Happy new year, everybody! 2015 is almost in the rear-view mirror and with ten more hours remaining this year (at least on the East Coast), it is now the perfect time to look back and reflect upon it. And what a year it has been, especially for the New England Patriots and their fans.
Therefore, without further ado, we present our reflection of the top 15 of 15: the most memorable Patriots storylines of the year.
The Patriots Beat the Baltimore Ravens in One of the Most Thrilling Playoff Games in Recent Memory
When it comes to competing in the playoffs, the Patriots and Ravens are familiar foes. Their meeting in the 2014 AFC Divisional round was the fourth postseason meeting of the two teams - and arguably the most thrilling one. The game had it all: great drama, great atmosphere, great plays (Edelman-to-Amendola, anyone?). In the end, New England, after coming back from two 14-point deficits, advanced with a 35-31 victory.
New England Deflates the Indianapolis Colts 45-7
"It was not the same general approach, it was the same approach." -offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo when talking about the two games against the Colts in the 2014 season. The approach was running the ball through Indianapolis' porous defense. It worked perfectly during the AFC Championship Game, as the Patriots dominated in all facets of the game to advance to their eighth Super Bowl.
Deflategate or How I Learned to Disregard Science and Become Commissioner of the NFL
The Patriots dominating his team in recent years left a sour taste in Colts general manager Ryan Grigson's mouth. This led to accusing New England of tampering with the air pressure inside the footballs, which led to a $5 million investigation, which led to the NFL harshly punishing the Patriots and Tom Brady, which led to court dates and finally Brady beating the NFL in early September. All because the NFL was unable to handle Grigson's complaint - which was founded in a never-proven rumor - professionally and instead decided to kick off an avalanche of accusations, misinformation and faulty science.
New England 28, Seattle 24: Super Bowl XLIX
The Patriots should have crumbled under the weight of the outside noise. Under the weight of Chris Matthews catching long ball after long ball. Under the weight of two Brady interceptions. Instead, they kept on fighting and came back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to take a four-point lead with two minutes to go. Tom Brady had a quarter for the ages while the defense stifled the Seahawks' offense. However, it didn't seem to matter when Jermaine Kearse made a miraculous catch to put Seattle into striking distance. Yet, two plays later - Malcolm, go! - an undrafted rookie made the play of his life and intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line to give the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl title. The Butler did it.
The Boys are Back in Town, and They're Arriving in Duck Boats
Snow, thousands of people and a victorious football team parading through the streets of Boston: a recipe for a good time. New England - the team and the geographical area - had just that after Super Bowl XLIX, despite the recent snowpocalypse. After all, Bill Belichick's good mood is just too contagious.
The Great Cornerback Exodus of '15
A major reason for the Patriots' world championship was the stellar play of its cornerbacks, led by Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Yet, the team decided to let both walk in free agency, together with quality back-ups Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard. In retrospect, the moves paid off, but at the time they were questioned almost universally - despite "In Bill We Trust" being the unofficial motto of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Goodbye, Sweet Vince
Ever since he arrived in 2004, Vince Wilfork was the ultimate Patriot: a difference-maker both on and off the field. However, with a hefty bonus coming his way, New England decided to part ways with the veteran, who signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent. The sides parted on good terms and Wilfork was present during the championship rin presentation in Boston.
The Patriots Steal Malcom Brown
Being Super Bowl champion has one - and only one - negative: the team has to pick last in every round of the draft. Usually, this means that only lower rated prospects are available but 2015 was different because the one team that could have used a talented, highly rated defensive tackle opted to pick a wide receiver. Instead of going to Indianapolis, Malcom Brown went to New England and has been an integral member of one of the league's best defenses ever since.
Malcolm Butler Arrives Late to OTAs
In late May, New England began preparing for its 2015 season with its first round of voluntary Organized Team Activities. Not on the field: Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, whose flight to Boston was cancelled. Coach Belichick disciplined the cornerback via holding him out the first few sessions. When Butler returned it became clear that he didn't wanted to be known for just one play - and that letting Revis and Browner walk would not mean the downfall of New England's secondary.
Robert Kraft Invites His Team to His Home to Give Out the Biggest Super Bowl Rings Ever Made
Tom Brady received his fourth one. Vince Wilfork his second. The two veterans were the longest-tenured Patriots and the only ones left from the glory days of the early dynasty. Still, none of their previous championship rings was as big as the ones they received in June as members of the 2014 squad. 205 diamonds to go along with two engraved slogans: "Do Your Job" and "We Are All Patriots".
A Banner and a Celebration: 2015 Opening Day
New England opened its season on national television and with a spectacle to celebrate its fourth Lombardi Trophy. Patriots Hall of Famers Ty Law, Troy Brown and recently enshrined Willie McGinest alongside Robert Kraft were all part of the off-field show built around the unveiling of the newest championship banner. The on-field show saw Tom Brady play near-flawless football - Deflategate be damned - and the Patriots beat the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21.
The Dion Lewis Saga
The receiving running back role has always been important in Foxboro. Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen have ably carried the 3rd down torch. However, with Vereen gone via free agency, no clear-cut successor was in sight. Enter Dion Lewis. After being out of football the last two years, Lewis emerged not only as the feel-good story of the year but also as one of the most electrifying running backs in the league. Unfortunately, Lewis' season was cut short due to injury. Knowing his resiliency, however, he has what it takes to fight his way back.
Special Teams Look Far From Special
If there is one thing New England can normally count on, it is stout special teams play. However, during the middle portion of the 2015 season, the unit was unable to live up to its historic standards. The Patriots lost a punt return fumble in four consecutive games and coach Joe Judge's unit was a key culprit during the team's week 13 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles, giving up touchdowns on both a blocked punt and a punt return. Not all is bad, though, as kicker Stephen Gostkowski is having another stellar campaign.
The Injury Bug Keeps Biting the Patriots
As New England kept piling up wins in 2015, injuries also kept piling up. Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Ryan Wendell, LeGarrette Blount and Dominique Easley were all lost for the season as various other key contributors have missed time. However, those who are not on injured reserve are scheduled to return for the playoffs and make an already very good team even better.
New England Still Runs the AFC East
As usual, prior to the season, one question was asked around the division: is this the year the Patriots' reign comes to an end? After all, New England has lost valuable members of its 2014 team, while the Bills, Dolphins and Jets have been big players in free agency. Alas, games are not won in spring, as all those teams once again had to learn in 2015. The Patriots have won another division title and, as opposed to at least two thirds of their AFC East rivals, look poised for another deep playoff run.
We are on to 2016.
Happy new year.