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The Top 20 Patriots Moments of 2013: Number 13

Our offseason countdown continues with the Number 13 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013.

Jim Rogash

Draft is tomorrow. It's a beautiful day. Lots to discuss coming up. Short sentences are good. And the Number 13 Patriots Top Moment represents what I think will be the first of the "controversial" picks, as it isn't nearly as sexy as some of its predecessors. But when making this list, I took a lot of things into account: not just the plays themselves, but the general attitude of the team and the fans, what the moment represented to the season as a whole, and how it may have impacted games going forward. And so while I'll admit that there isn't all that much to see on the surface at Number 13, the trickle-down effect it had on ensuing weeks was enough to give it a spot.

But first, the list so far:

20. The New England Patriots sign Tim Tebow.
19. Aaron Dobson and Aqib Talib help the Patriots lock up a sloppy home opener against the New York Jets.
18. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez depart for Denver and jail, respectively.
17. Michael Hoomanawanui makes a huge one-handed TD grab just before halftime against the Miami Dolphins.
16. The Patriots lose in OT to the Jets, courtesy of an interesting new rule
15. James Develin bowls over the entire Texans defensive line for a rushing touchdown.
14. Tom Brady leads a 4th quarter comeback drive against the Bills to win the 2013 season opener.

And now, the Number 13 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013.

13. Kenbrell Thompkins emerges as a receiving threat with a two touchdown day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The biggest question coming into the 2013 season was "who the hell is going to be catching the ball?" Gronk was out, Welker was gone, Brandon Lloyd was trying his hand as a rapper, Aaron Hernandez was trying his hand at license plate printing, and Danny Woodhead had departed to San Diego. What was left was a converted quarterback, a receiver who hadn't played a full season in several years, and a bunch of rookies.

To make matters worse, the player who was supposed to fill Wes Welker's shoes followed up a huge Week 1 performance with a quick trip to the sideline with a groin injury from which he would never really recover and was out for Week 2's matchup against the Jets. And although the Pats went on to win that game, it was an ugly, ugly victory in which nobody in a New England uniform could catch anything thrown his way and serious questions began to emerge about the offense. There was no red zone threat, receivers were off-kilter, Tommy B was getting mad, and the Patriots were widely seen as one of the weaker 2-0 teams in the league.

So when they hosted Tampa Bay for a Week 3 matchup against the 0-2 Buccaneers, a team that was a bogus penalty and a miracle catch away from being 2-0, many saw it as the game where one franchise turns it on and the other starts to slide downhill. And while the experts were right, they were a little mixed up on their teams.

As they had been all season, the Patriots D was solid, holding Doug Martin to just 88 yards rushing and Josh Freeman to 236 yards and an interception (by Aqib Talib, who was brilliant in his revenge game). However, for the first time all year the Patriots offense started clicking as well. New England was held scoreless in the first quarter, but after a failed 4th down conversion from Tampa Bay to open the fourth, Tommy B engineered an 11 play, 66 yard drive that ended in a score that didn't come from Stephen Gostkowski. Starting at his own 34, Brady used a mix of Aaron Dobson, Stevan Ridley, and Julian Edelman to make his way to the Buccaneer 16, where everyone started waiting for the drive to stall and Gostkowski to come out to attempt a field goal. However, the Patriots surprised us - not just by scoring a touchdown, but by using a receiver nobody had heard of to score it.

Kenbrell Thompkins came to New England as an undrafted free agent on May 3, 2013. He played at El Camino Community College, The University of Tennesse, The University of Oklahoma, and finally The University of Cincinnatti during his tumultuous college career. Thompkins was seen as a relative longshot to make the final roster, but impressed in camp and during preseason, and as a result he not only made the team, but got the opportunity to start in place of the injured Danny Amendola (and over fourth round pick Josh Boyce). As he had done so many times in the past, he took advantage of the opportunities given to him and established himself as a reliable target for Tommy B. On his first career NFL touchdown, Thompkins was the lone wideout to the right as Tom Brady came out in max protect shotgun on 2nd and 6. Flanking him in the backfield was Stevan Ridley and James Develin, both of whom appeared to be staying in to block. On the left side of the lineup was Edelman, who ran a simple post-in pattern to draw the safeties away from the middle of the field. Develin, instead of remaining in the backfield, ran a short wheel route to the left that drew the outside linebacker into coverage. Middle linebacker Lavonte David came in on a stunt blitz, which Ridley was easily able to pick up, giving Brady time to allow the middle of the field to finish clearing out before he hit an open Thompkins in stride. Thompkins did the rest, eluding two defenders and marching into the end zone untouched.

Kenbrell's second score of the day came on New England's very next possession, after New England once again forced a failed fourth down conversion (a 4th and 1 run to Doug Martin for no gain. Remember when the Patriots could stop the run?). Using a steady mix of run and pass - this time LeGarrette Blount got in on the action - the Patriots drove down to the Bucs 5 yard line with less than a minute to go. On 1st and goal from the five yard, line Brady once again came out in shotgun, this time with Ridley as the lone back and a 4 WR set heavily loaded to the left. Thompkins was again all alone on the right side and had a one-on-one matchup with Jonathan Banks. Banks actually did a decent job in press coverage, but the New England offensive line was particularly strong on this play, and Tommy B had plenty of time to hit Thompkins crossing over the middle right along the back line of the end zone for a second score. New England would go on to win the game 23-3 and improve their record to 3-0.

While Thompkins would ultimately fade down the stretch and his rookie season was something of a mixed bag, it's important to note that Thompkins had a couple of absolutely monster games not to long after this one. Had this performance not happened, who knows whether he would have been in the position or had the confidence to make such huge plays for his team. And while it would have been nice if Tampa Bay represented a breakout game for Thompkins that sustained momentum all year long, the fact that he had a big day combined with him representing an absolutely wonderful story - a true turn-your-life tale that I never get sick of - makes him a solid choice for the 13 spot.

You can watch full game highlights here.

And if you're REALLY bored, you can catch highlights from the week two preseason game here.