When you're kicking off a list like this - especially a list like this in which you're recapping a year like the New England Patriots just had - it's important not to get too overzealous. It would be incredibly easy to just round up a handful of amazing plays, slap some window dressing on them, and march them up here as a package of the ultimate Pats highlights. And while something like that would certainly be fun, it wouldn't serve the true purpose of this series: to not just relive some great Patriots moments, but provide an overall sense of the tone, tenor, and vibe of the season as a whole. Ideally, when the Number One moment eventually makes its way to the front page this summer, we'll all be able to look back at the 2014 campaign and, in an instant, be able to relive the whole thing. A tall order, and one I'm not really qualified for - but I always say if you're going to fail, you may as well fail spectacularly.
So with that in mind, I think it makes the most sense to simply begin at the beginning. This season was unique not only in how it ended, but how it began; for the first time since...well, for the first time since Tim Tebow, but that really didn't count...Patriots fans everywhere had a solid reason to watch - and enjoy - a quarterback throwing passes in August.
20. Jimmy Garoppolo wins a job - and our hearts - with a spectacular preseason.
Nobody ever knows what the Patriots are going to do in the NFL Draft. We all speculate and theorize, but at the end of the day we have absolutely zero clue and are almost always both proven wrong and left scratching our heads a bit. This little tidbit perhaps rang truer than it ever has this past April, when New England used its first round pick on a defensive lineman with two broken knees and its second on a quarterback from Eastern Illinois that nobody had ever heard of. The Patriots needed help at tight end, receiver, and along the offensive line, and so they went out and grabbed a D-Lineman and a QB. Par for the course for Bill Belichick.
As the spring bled into summer and training camp began, initial reports on Jimmy Garoppolo were bleak. He was slow to release. He couldn't diagnose coverages. He was inaccurate. He looked lost out there. Basically, if Tommy B ever went down, there was absolutely no way that Garoppolo would be coming in any time soon. Jimmy G was a distant, distant third to Brady and his backup Ryan Mallett - a position that seemed all but etched in stone all the way through July and into the first game of the preseason, a matchup against the Washington Redskins on August 7th.
The preseason is bad enough as it is, but when your star quarterback and the rest of the starters don't even dress, it's borderline unwatchable. Still, everyone was just so starved for football at that point that we all tuned in anyway to watch the epic battle between Ryan Mallett and Skins backup Kirk Cousins. Mallett played the entire first half, and as he has done every preseason since he was drafted, he underwhelmed, going 5 of 12 for 55 yards and zero touchdowns. New England was shut out in the first half completely and only managed to generate four first downs. The Redskins didn't look much better, but at least they were able to move the ball.
The second half saw Garoppolo take his first ever NFL snap, an incomplete pass to Justin Jones. His second snap was a quick slant to Josh Boyce for seven yards. And from there, it was off to the races. Quick scrambles for positive yards. Avoiding sacks. Drawing players offsides. Granted, it was backups playing backups at this point, but there was just an energy surrounding this kid that nobody in Patriots Nation had seen for some time. Garappolo's first drive ended in a turnover on downs, but that was alright; he had shown his stuff.
Jimmy G's next drive opened with a 14 yard gain to Brian Tyms.Two plays later, he hit Tyms again, in stride, for 53. Almost 70 yards on two plays. A Stephen Houston fumble killed the drive, but hey...maybe Belichick was onto something with this Garoppolo guy. Jimmy G would finish the day 9 of 13 for 157 yards and one TD, a TD in which he once again hit Tyms perfectly in stride for the score. The Patriots lost, 23-6, and yet it didn't really feel like a loss - even by preseason standards. For the first time in forever, there was some genuine excitement surrounding a few meaningless games in the middle of summer.
Garoppolo would get some time the following week against the Eagles, in which he went 6 of 12 for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Not only did he continue to impress, but he was also the first quarterback off the bench, hinting that he had already usurped Mallett for the QB2 spot. And it was the right call, too; Garoppolo just looked like the better, more confident player out there. His day against the Panthers in Week 3, the ever-so-important tuneup game, was 9 of 12 for 105 yards and a TD (Mallett was a whopping two out of three for 14 yards), and it would seem that the Patriots suddenly had their first QB controversy since 2001. By the time the final preseason game came around - one in which Garoppolo passed for 284 yards with 1 TD and 1 pick, the depth chart was all but established. Jimmy G would finish the preseason wit 618 yards on 79 attempts with 5 TDs which aren't the most eye-popping stats in the world, but it was more the manner in which he played and the excitement he brought to the table that made him such a standout. Plus, Garoppolo should have had six TDs, as he hit Brian Tyms in the end zone from 40 yards out against Washington for what may have been the single best throw and catch of the entire 2014 season to Brian Tyms that was ultimately called an incompletion and not challenged by Belichick because who cares. Before the preseason wrapped up, Garoppolo would firmly entrench himself as Tommy B's backup, and Ryan Mallett was on his way to the Texans.
It's very rare that events that happen in the preseason makes a Top 20 List, but it's important to remember just how exciting Jimmy G was to watch and the kind of atmosphere he created around New England this past summer. In a season already receiving all kind of hype, Garoppolo ramped it all up even more and made Pats fans excited for the future. John Madden always said that the worst time to look for a quarterback is when you need one, and with the drafting of Jimmy G Bill Belichick once again proved why he's the best coach in the NFL. In a crazy way, Garoppolo's preseason set the tone for the entire rest of the year; it may not have mattered what he did on the field, but he was a kid who came in, took advantage of every chance he was given, and did his job. Given recent events, it's very easy to forget the buzz around New England surrounding Jimmy Garoppolo and how excited we all were to see him in action; it's also easy to forget how pumped Jimmy G all got us for that first game in September. It was the first hint of excitement in what was to become the most exciting season in recent memory. And because of that, I feel very comfortable having him get this list rolling.
We'll be getting into the actual season for the rest of this list, I promise - but I wanted to give Garoppolo the nod for making all of our Augusts just a little more bearable.