I needed a break from all of the Wes Welker talk, especially since that there's absolutely nothing we can do or know until free agency officially gets underway and too much speculating is usually a recipe for disaster. So I figured I would continue my countdown of the 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012.
To recap this 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.
Next up, the number 17 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2012.
17. Devin McCourty picks off Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone to seal the game vs. the Buffalo Bills.
New England had absolutely manhandled the Bills up in Buffalo during their first meeting of 2012, and all signs pointed to a repeat when the Bills came in to Gillette on November 6th of last year. After jumping out to 17-3 and 34-17 leads at various points in the game, it looked like New England was poised to once again run away with it. However, in true Patriots fashion, the defense became a sieve and the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Bills were able to mount a comeback, in spite of a 4th quarter Fred Jackson fumble at the 1 yard line that kept valuable Buffalo points off the board. New England would go 3 and out, punt, and then give the Bills the ball back with a short field that resulted in a Donald Jones touchdown to bring Buffalo within three. New England was able to engineer a drive on the ensuing kickoff, but ultimately came up short of the end zone when a Tom Brady pass for Danny Woodhead fell incomplete and forced a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with just over two minutes left to play, giving the Patriots a slim 37-31 lead.
The way the Patriots defense was playing, absolutely nobody was confident that the ensuing Buffalo drive would end in anything less than a touchdown.
Starting from their own 20, Fitzpatrick connected with Stevie Johnson for 21 yards. The ensuing pass saw Donald Jones pick up 14 more. Fred Jackson would fumble on a 9 yard scamper off a monster hit from Brandon Spikes, but Buffalo was able to recover and keep the drive alive at the New England 37. A few more passes to Scott Chandler and CJ Spiller, and it was 1st and 10 at the New England 15. Buffalo had managed to drive 65 yards in just over 90 seconds.
After an incomplete pass over the middle to Scott Chandler and with just 28 seconds left, Fitzpatrick came out in shotgun formation with an empty backfield, with New England operating out of the dime. The Patriots only rushed three, giving Fitzpatrick ample time to go through his reads and fire off a sideline pass to receiver TJ Graham. In what was ultimately a miscommunication between quarterback and receiver, Graham ran the over route as Fitzpatrick anticipated him going underneath, and Devin McCourty made the easy interception to seal the game and keep New England's perfect home record against Buffalo alive.
On paper, this wasn't exactly a stellar moment in the 2012 Patriots season; New England once again displayed an inability to protect a lead, blew several opportunities to put the Bills away, and added Ryan Fitzpatrick to the ever-growing list of mediocre quarterbacks who look like All-Stars when going up against the Patriots defense. Plus, McCourty's pick - while athletic - was more the result of an offensive breakdown as opposed to strong defensive play. So what is it doing on this list at number 17?
Because this moment, in my opinion, is an almost perfect representation of what it was like to root for New England in 2012. No matter how good the team looked at times, there was always that little voice in the back of my head that knew that no lead was safe, no amount of points would be enough, and that the whole thing could come crumbling down at any moment. The difference between this game and some of the others, though, is that this one came out in the Patriots' favor. Unlike Seattle and Baltimore, where squandered late-game leads led to losses, the defense was able to deliver when it mattered this time and secured the victory. It wasn't an overly pretty moment, but it certainly isn't on I have forgotten.