nerves completely gone. Fairly typical craving for a leftover turkey leg coming on strong. Luckily for me, I figured I would wait until after the ensuing kickoff to peel myself off the couch and waddle into the kitchen, otherwise I might have missed another score.
For the second time in a minute, Gostowski kicked off again. Taking the ball from five yards deep in his own end zone, Joe McKnight tried to get something going for his team and took off up the middle into a rapidly collapsing Jets wedge. McKnight made it to about the 23 yard line before he ran into Devin McCourty, who laid a textbook hit on him and jarred the ball loose with his helmet. The ball flew straight ahead, where Julian Edelman just happened to be passing by. He caught the ball in stride and waltzed into the end zone for the second touchdown in 10 seconds and the third in the last minute. New England 35, Jets 0.
I imagine that most of America succumbed to the massive amounts of tryptophan in their systems at that point and went to bed; the game was well out of reach at that point and the Patriots would go on to win 49-19. But not me; I stayed up and watched every last second of that beatdown and loved every second of it. It's always extra satisfying to get a win over the Jets, and to absolutely embarrass them at home on Thanksgiving in front of a national audience was the perfect cap to my favorite day of the year. That game is likely to go down in history as one of the biggest blowouts ever, and we are likely to see highlights from this one every Thanksgiving for years to come.
And that's just fine with me.