So the last time I checked, six was exactly one spot away from five, which means that we're almost into the Top 5 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2012. And while there is definitely something special about a Top 5 anything, I'd be remiss if I didn't say that what I've picked for number 6 definitely holds a special place in my cholesterol clogged heart.
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
We find ourselves with the Houston Texans once again as we get into our #6 most memorable moment, but this time we're fast forwarding a few weeks into the future, when the Texans once again returned to Gillette Stadium for the AFC Divisional Game.
6. Shane Vereen’s over-the-shoulder touchdown catch against the Texans to ice the game in the playoffs.
The last time the Houston Texans came into Gillette Stadium, things didn't go so well; the Patriots absolutely embarrassed them on national television in what was supposed to be a statement game that let the world know that there was a new power in the AFC. They say having a short memory is key in the NFL, and Houston needed their memories to be shorter than ever, as only a few short weeks later, they found themselves right back at the scene of the slaughter for a game that would see the winner go on to the AFC Championship and the loser go home for a long offseason.
While nobody expected the same kind of lopsidedness as last time, it didn't take long for the Texans to show everyone that they were a different team than they were in Week 14. Danieal Manning hammered that point home right away when he took the opening kick 94 yards to the New England 12. And while that drive would ultimately stall and the Texans would have to settle for 3, it was obvious that a New England win wouldn't come so easy this time. The Patriots were eventually able to get on the board, but not until late in the quarter with a 1 yard Shane Vereen touchdown run. The Patriots and Texans would go on to trade points for the rest of the half, and by the time both teams headed for the locker room New England was clinging to a 17-13 lead which saw Houston score 10 points in less than two minutes - a far cry from the 21-0 halftime score from Week 14.
However, there's a little thing called "halftime adjustments," and nobody does that better than Bill Belichick. Tommy B was able to come right out of the gate to start the second half and get the Pats' lead back up to two scores off of a huge catch and run by Aaaron Hernandez that set up an 8 yard TD from Stevan Ridley. The Texans seemed poised to answer right back, especially after a monster Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson conversion on 3rd and 16 after the refs questionably overturned an apparent Owen Daniels fumble; however, Schaub failed to account for Rob Ninkovich on a 3rd and 7 throw over the middle that saw Nink make a great leaping pick to give the Patriots new life. Brady, never one to miss an opportunity to capitalize, used a heavy dose of Ridley and Brandon Lloyd to get the Patriots in the end zone again. Patriots, 31, Texans 13. 14 unanswered 3rd quarter points for the Patriots.
Coming into the last quarter of the game, Houston began to enter desperation mode. Sitting at 4th and 1 at their own 33 with 13:20 left to play in the game, the Texans had no choice but to go for it. For reasons we may never know, they opted not to go to Arian Foster (who had just converted another huge 4th down for them on the previous series) and instead attempted a playaction pass deep to DeVier Posey. The pass was overthrown and the Patriots got the ball back in Texans territory with the chance to pretty much end it.
And end it they did.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Tommy B came out in an empty 5 WR set with Vereen out wide and Welker and Lloyd bunched towards Brady's right. Houston, obviously not expecting such aggressive playcalling, was forced to motion linebacker Barrett Ruud out to the cornerback slot to try and guard Vereen. Tommy B saw the mismatch immediately and didn't even try to fake out the strong side safety, who was busy trying to cover Hernandez. Vereen ran a small hitch route, made a slight feint, and then just took off down the sideline. Brady hit him almost perfectly in stride, but Vereen had to stretch out for the ball to make a spectacular fingertip catch while keeping both feet in bounds and making sure he landed on the right side of the pylon for his third TD of the day. Patriots 38, Texans 13. Houston would go on to score 2 touchdowns as the game wound down, but none of it mattered at that point. The Patriots would go on to win the game 41-28.
There are a bunch of Shane Vereen moments from that game I could have picked for the 6 spot, but I think that this play best highlights his monster day for several reasons. First (and mainly), it was an absolutely spectacular catch for any receiver to make; that it was made by a running back who generally isn't asked to make 33 yard over-the-shoulder sideline grabs only makes it that much sweeter. Second, it was the second time in 2012 where a huge Patriots interception was immediately followed by an amazing play that completely deflated the Houston Texans and put all of the momentum squarely on the New England sideline - there is just too much coincidence there to ignore. Third, it was the final dagger in Houston's already slim comeback hopes, as you just don't rally from 25 points down against the Patriots at Gillette. And fourth, it completely epitomized the "next man up" philosophy, as that Vereen play was a virtual mirror of the Rob Gronkowski play that ended his postseason early in this game. Vereen had taken something of a backseat to Ridley in 2012, but didn't allow that to stop him from coming up huge when his number was called.
Plus, there is that awesome cut to Bill Belichick right after Vereen scored that touchdown, briefly glancing up at the scoreboard with a look of total indifference on his face before immediately going back to coaching up his defense as if Vereen had just run it up the gut for 2 yards. If it had been Rex Ryan on the coaching end of that play, he probably would have Gatorade bathed himself before doing a full-on bellyflop into the Jets' used sock bin. But not Belichick; that was how the play was supposed to go, so why get all excited about it? Just an absolute boss.
And while the season took a decided turn for the worse one short week later, at that moment, I'll be damned if I didn't think the Patriots had a very, very legitimate chance at another Lombardi Trophy. It was exactly the kind of momentum-building score that (I thought, at least) would take this team as far as they wanted to go in the playoffs. A fantastic play, feeling, and moment all around.
Check it out here.