It's okay, you can exhale now. Today, in one of the most thrilling regular season games in the 2015 NFL season, the New England Patriots defeated the New York Giants 27-26 on a game winning 54 yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to move the team to 9-0.
The Patriots overcame a 10-point second half deficit thanks to some key plays from Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola. The fourth quarter would feature three lead changes and some incredible reversals of fortune for both teams. Here are five things we learned from the win:
Patriots can win when it's close.
Without a doubt, this was the most grind it out game of the Patriots' 2015 season. The Patriots had never trailed by more than seven in a game, and trailed by ten to the Giants late in the third quarter of this one.
After taking a 24-23 lead on a 76-yard Rob Gronkowski catch and run for a touchdown, the Patriots looked poised to extend the lead. Tom Brady completed a rainbow down the left sideline to a streaking Brandon LaFell for 54 yards to put the Patriots in the red zone. The Patriots would seemingly score a touchdown on a LeGarrette Blount end-around, but David Andrews was called for a hold to bring the score back. Tom Brady would make a rare mistake a couple of plays later, throwing an interception on a ball that was behind LaFell.
The Giants would then march about 90 yards down the field and score a touchdown on a Manning to Beckham end zone fade. However, Malcolm Butler would do his best Sterling Moore imitation and knocked the ball from Beckham just as his second foot landed.
New York would then settle for a field goal to take a two point lead. With more time to get than any of the prior three match-ups, Tom Brady would drive the Patriots for the winning field goal despite some early setbacks in the drive. Gostkowski hit one of the biggest kicks of his career, but more on that later.
The win was unlike any other the Patriots had this year, with the team essentially winning in a walk off. It was by far the closest game of the year for the team, and it was an important step in developing the squad's ability to win in back-against-the-wall situations. And yes, it felt pretty damn good because this was the Giants they defeated in such a fashion.
Prior to this game, the closest margin of victory for the Patriots was seven points. However, in those instances, the games were only within a score due to garbage time touchdowns.
Stephen Gostkowski is awesome, and clutch.
Stephen Gostkowski has yet to miss a kick this season. He's hit more than 80% of his kicks from beyond 50 yards in his career. His 54 yard game-winner tonight was another kick of beauty. His winning field goal was also the 264th of his career, moving him past Adam Vinatieri for the most in team history. We already knew Stephen Gostkowski was awesome. Tonight just proved that he is the best in the world at what he does.
Brady makes some rare mistakes, then comes through.
For a moment, it seemed as if this game was over. On the opening play of the Patriots' winning drive, Brady lofted a throw deep down the field to Aaron Dobson, only to come up short. The pass was seemingly intercepted by Giants safety Landon Collins. However, the ball popped free as Collins hit the ground. Given a second chance, Brady would complete a 4th and 10 to Danny Amendola to keep the Patriots alive. He would then complete four of six passes to set the Patriots up for the winning kick. Brady was not always at his best today, but he delivered some huge downfield throws in the second half, and showed great resilience despite some uncharacteristic fourth quarter mistakes.
The Patriots injuries have finally caught up with them.
The Patriots got off to a hot start in this game, then lost momentum after Julian Edelman went down with a left foot injury on the final play of the first quarter. The Patriots offense would completely stall for nearly two quarters until a huge punt return by Danny Amendola would give the team a spark. It seemed as if the Edelman injury was the tipping point for this team. The Patriots did not have the time to let plays develop, and were forced to focus solely on the quick passing game or the play-action pass. When they tried to let longer routes develop, we saw big mistakes such as the Tom Brady strip sack in the second half. You have to wonder how much longer the Patriots can keep the momentum going with a makeshift offensive line and ailing skill position players. For now, the important thing is that the Patriots did survive and get the win. Hopefully they will return at least one of Sebastian Vollmer or Marcus Cannon next week.
Malcolm Butler is becoming a shutdown cornerback.
On the second play from scrimmage for the Giants, Eli Manning would hook up with Odell Beckham Jr. for an 87-yard touchdown. Malcolm Butler was beat on the play, but was also taken out after the catch due to a poor angle from Devin McCourty. That would be the only mistake that Butler would make all day. From that point on, he was constantly smothering the elite second year wideout. Beckham Jr. would snag a couple of tough short passes, but that was it. As previously described, Butler's endzone break-up of what was seemingly the winning touchdown by Beckham Jr. was one of the great clutch plays of the game. The Patriots lost their shutdown cornerback in Darrelle Revis this offseason. Butler isn't in the same league as Revis yet, but days like today show that he is trending in that direction.