As we get closer and closer to the Number One Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013, you'll notice that there are a few repeat games on this list. And rightly so, I say; some of the games this Patriots team had were absolutely epic and can't accurately be recapped with only one article. We're going back to an early season game again today, 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.
13. Kenbrell Thompkins emerges as a receiving threat with a two touchdown day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
12. A highly questionable non-PI call costs the Patriots a Monday Night Football game against the Carolina Panthers.
11. Devin McCourty and Marquice Cole team up for a volleyball-style interception against the Miami Dolphins.
10. New England engineers a huge second half comeback against the Miami Dolphins.
9. Aqib Talib shuts down Julio Jones and Roddy White in a primetime matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.
Now it's back to Buffalo for the Number 8 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013.
8. Shane Vereen has 100+ rushing yards and 58 yards receiving on a broken arm in a comeback win against the Buffalo Bills.
It's funny to think about how the very first week of the 2013 NFL season, which saw the Patriots travel to Buffalo to face the Bills, would more or less become a microcosm for how the rest of the year was going to go. Injuries. Costly fumbles. Last-second comebacks. Defensive struggles. Seemingly improbable wins.
And players stepping up when they were needed most.
I already gave a fairly thorough recap of this game in my Number 14 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013, so for this one I'm going to focus solely on the New England backfield. We all know and remember what Tommy B was and wasn't able to do through the air for that game, so no need to rehash it now.
After a fairly impressive 2012 campaign that was marred by some costly fumbles, most of Patriots Nation thought that the primary RB job firmly belonged to Stevan Ridley. New acquisition LeGarrette Blount would be the short yardage guy, and Shane Vereen seemed a perfect fit for the 3rd down/scatback role. Everything we had seen or read about in preseason only reinforced this belief, and so when Ridley came out with the starters on New England's opening drive, it was business as usual. However, when Ridley really couldn't get anything going at all against a tough Bills defensive line, people started to wonder; sure, it was way to early to jump to any conclusions, but the question on everyone's mind was whether or not Ridley was going to be the guy going forward. Blount really couldn't get anything going either, and the only back that was having any success at all was Vereen, who exploited some coverage mismatches and used his shiftiness to find a few holes along the line. However, even with Vereen making some headway, the New England backfield really wasn't pulling their weight.
Things took a significant turn for the worse about halfway through the second quarter when Ridley, virtually untouched, fumbled the ball at the Buffalo 24 yard line, only to be picked up by Da'Norris Searcy and returned 74 yards for a touchdown. A 10 point lead was quickly reduced to three, and it would appear that Ridley hadn't quite learned how to hold onto the ball in the offseason. That play was the last anyone saw of him for the rest of that game; he finished with nine touches for 46 yards and a fumble (although he gained 20 yards on one run, so if you take that away his numbers are even worse).
Ridley's fumble seemed to give Buffalo some much-needed confidence, and they would go on to score another touchdown just before halftime to make the score 17-14 after two. They would then go on to take the opening drive of the third quarter 80 yards on 11 plays for the go-ahead score and, for what would become the first of MANY, Patriots fans everywhere got a very bad feeling.
Luckily for us, Shane Vereen ate his spinach at halftime, because his next drive would set the stage for an absolutely monster day. A 20 yard run on 2nd and 10. Another quick 5 yards on an off-tackle play. A 19 yard reception on a short middle pass. Vereen was a key cog in what was supposed to be and answering drive that put New England back on top, as a combination of Vereen and Brady got the ball down to the Bills 1. Unfortunately, a Tommy B fumbled snap ended any hopes of punching it in, and the Bills once again generated a huge turnover. Luckily, the Patriots defense held firm, and no more points were scored for the rest of the quarter.
New England was able to engineer a field goal on their next possession to bring the game to 21-20, but couldn't seem to do anything with their next two drives. Neither could Buffalo, however (thanks to a wide open Stevie Johnson drop on 3rd and 2 that forced a punt), and New England ended up getting the ball at their own 34, down one, with 4:31 left to play. The Patriots needed a score, but they couldn't score too quickly; the goal was to get the clock down as much as possible before putting any points on the board.
For the most part, that last Patriots drive was the Shane Vereen show. Danny Amendola, playing with a torn groin, deserves heaps of credit as well, but since he already got his due in a previous article it's time to focus on Shane. His first run of the drive was for two yards, followed by a quick six; in between that was a slant pass for five yards that set up a first down. Amendola came up with some monster catches to push the ball over midfield, and a few more short Vereen runs gave the Patriots a 1st and 10 at the Buffalo 29.
The next play was, in my opinion, the play of the game, as it put what was essentially the nail in the Buffalo coffin and put New England into a very doable field goal position. It was also among the more terrifying plays of the game, as it could have potentially cost the Patriots a Week 1 victory.
Coming out in shotgun on 1st and 10 with Vereen to his left, Tommy B looked like he had every intention of passing. And to be honest, maybe the initial call was a throw and Brady saw something in the defense that made him call an audible. Whatever it was, the play ended up being a draw to Vereen, who took the ball five yards behind the line and made a break for the left side. He had a Bills defender right on his tail and had to take a few steps backward, taking New England almost out of field goal range, before turning the corner and heading back in the right direction. He was able to follow his blocks, make a few defenders miss, and pick up 15 yards on the ground to bring the ball to the Buffalo 14 yard line with 56 seconds left to play. He was also able to stay in bounds, forcing the Bills to burn their second timeout and setting New England up with two quick Brady kneels in the middle of the field to center the ball before Stephen Gostkowski came on to kick the game winner. Patriots 23, Bills 21 in the first of what was, by my count, 11 games that took years off of all our lives. Vereen finished the day with 101 yards on 14 carries, many of which were in key situations, along with another 58 yards on seven receptions to earn himself an MVP of the game.
Vereen's performance alone was reason enough to rank it at Number 8 on this list, but knowing that he broke his arm at some point, most likely during very the first quarter, makes this one an absolute lock. I have trouble gripping a pen if I bite my nail a little too close to the cuticle; Vereen was able to hang onto a football as a bunch of large, angry men were running full speed into him while masking a broken bone. And I know I have said this a lot over the course of this countdown, but Vereen's day is yet another example of why this Patriots team was so likable and fun to watch over the last year; tough as nails, playing through a rash of injuries, and stepping up in big moments to do whatever it takes to help his team win. There were a lot of question marks after this game, question marks which never fully got answered, to be honest, but one thing that nobody every doubted for a second was the fortitude and desire of this squad.
You can watch highlights of the game here, although I should warn you - it isn't pretty. I also couldn't find that great Vereen run anywhere online, so if anybody who is more internet savvy than me is able to track it down, let me know and I'll link it.
UPDATE: SMP, in all his SMP goodness, was able to find some more Vereen highlights from this game, which you can watch here, here, and, here. The game-sealing run is still eluding me, but if it's out there, we'll find it. Thanks, SMP!