To call last week rough is the understatement of the century. There's no reason to do any kind of recap here of the horrors, the heroes, and the healing that has transpired over the past few days, as I'd like to think we're all looking forward to taking this week to begin the process of trying to return to some sense of normalcy in our lives. And as we all start settling back in, we can once again turn to sport as a means to further come together, forget about life for a while, and share a common bond. And as far as sports go, this is a pretty sweet time on the calendar. The Red Sox are playing well, the NBA playoffs are underway, and we're just days away from the NFL Draft. I don't know about any of you, but the third week in April is definitely one of my favorite sports weeks of the year.
And speaking of favorites - we have now reached the Top 10 of the Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012. Every play from here on out was, in my opinion, not only game-changing, but season defining in how they played out. And since we're about to turn our full attention to the Draft and the next crop of Patriots rookies we've never heard of, today seems like the best day to take a look at Number 10.
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.
#11. New England's 28 point comeback against the San Francisco 49ers.
10. Rob Ninkovich forces a Mark Sanchez fumble to seal the game against the Jets in overtime.
Those pesky Jets - you just never know what's going to happen whenever the Patriots play them. On October 21st of last year when the Jets came in to Foxboro, Patriots fans had every reason to be confident; New England had just suffered a brutal loss at Seattle the week before, and there was no way that they were going to drop two in a row at home to Mark Sanchez and company. Granted, the Jets had just come off of their best game of the year, a 35-9 beatdown of the Indianapolis Colts, but a win over New England at Gillette just wasn't going to happen.
The game didn't start as well as it could have; after a Patriots punt, the Jets were able to put together an 11 play, 75 yard drive on their very first posession that ended in a Shonn Greene touchdown. However, from that point on the first half was all New England, starting with a 104 yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Devin McCourty that soon turned into two Jets turnovers, one of which ended in a safety, and a 17 yard diving touchdown from Rob Gronkoswki. The Patriots went came into the third quarter up 16-10 and playing like they weren't going to give the Jets a chance to get back in this game.
The Jets opened the second half with a 66 yard drive that ended in a Nick Folk field goal to bring the Jets to within 3, but then the Patriots responded with a seven minute, 15 play drive that saw Gronk score his second touchdown of the day. However, that would also be the last New England touchdown of the day, as the Jets defense stiffened up and their offense was able to generate some rhythm, scoring on all three of their final drives for 13 4th quarter points. New York's final points of regulation came off of a huge Devin McCourty kickoff fumble that gave the Jets the ball on the New England 18 yard line. The defense was able to hold them to three, but it was enough to give the Jets a 26-23 lead with less than two minutes left to play.
Enter one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.
Starting from his own 21, Tommy B was able to move the ball 54 yards down to the Jets 25 yard line, mostly through passes to Gronk and Danny Woodhead. Unfortunately, time was about to expire, so the Patriots had to settle for a game-tying field goal instead of the go-ahead touchdown. New England 26, Jets 26. To overtime we go.
The Patriots won the coin toss and picked up right were the last drive left off, going 54 yards in 12 plays to the Jets 30. Three incomplete Tom Brady passes stalled the drive, however, and once again the Patriots had to settle for 3. It was now up to the defense to do something they had not been able to do all season: protect a lead.
Starting their ensuing drive from their own 15, Sanchez picked up the first down off of an Alfonzo Dennard holding penalty. Sanchez was then able to hit Dustin Keller for 17 yards, bringing the Jets to their own 40. Whether it was a groan, a profanity, or a defiant belch that came out of your mouth at that moment, there's no way anyone reading this right now will be able to convince me that there wasn't a foul cloud of negativity hovering over Gilllette Stadium at that moment.
New York's 1st down play was a run up the gut by Green for no gain, stuffed by Wilfork. On 2nd and 10, the Jets lined up in a single back set with the Patriots in a disguised 4-3; Rob Ninkovich was on the line, but standing, giving the impression that he was going to drop back in coverage off of the tight end. As Sanchez snapped the ball and dropped back, both Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham crashed the line, throwing Sanchez off balance and disrupting the play. As Cunningham tried to wrap him up low, Ninkovich came high and knocked the ball out of Sanchez's hands for the fumble. He would go on to recover his own forced turnover and win the game for the Patriots.
This game - and more specifically that play - makes my top ten for three reasons. One, it was a great game that was won on a defensive play as opposed to an offensive play, which was a nice change of pace. Two, it was a season-changing win; a home loss against the Jets after blowing a late lead at Seattle would have been incredibly demoralizing and dropped the Patriots below .500 for the second time that season while propelling the Jets ahead of them to 4-3. That play also marked two very different trajectories for these two teams; the Patriots would go on to get better following this game, and the Jets would go on to get much, much worse.
And three - it was a win against the Jets. No matter how the Pats do it, winning against the Jets always rings sweeter to me than other victories do. And while I would have preferred a less heart-attack-inducing win, the bottom line is that that Ninkovich sack saved me a full week's worth of moping, lost sleep, and overall obnoxious grumpery that nobody in my social circles would have appreciated. And that right there is enough to put it on this list.