It's the last full week before the 2014 NFL Draft. It's...spring, I guess, with the temperatures very solidly in the low 50s with the occasional random 70 degree day thrown in there to give us all a brief moment of hope before everything drops down into the 40s again. It's Monday. And I have a ton of work to do. And so, what better time to knock off another Top Patriots Moment?
The list so far:
19. and help the Patriots lock up a sloppy home opener against the .
18. and depart for Denver and jail, respectively.
17. makes a huge one-handed TD grab just before halftime against the .
16. The Patriots lose in OT to the Jets, courtesy of an interesting new rule.
15. bowls over the entire defensive line for a rushing touchdown.
And now the Number 14 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013.
To say that the New England Patriots had a tumultuous offseason in 2013 is like saying that females tend to enjoy Beyonce Knowles; technically true, but drastically underselling it. Between Wes Welker defecting to the enemy, Rob Gronkowski experiencing setback after setback in his recovery, and Aaron Hernandez deciding his talents would be better utilized in the Shawshank Penitentiary Laundry Room rather than on the football field, there were a lot of questions heading into the regular season regarding who would be catching passes from Tommy B and whether the combination of Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and a couple of rookies would be enough to sustain the offense. We speculated on it all winter, spring, and summer, and by the time New England opened its 2013 campaign at Buffalo on September 8th of last year, we had either convinced ourselves that everything was going to be perfectly fine or were one dropped pass away from calling it quits, popping a bunch of pills, and going to sleep until next fall.
At Buffalo seemed like a great way to begin the season; not only were the Bills sporting a rookie quarterback, but they are the one team in the AFC East that the Patriots have more or less handled consistently for over a decade now. Ralph Wilson Stadium is never an easy place to play, but there was no way that New England was going to come out of there with a loss.
Things started out well enough; an early C.J. Spiller fumble led to a 7-0 lead, courtesy of the first Brady-to-Edelman touchdown of the year. The lead would eventually grow to 10-0 before the first quarter ended, and all seemed to be right with the world over in Patriots Nation. However, once the second quarter started, things started taking a significant turn for the worse. Buffalo got to Tommy B early and often - he would finish the day with three sacks and seven hits. Stevan Ridley started what would become something of a trend for him last season, putting the ball on the ground at a crucial time and allowing the opponent to return it for a touchdown. The Bills game was also a harsh reminder of the stark disparity between preseason and regular season, as August stud Zach Sudfeld opened the year with a zero catch day, bobbling his one and only target and forcing an interception. E.J. Manuel also seemed to settle down and find his stride, hitting Robert Woods in the end zone just before halftime to cut the lead to a field goal. The Bills would also score on their very next drive, an 11 play, 80 yard effort that ended with a Manuel to Stevie Johnson touchdown to give the Bills a lead that they wouldn't relinquish until there was less than ten seconds left in the game.
Meanwhile, over on the Patriots sidelines, things were starting to look bleak. Receivers weren't hitting their cuts. Ridley had Ridleyed his way out of the starting lineup. Amendola came up limping early in the game and missed extended snaps. Tommy B fumbled at the one yard line on 4th and goal to keep the Patriots out of the end zone. And New England was held completely scoreless for the entire third quarter. Luckily, in a refreshing change of pace, the New England D toughened up following the Johnson TD and didn't allow Buffalo to score another point for the rest of the game.
Brady was finally able to get a nice drive going to start the fourth quarter, going 70 yards on nine plays, but with no viable red zone threat, the dive stalled at the 5 yard line and the Patriots were held to three. The Bills could have put the game away with another touchdown, but the defense continued to hold and the Bills wouldn't even see the New England side of the field for the rest of the day. Their final punt of the game was from their own 24 yard line, setting the Patriots up with 1st and 10 at their own 32 yard line with 4:31 on the clock and all three timeouts. All they needed was a field goal to win it.
All of a sudden, it became the Amendola and Vereen show. A two yard Vereen run. A five yard Vereen pass. A six yard Amendola completion. Vereen and Amendola were responsible for every single Patriots yard gained on their final drive, both on the ground and through the air, including some absolutely incredible catches that reminded us all what Belichick saw in Amendola when he let Welker go. On one play in particular, a 3rd and 9 at the Buffalo 39, Amendola was able to haul in an absolute rifle pass from Brady with two defenders on him to pick up an absolutely monster first down and put the Pats into field goal range. On the next play, Vereen was able to rattle off a backbreaking 15 yard run that forced Buffalo to burn another time out. Perhaps the best part of this drive is that, through Vereen's running (more on his performance in this game a little later on down the list), the Patriots were able to chew up 4:26 of the 4:31 left in the game as they found themselves sitting pretty at the Buffalo 14 yard line. A few dives right into the middle to kill some clock and set the ball up perfectly, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 35 yard field goal right through the uprights to win the game and secure New England their 10th straight Week 1 victory.
There was a lot of grumbling following this win. New England looked out of sync, the offense looked weak, there were some communication issues, and they needed all 60 minutes to beat a rookie QB and a team in rebuilding mode. Nutjobs came out of the woodwork in full panic mode over this game. Some of the experts thought that this win was a sign of things to come, thus cementing the New England Patriots as the only team in the NFL that still gets criticized after a huge come from behind win.
But looking back on it now, it was exactly how that game should have ended. It was the first of a handful of games in 2013 that took 10 years off my life and represented the way things were going to be for much of the season, and because of that this drive makes the Top 20 List. At the end of the day, it was just a great drive, vintage Tom Brady getting the job done when his team needs points and not letting anything stop him. It was also the first game of the season, which is always special and really set the tone for the rest of the year. And three, we didn't know it at the time, but that drive was pretty much the 2013 Patriots in a nutshell: hurt, broken, and left for dead, but unflappably tough and hell bent on fighting until the bitter end. Get whoever is healthy out on that field, put the mental toughness on full display, and do anything and everything you can to secure a victory. The two heroes of that drive were making plays and taking hits with a torn groin and a broken arm; guys like that can play for my team any day.
To watch highlights from that game, click here.