I have a funny feeling that the Number 6 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013 will fall somewhat flat this week, as the nation is most likely far more focused on a different kind of football at the moment. With the US set to face off against a very beatable Belgium team in just a few short hours, I don't know how much room there is for reminiscing about a season past and the great moments that comprised it. But, if you're like me and have already resigned yourself to the fact that you simply aren't going to get any work done today as you count down the seconds until the game starts, then at least you'll have a way to kill a few minutes.
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.
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.
10. New England engineers a huge second half comeback against the Miami Dolphins.
9. Aqib Talib shuts down and in a primetime matchup against the .
8. has 100+ rushing yards and 58 yards receiving on a broken arm in a comeback win against the Buffalo Bills.
7. The Patriots put up 55 points in their historic beatdown of the .
Now, the last moment before we break into the Top 5:
6. LeGarrette Blount goes beast mode against the Buffalo Bills to lock up the 2 seed in the AFC.
The last regular season game of the Patriots' 2013 regular season saw the Bills travel to Gillette Stadium for a nice little bookend to the year; New England opened their campaign at Buffalo, and so it was somewhat fitting that the Bills finished theirs in Foxboro. And while the Bills were already out of playoff contention at that point, they had just rattled off two straight wins, including a 19-0 shutout against the Miami Dolphins the week before, and the Patriots absolutely needed this game to secure a first round playoff bye. When a team is out of the playoffs, they can always take solace in playing spoiler, and and there would be nothing better for Buffalo than forcing New England to play an extra playoff game. Plus, if the first matchup between these two teams was any indicator, we were all in for a battle.
For the most part, the game was fairly lackluster. It was a cold, rainy Sunday at The Razor, and the conditions made the ball hard to hold onto for both teams. Furthermore, E.J. Manuel was out and was replaced by Thad Lewis, who, in what has become something of a tradition as of late, joined the ever-growing club of no-name quarterbacks who looked like quality starters against this New England defense; he finished the day with 247 yards and a touchdown. And although those numbers aren't great, they are still better than Tommy B, who only threw for 122 yards on 24 attempts, with one touchdown and one interception to show for it.
Those numbers are a bit deceiving, however, as for the most part, Brady didn't need to throw the ball at all. He had a running back lined up behind him who was about to make a statement.
The Patriots running game was something of an enigma in 2013; stellar one week, lousy the next, and then gone altogether in the blink of an eye only to come right back into the picture just when you thought all was lost. Stevan Ridley was still struggling with security issues, Shane Vereen was still recovering from injury, and LeGarrette Blount was simply too inconsistent to be the every-down back. The best the Patriots seemed to be able to hope for was for the running game to be enough of a factor for the passing game to open up. Coming into the last week of the season, a real concern around Foxboro was whether or not this decimated and young receiving corps would be enough to take the team deep into the playoffs without a steady rushing attack.
That concern, however, was soon put to rest, as LeGarrette Blount reminded us all just how dangerous he could be.
Right from the opening snap of that Bills game, Blount made his presence known. His first runs of the day were for nine, seven, five, and six yards. Out of his first ten touches, he only failed to gain fewer than five yards twice, and it was just a matter of time before he broke one - in this case, early in the second quarter with a 36 yard run that represented the first touchdown of the day -and put Blount over the 100 yard mark for the 8th time in his career.
It didn't stop there. Blount continued to grind out yards on the ground, converting a first downs and making the playaction extremely effective. The Patriots went into the locker room at halftime up 16-3, and Blount already had 122 yards and a score.
Whether they wanted to give Blount a rest, change up the offensive strategy, or get the receivers some reps, the Patriots didn't use Blount much in the third quarter; he only had three carries for a combined nine yards. The result? Two possessions, two punts. The Bills, on the other hand, were able to engineer a seven play, 70 yard touchdown drive late in the third to cut the lead to one score. The Patriots were able to answer right back, however, as they started their next drive from the Buffalo 20, courtesy of an 83 yard kick return.
An 83 yard kick return by LeGarrette Blount.
Four quick plays, the trademark Vereen wheel route from the backfield, and a Julian Edelman two point conversion later, and the Patriots were up 24-10.
Not to be outdone, however, Buffalo came right back, riding Patriots bane Fred Jackson to a touchdown on a 10 play, 79 yard drive that ate up almost five minutes of clock. Back to a one score game; if the Bills can get a stop on the next Patriots drive, they are right back in it.
Of course, the problem with scoring a touchdown is that you have to kick the ball off, and Dan Carpenter made the foolish error of thinking that Blount only had one monster return in him per game. 62 yards later, the Patriots were sitting pretty on the Buffalo 40 needing only a few yards to get themselves into field goal range and essentially ice the game. A combination of Ridely and Blount were able to get the ball inside the 20 yard line while keeping the clock moving, and the Patriots went up by 10 with under eight minutes to play.
Buffalo was unable to get anything going on their next drive, and a failed 4th down conversion gave the Patriots the ball on the Bills 50 with the chance to really put the game away. Unfortunately, Tommy B was so unaccustomed to throwing that day, he was intercepted by Manny Lawson while trying to hit Vereen, and the Bills got the ball back in great field position with only 35 seconds lost. They were able to get a field goal out of the turnover to once again bring the game within reach, but were unable to convert the onside kick when Nate Ebner fell on it.
New England's ensuing drive was two plays. The first was a Blount run off the left tackle for 10 yards and a first down. The second was a Blount run around the left end that saw him weave through traffic, break a few tackles, and take off down the left sideline for a 35 yard touchdown run - his second of the day. Patriots 34, Bills 20. Game over.
Blount finished the day with 189 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He added to that 145 return yards, both of which coming in absolutely crucial situations where the Patriots needed to regain some momentum. Added up, that's 334 total yards, enough for a franchise record. Blount singlehandedly out-gained the rest of the Patriots, who combined to generate 255 yards independently of the day's star. Furthermore, Blount gained yards in every possible way; he earned them hard between the tackles, he picked up key first downs, he ran for chunks to make second and third downs more manageable, and he broke for big runs that helped put the game away. He absolutely put the team on his back and gave them what they needed to win the game and lock up a crucial 1st round playoff bye. After the game, Bill Belichick called him "the best player on the field" and gave him a game ball - something that coach very rarely does.
To be honest, I had completely forgotten about Blount's day as a return man when I first sat down to make this list; his performance as a running back combined with the significance of the game was more than enough to land his day just outside the top five. But add to that 145 kick return yards and a franchise record for most total yards gained by any one player, all in the last game of the season and the one that would set the tone for the NFL Playoffs, and this is an absolute no-brainer at the 6 spot.
Check out game highlights here.
For a Blount-specific highlight reel from this game, click here (and keep an eye out for an absolutely MONSTER Matt Slater block on Blount's kick return that sprung him for a huge gain. It's plays like that that never get the credit they deserve).