And then there were two.
Usually when you have a Top Two of anything, a strong argument can be made for each one deserving the one spot. This is especially true in football, as plays are so incredibly subjective a lot of the time and everyone always seems to have a different opinion regarding what makes something truly memorable. And to be honest, the Number Two Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2013 is especially meaningful to me, as I was at this game and saw it happen live, and since this is my list and I can do whatever the hell I want with it, I was incredibly close to placing it first. However, at the end of the day I just couldn't in good conscience put this one over what's about to come next, and while I almost decided to go with a 1 and a 1A, I ultimately think that's a cop-out, so here it is at number two. Still, it was one of the more exciting moments of the entire season, yet another example of why the 2013 Patriots were so likable, and the kind of play that is for sure going to make career highlight reels and NFL Films specials for years to come.
But first, the list so far:
19. and help the Patriots lock up a sloppy home opener against the .
18. and depart for Denver and jail, respectively.
17. makes a huge one-handed TD grab just before halftime against the .
16. The Patriots lose in OT to the Jets, courtesy of an interesting new rule
15. bowls over the entire defensive line for a rushing touchdown.
14. leads a 4th quarter comeback drive against the to win the 2013 season opener.
13. emerges as a receiving threat with a two touchdown day against the .
12. A highly questionable non-PI call costs the Patriots a Monday Night Football game against the .
11. and 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 and in a primetime matchup against the .
8. has 100+ rushing yards and 58 yards receiving on a broken arm in a comeback win against the Buffalo Bills.
7. The Patriots put up 55 points in their historic beatdown of the .6. goes beast mode against the Buffalo Bills to lock up the 2 seed in the AFC.
5. The Patriots travel to Baltimore and obliterate the .
4. 4 touchdown day lifts the Patriots past the in the AFC Divisional round.
3. New England scores two touchdowns in the final two minutes to come back against the Cleveland Browns.
This one is one for the history books.
2. Tom Brady hits Kenbrell Thompkins in the end zone with 10 seconds left to play to secure a win against the New Orleans Saints.
When the Saints came to Foxboro for a Week 6 matchup against the Patriots, they were sitting pretty at 5-0 and had just come off a 26-18 victory over the Chicago Bears. The Patriots, on the other hand, had just lost - and lost ugly - to the Cincinnati Bengals in a muddly, sloppy, turnover-ridden game where they failed to notch a single touchdown and Tommy B saw his consecutive games with a TD pass streak come to an end. In other words, the Patriots had been exposed, possibly overachieving through the first four weeks and unable to keep up with any of the legit contenders in the NFL. So when they hosted New Orleans, hopes were not high among many fans that the home win streak would stay alive.
The game started out well enough, with New England able to get a long drive going to start things off. However, as usual, the Gronkless offense stalled in the red zone, and they were held to three. New Orleans was able to score a touchdown two possessions later to cap off a 73 yard drive that saw a lot of short passes taken for big gains.New England, however, would answer right back, scoring touchdowns on their next two drives on Stevan Ridley runs. Bookended by those scoring drives were two consecutive Saints three and outs, as Aqib Talib was completely blanketing Jimmy Graham and New Orleans just couldn't seem to find a rhythm. The Patriots entered the half up 17-7, and everyone was feeling pretty good about what they had seen so far.
Of course, logic dictates that after quarters one and two comes quarter three, which for some reason the 2013 Patriots treated like me at an organic health store; they just wanted no part of it. New Orleans were able to get 10 points out of their first two possessions, both of which were long, sustained drives, where as New England only saw the ball twice all quarter and were only able to get a field goal. Clinging to a 20-17 lead entering into the fourth, it seemed as if the Saints had figured the Patriots out while also cracking Bill Belichick's defensive code. The Patriots had a prime opportunity to open the game up when Drew Brees overthrew Jimmy Graham on their opening possession of the quarter and Kyle Arrington was able to come down with it at the 20 yard line, but the Patriots weren't able to punch it in and had to settle for three. Still down less than a touchdown, Brees got right back to work, putting together a 10 play, 81 yard drive that ended with a 34 yard strike to Kenny Stills in the end zone. The Saints had their first lead of the game with less than four minutes, and it was time for the Patriots to answer back.
And answer back they did - to the tune of short completion, incompletion, incompletion, and incompletion to go four and out, take 43 seconds off the clock, and give the Saints the ball back on the New England 24. A New Orleans touchdown meant that the game was over.
Luckily, the New England defense was able to step up and force a three and out without burning too much time off the clock. A New Orleans field goal meant that the Patriots could still come back to win the game; all they needed was a good drive that ended in a touchdown.
What they got instead was one play, a deep right pass intended for Julian Edelman that Brady underthrew and Keenan Lewis intercepted easily. The plus side was that the pass was long enough so that the Saints had to start on their own 30. The negative was that there was only 2:16 left, New England was down to their last timeout, and all the Saints needed was a single first down to seal the game. It appeared as if a poor decision by Tommy B ended any chance of a new England victory, which is a highly unusual occurrence to say the least. Many of the Foxboro Faithful - a term I use very loosely - started to file out of Gillette Stadium, unwilling to stick around and watch New Orleans ice it and hoping to get a head start on the Route 1 traffic.
