If you have been following The Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2013 since the beginning, you know that there have been some less pleasant memories associated with some of my selections. Sure, they were memorable, but not all memories are good ones (just ask anyone who was behind me this past Memorial Day Weekend when I bent down to pick up my fork), and so it's understandable if some of my choices have been met with a bit of resentment. That's why I'm going to try and rectify all that today with one of the more enjoyable games we experienced last season.
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.
8. Shane Vereen has 100+ rushing yards and 58 yards receiving on a broken arm in a comeback win against the Buffalo Bills.
Number 7 brings us to an old rivalry, an old defense, and a new meaning to the word "pwned."
7. The Patriots put up 55 points in their historic beatdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Patriots vs. Steelers week is usually one that fans of both teams circle on the calendar when the schedule first comes out; two of the more historically dominant franchises of the decade going head to head in what may very well be a playoff preview almost always promises hard hits, big plays, and postseason implications. And while New England has for the most part gotten the better of Pittsburgh as of late, that didn't do all that much to cool the fires of this rivalry. Plus, the last time these teams met, in Week 8 of the 2011 season, Pittsburgh walked away with a 25-17 win that wasn't nearly as close as the score dictated. So while these seemed to be two teams heading in very different directions, New England just overcoming a 17 point deficit against Miami to win the game whereas Pittsburgh had just dropped one to the lowly Raiders, nobody was really taking records and past performance into account. This was the Steelers, it was going to be a tough game, and this game was an absolute must-win for Pittsburgh if they wanted to have any chance of making a playoff push.
The game started out as expected, with both defenses playing tight and forcing a pair of three and outs for each team. The Steelers went three and out on their second possession as well, and although Tommy B was able to get something going on the next drive, it eventually stalled when Stevan Ridley couldn't convert on a 4th and 1 at the Steeler one yard line. New England's goal line offense left much to be desired during the regular season, and Ridley's inability to punch it in from one yard out epitomized that.
The good news is that, for the most part, the failed to-go try represented the last bad thing the Patriots did that day.
On Pittsburgh's very first play from scrimmage after a false start penalty knocked them back half an inch or so, Brandon Spikes was able to penetrate the line on a Mike blitz that forced Ben Roethlisberger to release his pass, intended for Antonio Brown, early and off balance. As a result, the ball sailed high and short, and Devin McCourty was able to make the interception, giving New England the ball back on the Pitt 34. Tommy B's very first throw of that drive was a 34 yard bullet to a wide open Danny Amendola, and the first points of the day were on the board.
Pittsburgh was able to get the ball moving on their next drive, taking it from their own 23 to the New England 32 on 12 plays, but instead of kicking a field goal on 4th and 1, the Steelers decided to go for it with a Le'Veon Bell run up the left A gap. Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins were there to stuff Bell in the backfield, and the Patriots got the ball back.
Brady's next drive was absolutely masterful. Using a lot of no-huddle and audibling at the line, the Patriots went 63 yards on just six plays for the score, a 19 yard strike to Gronk that extended his own franchise record for 100 yard games by a tight end to 11. A frustrated Troy Polomalu came in on a late hit after the play was over to tack on 15 yards at the kickoff, and New England seemed firmly in control.
Pittsburgh was finally able to build some momentum with their next two drives, scoring a field goal and touchdown respectively to bring the lead down to 10, as New England scored a field goal of their own in between Steeler drives. The Patriots got the ball back with 1:55 left in the half hoping to put some points on the board and then get the ball back to start the 3rd quarter.
Tommy B was able to take the Patriots 77 yards on nine plays, with a fair amount of help from the Pittsburgh D, who simply couldn't cover New England's receivers and drew two separate PI calls, one of which gave New England the ball at the one. Not to be denied at the goal line a second time, Ridley ran it in to go up 24-10 with 10 seconds left to play. A Big Ben kneeldown, and the half was over.
