We're closing out the last full week before Free Agency begins by continuing our offseason countdown of the 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2014. There will be much to discuss over the next few days, so I figured I may as well get one in now before things really start to ramp up.
But first, the list so far:
20. Jimmy Garoppolo wins a job - and our hearts - with a spectacular preseason.
19. Brandon LaFell officially arrives in a Week 6 contest against the Buffalo Bills.
We're going to flip the script a bit for number 18, as technically this was far from a top moment; in fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's the lowest point the Patriots have experienced so far this century.
18. The Patriots get embarrassed on national television with a 41-14 beatdown at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
To say that the Patriots team that traveled to Kansas City for a Monday night showdown against the Chiefs were something of a mixed bag would be an insult to mixed bags; while they were sitting at 2-1, they had been thoroughly handled by the Dolphins in their season opener and had just the week before barely squeaked out a win at home against the lowly Raiders. They looked dominant against the Vikings, but it was a Vikings team led by Matt Cassel and right in the middle of the Adrian Peterson scandal. The general consensus was that the week four game against KC would be a good litmus test for whether or not the 2014 Patriots had any legs; the Chiefs were 1-2, one of their losses a one score game in Denver at the hands of the Broncos. They had also just throttled the Dolphins team that beat New England by double digits earlier in September to the tune of 34-15. Furthermore, the Chiefs were hosting their first Monday night game in some time, and Arrowhead Stadium was absolutely frenzied. If the Pats could come in here and pull out a win, then they were still the team to beat in the AFC.
Right from the opening kickoff, absolutely nothing went right for the Patriots. KC's first drive stalled, but the Patriots immediately went 3 and out. Alex Smith went 63 yards in 11 plays on the next possession, which ended with a Jamaal Charles touchdown run. Another quick punt from New England, and then the Chiefs were able to score again - this time on a three play, 86 yard drive in which the Chiefs were able to gain 81 of those yards on back-to-back passes. KC took a 17-0 lead into halftime, and the Patriots had only generated five first downs.
In what was becoming something of a pattern for this game, New England took the opening possession of the third quarter exactly one yard before punting again. It would turn out to be one of their more productive possessions of the half, as the next time Tommy B got the ball he was strip sacked by Tamba Hali, which the Chiefs recovered at the NE 10. Two plays later, Jamaal Charles was in the end zone again and it was 24-0. New England got the ball back, and had it all of two plays before a Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman was intercepted by Sean Smith and returned 34 yards to the Patriot 13. Three points later, it was 27-0.
New England finally got on the board with their next possession when Brady hit LaFell on a 44 yard slant that was more a blown coverage and bad safety read than anything else, but by that point, the game was already well out of hand. And just in case there was any doubt, Alex Smith engineered a 12 play, 80 scoring drive immediately following the LaFell touchdown. KC would add to their already insurmountable lead when New England's next possession resulted in a pick six. Chiefs 41, Patriots 7.
Brady's night was over. He walked to the bench, took off his helmet, and sat down, the only player within a 20 yard radius. ESPN did a phenomenal job spending equal amounts of time between the game still going on and Tom Brady on the sideline, staring off into space, trying to figure out what just happened. Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico took turns in the announcer booth making various comments about how this New England team was in a lot of trouble and they have a lot of work to do if they're going to have a chance to go anywhere this season.
To make matters worse, Jimmy Garoppolo came in and drove the offense 81 yards in three minutes for a Rob Gronkowski touchdown. Garoppolo looked decisive. He looked confident. He made good reads. He extended the play. He moved the offense where Brady couldn't. Those who were still watching the game all began salivating at the media headlines already writing themselves. New England may have a QB controversy on their hands. The Tom Brady Era might finally be over.
When the final whistle mercifully blew, the Patriots skulked into the locker room, and the media analysts teed off. Trent Dilfer flat out said "they're not good anymore", and there were many who agreed. Bill Belichick, in the post-game press conference, gave his own version of laughing hysterically when he was asked if maybe it was time for a quarterback change. Chris Collinsworth, Ray Lewis, and Marshall Faulk all threw a huge party over how bad the Pats looked. Borges and Shank couldn't get their laptops open for glee over what they were about to write. The Patriots were 2-2, they could just as easily be 1-3, and it was time to stick a fork in Belichick and Brady.
Why on earth would I want to relive this game? And what's more, what am I thinking including it as one of the 20 best Patriots moments of 2014?
Because this is the game that started it all.
It was this game that galvanized the team. It was this game that caused the Patriots to circle the wagons. It was at Kansas City when every last man inside that New England locker room took a long, hard look at himself and said "never again." The result of this game caused most of the sporting world, including many who proclaimed themselves to be Patriots fans, to turn their backs on Tom Brady. To call for his head. To wish him out of the starting role. Sure, there were still a few nutjobs who claimed that the Patriots will be fine, but they were mostly dismissed as homers who couldn't see the forest for the trees. For the most part, the despondence and vitriol aimed at Brady was acidic and prevalent. And while they say they don't pay attention to the media, every last man in that locker room heard what people had to say about their leader, and every last man made a vow that there were going to be a lot of people eating their words before this season is out.
I have no way of ever proving this, but in my opinion, the Patriots don't win the Super Bowl if this game didn't unfold exactly the way that it did. If they had squeaked out a win, or only lost by a few points, then their whole season would have gone differently. They could have rationalized a close win or a close loss. They could have kept thinking that they needed to just keep doing what they were doing. But to be beaten so badly, on national television as well, served as the rallying cry that would take the Patriots all the way through to the end of the season and into immortality. They were stomped on, plain and simple. And rather than stay down, they rose, wiped the blood from their chin, joined hands, and charged headlong into the fray, anyone else but the 53 men on that team be damned. That's what champions do, and that's how champions act. The Patriots needed this loss more than they ever knew, and they were able to take the sting of national embarrassment and media venom and turn it into excellence. And because of that, you're damn right this makes my Top 20. The only reason I didn't rank it higher is because of just how low we all felt that chilly Monday night at the end of September. It wasn't an enjoyable time when it was actually happening, but being able to look back on it now, knowing what transpired after, it just makes me love this team all that much more.
We're only three moments into this list, and I'm already emotionally spent. I don't know how I'm going to get all the way through.