Those of us who remained in the stadium saw a Khiry Robinson run for two yards, followed by a quick timeout. Pierre Thomas could only get one on the following play to bring the clock to a stop at the two minute warning, which meant Brees faced a 3rd and 7 upon the return from commercial break. If New England could get a stop, they would be able to give Brady the ball back with a little over a minute to play.
Brees lined up under center to start, with fullback Jed Collins and Pierre Thomas in the backfield. New Orleans was in a 2 TE set with Colston lined up close in the slot, and so all signs pointed to a run. At the snap, the entire line moved to the right, and Brees motioned for a handoff to Thomas. However, he pulled it at the last second and took of for what looked to be a naked bootleg around the left side. Chandler Jones, however, wasn't fooled, as he chased Brees down in the backfield and swatted his legs out from under him for an absolutely monster sack. The Saints would have to punt, and the Patriots got the ball back at their own 30 with 1:13 to play.
Which, in Bradyspeak, translates into an eternity.
Brady's first pass was a 23 yard bullet to Julian Edelman to push the ball over midfield. He picked up 15 more yards on the next play off of a short slant up the middle to Austin Collie, followed by a short pass to Dobson to move the ball out of bounds. On 2nd and 4 at the New Orleans 26, Brady threw an absolute bullet to Julian Edelman which would have put New England at the goal line, but Edelman couldn't come up with it. Brady went for the exact same play on 3rd and 4, but once again it fell incomplete. On 4th and 4, Brady was able to find Austin Collie on a quick out route - just like Welker used to run - for nine yards. The Patriots were able to get to the line and Brady was able to stop the clock with 10 seconds left to play. With the ball on the 17 yard line, New England had one, maybe two shots at the end zone before time expired.
The next play saw Brady remain in shotgun with Brandon Bolden lined up to his left. Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were lined up out wide with Austin Collie in the slot. Hoo-man was the offset tight end on the right side of the line. New Orleans came out with a four man front, and everyone else back at least 10 yards off the line of scrimmage; all they had to do was keep the ball out of the end zone, and the game was over. Brady called for the snap.
Each receiver on this play ran his route to perfection. Dobson ran a simple Go Route down the right sideline, which helped to draw the strong safety over to his side. Collie, who was bumped at the line, ran a delay slant over the middle, which (inexplicably) drew two defenders in his direction. Hoo-man kept his route slow as he ran up the right seam, freezing the linebacker and making his move out to the right just as Brady threw to the receiver he had zeroed in on from the start.
Kenbrell Thompkins got a great jump at the line. Jabari Greer was playing well off of him, which allowed him to get up to speed quickly and turn for the ball. The free safety, frozen by Collie's route, was late to prove support over the top, which allowed Thompkins to get behind Greer and have a step towards the end zone. Brady threw an absolutely perfect strike which sailed right over Greer's extended hand and into his receiver's, where Thompkins touched both feet down in bounds for the score.
The fans who were left at the game more than made up for those who had ducked out early as Gillette Stadium absolutely erupted. Thunderous, riotous applause. Complete strangers hugging each other and screaming at the top of their lungs. Saints fans sitting in stunned disbelief. Rob Ryan pulling his patented "who farted?" face after Tommy B yet again got the better of him. And perhaps better than all that was Thompkins, who jogged to the center of the end zone, turned to face the raucous crowd, and gave two of the most passionate, genuine, excited fist pumps you will ever see across any sport. It was the reaction of a kid who had just become the hero of the region and had just made himself known as the kind of success story that should bring tears to your eyes if you step back and look at it fully. It was the reaction of somebody who was in it for more than the paycheck, who wanted to win, and was overjoyed that he was able to come up big for his teammates. And as the rest of the Patriots came to greet him, as they celebrated his game-winning score together, the very first spark of that crazy 2013 year was born.
I have lauded ad nauseum throughout this series New England's mental toughness during this past year, and how they were always going to fight right through to the end. I harped on how it never really mattered who was out there, because while this was far from the most talented team in the league, you'd be hard pressed to find another group of guys who wanted it more than the Patriots did. Almost every Top Moment was, in some way, that toughness and teamwork on display. And in my opinion, this Kenbrell Thompkins touchdown was the moment where all of that started. It was the beginning of the us vs. the world mentality, it was the realization that this team was going to give you everything they had and more, and under no circumstances could you ever count them out. To witness a comeback win like that is one of the purest joys you can experience as a sports fan, as you have already begun the process of resigning yourself to defeat, only to have the impossible happen and cause you the incomparable thrill of unexpected victory. To have gotten that moment, against a team like the Saints, in the manner that the Patriots did it, with the hero of the day a kid who persevered and defied the kind of odds that would have left me dead in the gutter five times over before my 18th birthday, makes this not only a lock for the 2nd greatest moment of the 2013 season, but one of the greatest Patriots moments of all time.
Game highlights here.
To just watch the final drive, click here.
To see a couple of great shot from a fan's cell phone camera in the end zone, click here, here, and here. It doesn't quite capture just how crazy the stadium got in that moment, but it's pretty close.
To hear Scott Zolak add his insight, wisdom, and football knowledge to the play as he called it over the radio, click here.
To see a Tecmo Bowl recreation of this play, also called by Zolak, click here.