Well, here we are. We're finally into the top two most memorable moments of the 2012 New England Patriots season. The last two on the list, and the ones that are likely to live on in the history books when we all look back on this past year. So let's just get right to it.
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.
# 5. Aqib Talib's pick six in his Patriots debut.
#4. Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower team up for a strip sack/fumble return for a touchdown in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans.
# 3. Three Patriots touchdowns in 52 seconds against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night.
And now, here we go with #2:
2. Rob Gronkowski's "changing of the guard" spike against the St. Louis Rams in London, England.
In what seemed to be a recurring theme for the first half of the Patriots' 2012 season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding the team as they traveled to London for their Week 8 matchup against the Rams. They had just escaped with a game they probably should have lost at home against the New York Jets and had blown a comfortable 4th quarter lead the week before against the Seattle Seahawks. The 2012 Patriots seemed to be a squad that either blew teams away or blew leads late, and it was really hard to get a gauge on just who this team was. So, when they took the field against a 3-4 Rams team that had just dropped two very close games against the Dolphins and Packers, nobody in Patriots Nation really knew what to expect.
Things certainly didn't start out too well for New England as Sam Bradford came out and led his offense 80 yards in just five plays, capped off with a 50 yard TD pass to Chris Givens that made the crowd in London wonder if they had maybe misinterpreted the rules and the term "defense" meant something totally different in America. Luckily, that bomb represented the only points St. Louis would score that day, as the Patriots shook off the jet lag and put on an absolute clinic on both sides of the ball. Tommy B would answer Bradford's 80 yard drive with a 77 yard drive of his own, capped off by a 19 yard Brandon Lloyd touchdown catch that also put Brady 3rd on the most consecutive games with a TD pass list (40).
The Rams couldn't do much with their next possession, which was short-circuited by an intentional grounding penalty on 3rd a 5. St. Louis was forced to punt, and 9 plays and 84 yards later, Shane Vereen was in the end zone to give the Pats a lead they would never relinquish.
St. Louis never even made it past their own 30 yard line on their next offensive series, and with his next possession Tommy B took the ball from his own 22 all the way down to the Rams 9 yard line in 8 plays that saw only one 3rd down. The Rams defense tightened up a bit once New England got inside the 10, breaking up a pass intended for Gronk on 1st down and then stuffing Danny Woodhead up the gut for only a 2 yard gain.
Then, on 3rd and goal from the 7 yard line, New England came out in a 4 WR shotgun set with Danny Woodhead lined up next to Brady as the running back. Tommy B quickly motioned Woodhead out to his right to join Brandon Lloyd as Deion Branch and Wes Welker lined up on the left. Rob Gronkowski was the lone tight end playing near the line and slightly offset. Gronk drew double coverage almost immediately following the snap, but was still able to get open over the middle with a quick stop and go in the end zone. Brady fired an absolute laser down and away towards Gronk's waist, and he was able to dive and make the catch for the score.
As the crowd rose to its feet, so did Gronkowski. Holding the ball like a rifle in front of him, Gronk marched four stiff-legged steps to his left before turning sharply to march back the other way in a salute to the country in which he was playing and their fabled Queen's Guards. He followed his march with one of the most dominating, Earth-shaking spikes you will ever see, and the Patriots took a comfortable 21-7 lead. They would go on to win that game 45-7 and absolutely coast into their bye week. The spike was a masterpiece, plain and simple, and it will likely be the spike against which all other Gronk spikes are measured from here on out.
Now in all honestly, you could probably make a very strong case against ranking this play so highly; after all, it was a fairly standard throw and catch, and while the spike was absolutely epic, it wasn't like Gronk caught the winning touchdown pass or that the score was crucial to a Patriots victory. However, I personally think that that play and ensuing spike represented the exact moment where Patriots fans everywhere realized that this 2012 team was going to be just fine. With that spike, many of the questions surrounding the 2012 Patriots were answered, and after a shaky start, some uncertainty, more than a few unfortunate injuries, and their fair share of critics, New England traveled halfway across the world, lit up the scoreboard, and reminded us all that as long as #12 is under center, this squad was going to be successful. I also ranked this play at #2 because I have a feeling that Gronk's spike is going to be replayed over and over in various highlight packages, lighthearted blooper reels, and season recaps for years to come, which gives it the kind of staying power that justifies placing it this high.
Relive the play and the ensuing spike here.