Well, here we are again. With today's post, we are officially halfway through the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2013 and, much like Mark Sanchez on Brandon Moore, we have cracked our way into the Top 10. Whenever something makes a Top 10 list, you know that it's something special, which is why I took extra care to rank these final ten moments in a manner which I think best suits their significance. It has been quite a list so far, if I do say so myself, and while I ultimately had a lot of trouble putting the Top 10 in the right order, overall I'm confident that everything is where it belongs.
What we have 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.
14. leads a 4th quarter comeback drive against the to win the 2013 season opener.
13. emerges as a receiving threat with a two touchdown day against the .
12. A highly questionable non-PI call costs the Patriots a Monday Night Football game against the .
11. and team up for a volleyball-style interception against the Miami Dolphins.
With the Number 10 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013, we head back to the same Dolphins game that saw the McCourty/Cole interception, as that game, in a lot of ways, represented something of a turning point for the team. It was the halfway mark of the season, a lot of things were up in the air with the team, and nobody was quite sure what to make of these Patriots just yet. But after this particular game, things got a whole lot clearer.
10. New England engineers a huge second half comeback against the Miami Dolphins.
When the Patriots hosted the Miami Dolphins in Week 8 of the 2013 season, both teams seemed to still have a lot of question marks. Miami had started the season 3-0, but had dropped their next three games and looked highly inconsistent. New England had just lost to the Jets on a highly questionable call, and even with the return of Rob Gronkowski, had yet to fully hit their stride on offense. Miami represented the first of a two game home stand before a much needed bye week and then a tough string of games to finish out the season; beating Miami at home was crucial, as the Patriots had just dropped a division game the week before and the race for the #1 seed was already in full swing. Luckily for New England, a home game against a team that historically has a lot of trouble winning in Foxboro seemed the perfect way to right the ship.
Miami, however, had different plans.
New England held the Dolphins to a three and out on the very first possession of the game, and everything seemed to be going to plan. However, Tommy B's very first throw, a short right pass to Gronk, was picked off by Dimitri Patterson and returned to the New England 40. It was a highly un-Bradylike throw, as it was inaccurate and directly into coverage (the result of his swollen right hand, perhaps?). What's worse is that it led to the first score of the game, as Miami marched down the field behind Lamar Miller before Ryan Tannehill hit Brandon Gibson in the end zone for a touchdown. Miami 7, New England 0.
Things didn't fare much better on New England's second possession. Blount picked up four, then lost two, and then Brady once again couldn't connect with Gronk for a 3 and out that lasted just over a minute. A Ryan Allen punt gave the Fins the ball on their own 32, and they managed to drive into New England territory before having to punt it back. The Patriots did much better on their next possession, as they were able to engineer one whole first down before once again crapping out and kicking it away.
Miami's next drive was a potential backbreaker, as the Dolphins went 60 yards on 10 plays to score another touchdown, including a 15 yard gain by Daniel Thomas on 4th and 1 that saw him basically bowl over the Wilfork-less interior defensive line and set the Dolphins up for what would be Tannehill's second TD pass of the game, a short right completion to Thomas. Miami was up 14-0 and New England had only had the ball for a little over six minutes. The Patriots and Dolphins would exchange field goals on their next two possessions before the half ended and New England entered the locker room down 17-3.
Very little had gone right in the first half. The Pats only had one drive that lasted longer than three minutes, and that drive had once again stalled in the red zone. Miami, on the other hand, was moving the ball well, protecting Tannehill, and getting open when they needed to. Another three and out followed by a Miami score would put the Patriots in a hole they might not be able to get out of.
And what happened on New England's opening possession of the second half? Incomplete, incomplete, sack. Three plays, -7 yards, 50 seconds elapsed. Punt to Miami, who made it from their own 43 to the New England 19 without facing a single third down. But as they have so often in the past, the New England D stiffened up in the red zone, and Dont'a Hightower was able to sack Tannehill on 3rd and 2 to drive Miami back a few yards and force a 46 yard field goal attempt. The kick, luckily, was no good, hitting the upright and giving the Patriots had new life.
Honestly, it was like that loud dong that resulted from the ball hitting the upright served as an alarm clock or something, because the Patriots that took the field from there on out were a completely different team. The first play of the drive was a 23 yard run by Stevan Ridley, shortly followed by a 23 yard pass to Gronk. Two short plays later, Brady hit Aaron Dobson in the end zone to put the Patriots within a score, and Gillette Stadium came alive.
The fans got even more rowdy a mere two plays later, when Logan Ryan came in on a corner blitz for a hue strip sack of Tannehill that was recovered by Rob Ninkovich to give New England the ball back on the Miami 13. A slant To Danny Amendola and a 2 yard Brandon Bolden run later, and the score was tied.
The two teams exchanged punts for a little while after that, as both defenses seemed to tighten. New England actually scored another touchdown in the third quarter, a 30 yard laser to Gronk, but the play was nullified by an offensive holding penalty and the Patriots were forced to settle for three. It took almost three full quarters, but the Patriots finally had their first lead of the game, a lead they would not relinquish.
New England only scored one more touchdown on the day, a touchdown that came after an extremely weird series of events that involved a Tom Brady strip sack, a fumble, and an illegal batting call that changed a 3rd and 29 at the 45 to a 1st and 10 at the 13. From there it was just a matter of punching it in with a combination of Blount and Ridley. Patriots 27, Miami 17.
That's the way the score would stay; Miami had a few opportunities to get back in it, but they couldn't capitalize. Be it Chandler Jones blocking a field goal, Ryan Tannehill making poor decisions, or the New England defense finally figuring out the Dolphins offensive scheme, the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points, got themselves on track, and instilled some much needed confidence for the second half of the season.
I originally had this game ranked lower on my list, but when I went back to watch the highlights (which you can check out here), I realized what a great game it was. Big play after big play, momentum change after momentum change, and enough action to peg it as one of the better games of the year. The score doesn't really reflect what kind of game the Patriots played, as a lot of things went wrong before things started to go right, and once again the team's mental toughness shone through. This game was, in my opinion, the beginning of the Patriots team that we all came to love so much by the end of the season; it didn't matter what went wrong, it didn't matter what the score was, they were just going to keep fighting. Bodies may be dropping left and right, calls may not be going their way, and everyone's attention may be elsewhere, but none of that matters - they know who they are. That all started with this Dolphins game, and because of that, I had to bump it up a few spots and rank it here at Number 10.