New England seemed to pick up right where they left off at the start of the 3rd, moving the ball well until - what else?? - a Stevan Ridley fumble at the 35 yard line gave the Steelers new life. It only took them five plays before Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone to pull within one score. The Steelers tied it up on their next drive, after a 3 and out from New England gave them the ball at their own 46 after a short punt and a good return by Brown set them up with excellent field position. Once again, five plays and a Jerricho Cotchery later, the Steelers were in the end zone. 24-24. The Patriots third quarter woes raged on. New England was able to get a long drive going on their ensuing possession, but a 9 yard sack on 3rd and five forced a field goal instead of a touchdown. The Patriots entered into the 4th quarter up by 3 with good field position courtesy of a 43 yard Julian Edelelman punt return.
The lead wouldn't be that narrow for long.
The Patriots had five possessions in the 4th quarter. They scored touchdowns on four of them, and the fifth was just a kneeldown. Nobody really knows why, or how, but the Patriots turned the dial all the way up as the game wound down and just didn't stop. Their first TD of the quarter came on a 17 yard comeback to Aaron Dobson for what would be his first score of the day. A Steeler 3 and out, and it suddenly became the Stevan Ridley show. Perhaps trying to make up for his goal line snub and fumble, he absolutely owned the drive on the ground, picking up yards in chunks and getting himself over the 100 yard mark. He would eventually score his second TD of the day on this drive, a 5 yard blast off the left guard, and finish the day with 115 yards on the ground. The Steelers would answer back on their next drive with yet another Cotchery touchdown (Kyle Arrington must have been covering him on the outside), but at that point there was less than 10 minutes left to play, the Steelers were down by 11, and New England had suddenly become unstoppable. That said, however, a quick stop and a touchdown would put Pittsburgh right back in it. It was important for Tommy B to engineer a long, sustained drive that ended in points in order to officially ice this game.
New England's next drive consisted of just two plays and it took exactly one minute off the clock. The first, a 12 yard LeGarrette Blount run, was exactly the kind of play the Patriots needed.
The next one? That one was even better.
Dobson was the lone receiver, lined up to Brady's left, in a 3 TE package with Blount in the backfield. Everything about this play screamed run, and because of that the Steeler secondary cheated up close to the line. Brady sold a hard playaction, which almost everyone bit on, and Dobson streaked down the sideline, his hand in the air Randy Moss style. Brady stared him down the whole way and launched it, hitting Dobson in stride as he went 81 yards for the score. Ryan Clark attempted to pursue, but there was just no way he was going to catch Dobson. Patriots 48, Steelers 31.
With just over five minutes left to play, and the game pretty much over, Big Ben started making desperation throws in an attempt to score quickly. One of them, and deep left pass intended for Antionio Brown, sailed way wide was picked off by Duron Harmon, who returned it 42 yards to bring the ball to the Steeler 28. New England's next drive was also just two plays; a 23 yard Blount run, and then a five yard Blount run to give the Patriots a 55 point day. The next time Tommy B would touch the ball, it was to kneel on it. The Patriots scored 28 4th quarter points to let the whole world know that they weren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Could this game have been ranked lower on this list? Probably. Are some of the moments and plays I have already listed a little cooler and more meaningful? Maybe. But honestly, this was one of the few games last season that wasn't a down-to-the-wire, epic comeback nailbiter that took ten years off my life. It was also the first time all season that the New England offense really seemed to be in sync and firing on all cylinders. After so much doubt, so many question marks, and so much wondering whether the Patriots had done enough this offseason to give Tommy B the weapons he needed to make a deep playoff run, the question was answered in style. The game also represents the most points the Steelers have ever given up in franchise history, which is a nice little feather in the cap. Furthermore, this was exactly the kind of game that everyone in Patriots Nation needed heading into a bye week; huge win, momentum built, confidence gained, questions answered. It made us all extremely excited for what this team is capable of now that everything was finally starting to click offensively, and allowed us all to actually enjoy the bye instead of stressing out over what was going to happen when they took the field again. Because of that, i feel comfortable putting this game at Number 7.
Check out full game highlights here.