It would seem that almost every time I sit down to post another Patriots Top 20 Moment of 2012, thinking that news has been slow around Patriots Nation, Bill Belichick goes and makes another big move. I started writing this piece on Wednesday, but then I got a phone alert that said the team just put a one year offer in for Emmanuel Sanders. So I decided to push the article back to Thursday, but then the Alfonzo Dennard sentence broke and most of my efforts were focused on celebrating that. I can't say I'm surprised, as timing has never been my thing; just ask my golf coach,senior prom date, and gastrointestinal tract. But I think I'm safe today. It's Friday, nothing major appears to be on the horizon, and we're all just counting down the minutes until the weekend. And while we're counting down, we may as well apply it to Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012.
The list so far:
#20. The Patriots surprise everyone, sign Jeff Demps.
#19. The Patriots move up in the draft, select Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in the first round.
#18. Jerod Mayo comes up with a huge 3rd down sack on Ryan Tannehill, holding the Dolphins to a field goal.
#17. Devin McCourty picks off Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone to seal the game vs. the Buffalo Bills.
#16. A diving catch in the end zone shows off Brandon Lloyd's athleticism as well as his pearly whites.
#15. Brandon Spikes’ forced fumble of Willis McGahee to seal the game against the Broncos
#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 Indianapolis Colts.
Next up on the countdown:
11. New England's 28 point comeback against the San Francisco 49ers.
When the 49ers came to Gillette Stadium on December 16th of last year, everyone was predicting an epic matchup. And while the game eventually delivered, for the first two and a half quarters was nothing short of a blowout. After forcing a very quick Patriots 3 and out that netted only five yards, the 49ers engineered a six play, 63 yard drive that saw four consecutive first downs and ended with a 24 yard touchdown grab by Randy Moss. New England's next drive didn't fare much better, as they were only able to engineer one first down and punted after having the ball for just over one minute. Unfortunately, a drive that ended with a punt seemed to be the best case scenario for the Patriots, as two of their next three drives ended in turnovers.
The second quarter wasn't much better. The Patriots were able to put together a solid drive to open the quarter, moving from their own 25 yard line to the San Francisco 13, but the drive stalled and New England was held to a field goal. From there, the game was all Niners. San Francisco scored 28 unanswered points, forced two more New England turnovers, and dominated the time of possession. The most potent offense in the league, and the most dominant home team of the last decade, was simply getting their asses handed to them in primetime in front of their home crowd. With five minutes gone in the third quarter, the Patriots were losing 31-3 and some of the Foxborough faithful were already heading for the exits.
Unfortunately for those fair-weather fans (of which this team has plenty), they missed one of the most exciting halfs of football of all time. Following a 27 yard Michael Crabtree touchdown, New England started its next drive on their own 27 with just over ten minutes left in the quarter. Tom Brady, suddenly deciding that he's had enough of this losing business, got to work, engineering a 13 play, 73 yard touchdown drive that ended with a six yard Danny Woodhead scramble into the end zone. The Patriots followed that drive by forcing a 49ers punt, and closed out the quarter with a nine play, 86 yard drive that put them at the San Francisco 1 to open up the fourth. A quick Tommy B sneak, and suddenly the score was 31-17.
As the minutes ticked down, once again the defense came up big, forcing yet another three and out to give the Pats the ball back on their own 34. Six plays and 70 yards later, it was a one score game, courtesy of a short touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez. The score was 31-24 and everyone could feel the momentum swinging fully over to the Patriots sideline.
That momentum seemed to be there to stay when San Francisco's next drive opened with an Illegal Use of Hands Penalty, shortly followed by huge sack on Colin Kaepernick to bring up 3rd and 22. The Niners couldn't convert, and Tom Brady got the ball back with the chance to tie the game. A booming Andy Lee punt backed the Patriots up to their own 8, but that didn't matter. Tommy B connected with Brandon Lloyd twice on the drive, once to put him over 300 yards for the 53rd time, enough to pass Kurt Warner on the All-Time list, and once on a beautiful 53 yard bomb up the right sideline that put the Patriots inside the San Francisco 30. A few Tommy B scrambles and a Deion Branch catch later and the Pats were once again at the 1 yard line. This time, the 49ers stacked everyone in the middle to avoid another quarterback sneak; Brady simply audibled to an outside run, and Woodhead walked in untouched.
49ers 31, Patriots 31.
Unfortunately, that's where the magic ends, as a 62 yard return on the ensuing kickoff followed by a 38 yard Crabtree catch and run put the Niners up for good; they would go on to win the game 41-34. However, while the game obviously didn't end the way we wanted it to, I wasn't nearly as upset over that loss as I usually am when the Patriots lose. Sure, it hurt to have such an unbelievable comeback stymied by a kickoff return and a blown coverage, but at the end of the day the Patriots showed that their offense can score points against anyone in the league and their defense is capable of stifling even a potent passing attack when they are all on the same page. I left that game confident that New England had as good a chance as anyone to win the Super Bowl, and while at the time I thought that loss would cost the team homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, it ultimately didn't end up playing a factor. I'm still going to look back on that game as a great example of just how good this team can be when they put it all together, and it's games like that one that truly make football great. If the Patriots had won that game, this one definitely would have made my Top 10, but since they ultimately couldn't complete the comeback, it just misses the mark at Number 11.