I'd like to sit here this morning and say that I timed my Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012 just so that I would be hitting the top 5 right as we enter the dead time in the NFL and the #1 moment of the season would be revealed just before the start of training camp, but I can't. I honestly didn't really have a schedule worked out at all. But sometimes things just work out in your favor, so I'm certainly not complaining.
When considering what I was going to put into the Top 5, I wanted to be sure that every moment was especially huge. After all, there's just something about a Top 5 list that carries significantly more weight than a Top 10 list does. Because of that, I feel that each of the upcoming moments were either season defining, message sending, or memorable enough so that they will be remembered for years to come.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's look at 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.
#9. Dual 100 yard days for Ridley and Bolden, dual 100 yard days for Welker and Gronk against the Buffalo Bills.
#8. Tom Brady's playaction pass to Brandon Lloyd against the Texans, the rout is on.
# 7. A Danny Woodhead fumble becomes a Brandon Lloyd touchdown, courtesy of J.J. Watt
# 6. Shane Vereen’s over-the-shoulder touchdown catch against the Texans to ice the game in the playoffs.
Now it's time to officially enter into the Top 5 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2012.
5. Aqib Talib's pick six in his Patriots debut.
Ask any Patriots fan his or her opinion on the team's secondary, and you'll likely get a bunch of adjectives of varying levels of political correctness. And seeing as how this is a PG-13 blog at worst, I'm going to go ahead and claim that the word I used most often to describe the secondary was "struggling." Yeah, let's just stick with that.
So when the Patriots traded a 2013 4th rounder for extremely talented but oft-maligned cornerback Aqib Talib in early November, I was ecstatic. Talib had the size, speed, and ability to be a solid presence in the New England backfield, provided he cleaned up his act, and there is no better place than Foxboro for troubled stars looking to get a second chance. Unfortunately, Talib was still finishing up a suspension when he came to the Patriots, so those of us who were especially anxious for him to take the field for the first time would have to wait an extra week before seeing what he could do.
And it just so happened that Talib's debut came at home against the Colts.
While Pats/Colts had lost some of its luster with Peyton Manning heading over to Denver, Andrew Luck was having an incredible rookie season, and the storyline of young buck vs. old bull definitely got its share of hype. Both the Patriots and the Colts came into the matchup sitting at 6-3 and looking to make significant strides forward in their respective divisions.
The game started off as any Pats fan who had been watching the defense all season could have expected, with the Colts getting the ball first and immediately driving down the field and scoring a touchdown. Andrew Luck took his offense 80 yards in just over 4 minutes without even needing a 3rd down to do it, and the collective groan at Foxboro resonated louder than most of the actual cheering that was going on. The Patriots were able to answer right back, driving 81 yards in a shade under 4 minutes to score on a Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski touchdown that was good enough to land Tommy B at 3rd on the All-Time list for most consecutive games with a TD pass (42). Not to be outdone, Luck got the ball back and drove 84 yards in 5:23 to connect with T.Y. Hilton in the end zone to make the score 14- 7 Both teams didn't seem able to stop the other and the real question as the first quarter wound down was whether or not either punter would even have to take his coat off.
After the Patriots were able to drive down the field only to have a 36 yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski sail wide right, Indy was in position to potentially open the game up and secure a two score lead. Fortunately, the New England defense tightened up and forced a 3 and out, bringing punter Pat McAfee out for the first time - a punt that ended up with Julian Edelman taking it to the house. Just like that, the game was tied and the Colts found themselves looking to mount another strong offensive drive.
Starting from their own 22, Luck handed off to Donald Brown, who was able to run for nine yards, and it looks like the Colts were once again poised to effortlessly drive down the field. But then, on 2nd and 1 from the 31, Indy came out in an Offset-I formation with Reggie Wayne and Hilton occupying both slots. Luck opted for the playaction to Brown, but nobody along the New England defensive line bit. Vince Wilfork beat his double team, Jermaine Cunningham sprinted around the edge, and Rob Ninkovich collapsed the pocket. As the pressure mounted, Luck was forced to step up in order to make his throw, and the ball sailed well over Wayne's head (who had actually found a nice hole in the New England zone) and right into Talib's arms at the New England 42. Talib initially made a break for the right sideline, found some running room, and cut back across the field as Patriots defenders lined up to block for him. He ultimately wound up hugging the left sideline as Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty created a lane for him, and he walked into the end zone untouched. New England wouldn't trail for the rest of the game and only allowed 10 more points on their way to a 54-29 blowout.
Sure, it was a great play, catch, and run. And sure, it was the play that made sure that the momentum generated from the Edelman punt return stayed squarely on the Patriots side of the game. But more than anything, this play gave Patriots Nation hope. Maybe Talib was FINALLY that missing piece of the defense that had been eluding Bill Belichick for years. Maybe the Patriots finally had their shutdown corner and their secondary was no longer going to be such a glaring weakness. The bottom line is that the Patriots are a better team when Talib is in the game (as evidenced by what the Ravens did to them as soon as he got hurt), and this interception served as a sign that perhaps, after years of waiting, that the cavalry has arrived.
You can check the play out here.