While the 2014 year comes to a close, there are still memories to be had this season. The Patriots are in the playoffs, they'e the AFC favorite, and they have the most balanced team in the entire league. There is plenty of reason for hope.
So with New England eyeing the future, we as fans can look at the past to see how this team got to where it currently stands. Here are the top 10 moments for the Patriots in 2014.
10. Midseason Acquisitions
This was a year that Bill Belichick the GM should be in the front of the discussion for NFL Executive of the Year. There's no other General Manager that made the same type of game-changing acquisitions as Belichick during the course of the season. Whether it's rebuilding the defense during the off-season, or trading away an offensive captain right before the first week of the season, or picking up quality starters for pennies on the dollar, no front office was as successful as the Patriots.
The Patriots picked up DL Alan Branch off the street and he's been stout as a run defender and has been providing 20-25 snaps a game on the defensive line. Edge player Akeem Ayers was acquired from the Titans in exchange for roughly 10 draft spots between the bottom of the 6th and the start of the 7th round in the next draft. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas was obtained in exchange for the few spots between the end of the 5th round and the start of the 6th.
All three are crucial for the Patriots success; they aren't the #1 seed without these moves. Belichick for Executive of the Year.
Do you remember when Brian Tyms broke out in the preseason? He did the impossible- he made the preseason must-watch television. Back when he caught the ball while doing a barrel roll and draped by a defender. Back when his Wikipedia page was updated to show infinite yards and receptions. Back when he was the greatest deep threat since Randy Moss.
Those were the days. Maybe he'll be back for the playoffs.
8. Blocking Kicks
Do you know how many kicks the Patriots blocked this year?
Five blocked kicks. Chandler Jones, Chris Jones, Brandon Bolden, Jamie Collins, and Vince Wilfork. The Patriots special teams have truly been special this year, to the point where a game-changing play on a kick is something to be expected.
7. Chris Jones Redemption
Speaking of kicks, Chris Jones' redemption against the Jets is one of the most poetic changes of fate the football gods have given to the world. A year after getting flagged for a once-in-NFL-history against the Jets that cost the Patriots the game in overtime, Jones blocked a game winning field goal attempt against the Jets to be the hero.
Jones was named Special Teams Player of the Week. He deserved it.
6. Jonas Gray's Big Week
The season-ending injury to Stevan Ridley was supposed to be a major nail in the Patriots coffin this season, but Belichick the GM cast a spell (the return of LeGarrette Blount? EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR!) and coaxed some magic out of the undrafted Jonas Gray.
Here's a recap of Gray's week. He went from the bench, to the front page of Sports Illustrated, and back to benched in the short span of a week.
The big lesson? Always set your alarm.
5. Destroying the AFC
The Patriots have claimed homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs for the fifth time in Bill Belichick's tenure (03, 07, 10, 11, 14). They dismantled the reigning AFC divisional champions by three scores in each game. The margins of victory were 26 (Bengals), 22 (Broncos), and 22 (Colts).
They weren't games. They were demolitions. The Patriots staked their claim on the AFC and rose to the the challenge each time. The fact that they happened over the span of six undefeated games was just icing on the cake.
Oh, and it gave one of the best sound bites of the year:
Go to 1:45. Gotta go see my guy.
4. Signing Darrelle Revis
Remember how it felt to see Adam Vinatieri suiting up as a Colt? Or Wes Welker as a Bronco?
Did you have even the smallest twinge of a feeling when Aqib Talib signed with Denver?
Sorry, Revis. Those feelings of anguish that reverberated through New England upon the departure of Vinatieri must have been spread through the New York area once the Patriots signed Revis this off-season.
Is there a singular more important free agent signing in the Belichick era? Rodney Harrison proved his worth, but his signing wasn't met with the same level of fanfare that the pick-up of Revis brought to the region. Revis is the best cornerback in the league, and in the discussion as an all time great; Belichick the GM brought him in to help the Patriots win a Super Bowl.
It felt like a dream back in March. Please don't wake me up.
3. The Return of Rob Gronkowski
Where were you when Rob Gronkowski declared his return? The moment was obvious and it was when he was on the receiving end of a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo:
That marked his return. That was vintage Gronk literally breaking off his cast and fighting his way on the field. After this meaningless touchdown, Gronk was back to being the best tight end in the history of football.
It was nearly a weekly occurrence for Gronk to throw reality out of the club.
He's back in the biggest of ways. Sitting him out of Week 17 was the smart choice and now the Patriots have their second best offensive weapon in franchise history healthy for the playoffs. Not a bad place to be.
2. Scrambling Tom Brady
Brady has legs of molasses. He runs like a wounded giraffe. He's a slowly eroding beachfront. There are many ways to articulate the mobility of the best quarterback in franchise history. It's kind of sad that we might not be able to joke about it much longer.
That's the fearless leader laying out for a run block for Shane Vereen to pick up six yards. It was pretty, but it showed that he was willing to put his body on the line to help the team. This newfound mobility was developed for Brady to play like some of the younger quarterbacks in the league; it was to help him avoid the pressure that derailed his play in seasons past.
So in return for Brady's new agility, the Patriots received some of the best moments of the year:
I can't think of any other plays that have the same effect as a Tom Brady scramble. The correlation between a fiery Brady run and the Patriots winning is probably 1. Maybe the Patriots deferring to receive in the second half is similar- but Brady's legs are the best thing to happen on the field for the Patriots this year.
1. On to Cincinnati
Here's the press conference that was the best thing all year. It was a week of turmoil after a complete dismantling at the hands of the Chiefs. It forced Brady to dig deep and reflect if he liked football. Belichick came out and defended WR Aaron Dobson about issues during practice leading to his benching. Brady was apparently unhappy with the coaching staff.
Here's a transcript of Belichick's presser:
Q: Your team has been successful for so long. How difficult is it to adjust to the adversity of Monday night's game and get back on track? This team and organization hasn't had these sort of issues in the past.
BB: We're on to Cincinnati.
Q: You mentioned Tom Brady's age at the draft –
BB: We're on to Cincinnati.
Q: Do you think having a 37-year old –
BB: We're on to Cincinnati. It's nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now we're preparing for Cincinnati.
Q: Do you think the talent you have here is good?
BB: We're getting ready for Cincinnati.
Q: Do you think you've done enough to help Tom Brady?
BB: We're getting ready for Cincinnati. That's what we're doing.
Buried in the press conference is the fact that Belichick actually broke down the Bengals and did a great job of answering questions; he just stonewalled against any question not related to the Bengals.
It's an all-time great press conference by an all-time great coach. It's the #1 moment of the year.
So that's my top 10 and there could have been so many more (Looking at Chya Mayo's interviews). What are your top moments from 2014?