It's amazing how things somehow work out timing-wise, in ways you never thought possible. As we get back into the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2014 now that Free Agency has died down a bit, we once again find the Number 16 Moment aligning with some recent news on the Players of Patriot Lore Front. I sat down to make this list shortly after the 2014 season ended, and never would I have imagined that back-to-back moments would relate to the departure of two key players in last year's campaign. And while the loss of Darrelle Revis hurt, it was nowhere near as meaningful as the loss of the man who played a huge role in making this moment happen.
First, the list so far:
20. wins a job - and our hearts - with a spectacular preseason.
19. officially arrives in a Week 6 contest against the .
18. The get embarrassed on national television with a 41-14 beatdown at the hands of the .
17. The Patriots sign .
While it won't be the last by any stretch, the Number 16 Patriots Moment serves as a fitting tribute to one of the all-time greats.
16. Vince Wilfork and Jamie Collins help the Patriots lock up a 1st round bye against the New York Jets.
In the earlier part of the 21st Century, a Patriots/Jets matchup had about as much firepower as a t shirt gun at a pee wee hockey game. The Pats were the best team in the NFL, and the Jets were...well, the Jets. When the schedule came out in April, it was more a matter of the other 14 games the Patriots would be playing, as a season sweep of New York was more or less a certainty. As of late, however, the Jets have given New England all that they could handle, things like records, ability, skill, awareness, and probability be damned. And perhaps that was never more true than during Week 16 of the 2014 season, when the 11-3 Patriots traveled to New
York Jersey to take on the 3-11 Jets for what was a battle for firsts - a first round playoff bye for New England, and the first overall pick in the draft for New York. A win would not only secure the Patriots yet another AFC East title, but it would ensure they couldn't finish the regular season as less than a two seed, giving them that much needed extra week of rest. The Jets had nothing to play for, were actually better off losing, and just couldn't hang with the Pats in any capacity or in any phase of the game.
Of course, none of that mattered, as the Jets brought everything they had to the game and were able to hold New England to a meager 17 points. Not only that, but New England remained scoreless for the entire first quarter and went into the half with three 3 and outs on five possessions and a 10-7 deficit. New York was once again controlling the ball on the ground, managing Geno Smith with short, high percentage passes, and keeping Tom Brady off the field. Absolutely nothing was working. Jonas Gray carried the ball six times for a total of five yards. Tommy B had barely eclipsed the 100 yard mark for passing. Nobody could get open. The offensive line seemed to revert back to early-season form. Jets fans everywhere were whooping it up, knowing that this game was more or less their Super Bowl.
The Patriots were finally able to get something going late in the 3rd quarter as Brady was able to put together a 13 play, 81 yard drive that took the Patriots down to the 6 yard line. However, they couldn't punch it in, and had to settle for a Gostkowski field goal to bring the score to 13-10 Jets. New York would get the ball back with just under two minutes left to play in the 3rd, and if they could generate a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession, absolutely nothing the Patriots had shown offensively indicated that they would be able to erase a 10 point lead. Getting a stop was absolutely crucial.
A kickoff into the end zone gave the Jets the ball on their own 20, and the drive opened with a Chris Johnson run for no gain. New York came out in the same formation on 2nd and 10, a single back set with tight end Jace Amaro close to the line for what was disguised to look like a Johnson off-tackle run. Geno Smith sold the playaction, but Vince Wilfork completely dominated a double team, allowing Chandler Jones single coverage against D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Jones ripped inside Ferguson and plowed his way into the backfield just as Amaro started to break out of his route. Smith was hit as he threw, resulting in an underthrown pass, which Jamie Collins was able to haul in to give the Pats the ball at the Jets 38 yard line. Brady was able to capitalize on the drive, as a combination of passes to Brandon LaFell and a mean looking 10 yard scramble from Tommy B set the Patriots up with first and goal at the 2 yard line, which Gray was able to punch in for the score. Patriots 17, Jets 13.
In years past that would have been pretty much it, but the Jets were not about to go quietly this time. Smith was able to bring the Jets within a single point when he drove them down to the New England 19 on the very next drive, and suddenly, the Patriots were in desperate need of some ball control. What they got instead was a Tom Brady interception after just 35 seconds of possession when a pass intended for LaFell was picked off by Marcus Williams at the New England 30. All of the sudden, the Jets were in field goal range with less than eight minutes to play and the chance to regain the lead.
The first play from scrimmage was a four yard Johnson run to put the ball at the 26. John Connor picked up two more on the next play to set up 3rd and 4 at the 24 yard line. A first down would put the Jets into the red zone, eat up precious minutes, and all but guarantee a New York lead very late in the game.
The Jets came out of the huddle in shotgun, with New England showing an under zone. At the snap, Wilfork once again got a huge push, occupied two blockers, and Dont'a Hightower crashed the line behind him. He dropped Geno for a 10 yard loss, setting up 4th and 14 at the 34. A very makeable field goal suddenly became a much less makeable 52 yarder as the clock continued to run. However, Nick Folk is one of the more accurate kickers in the league, with a strong leg, and his home kicking percentage was solid. So while 52 yards wasn't automatic, there was plenty of reason for optimism if you were a Jets fan.
The Jets lined up for the field goal, and the Patriots had their blocking unit in. At the snap, Vince Wilfork got an excellent first step and penetration before getting his massive arms up in the air. He was able to get a tip on it as Folk was forced to lower his trajectory to compensate for the added distance, and the ball fell wide and short. New England retained the lead, and had the ball, which they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. A mix of run and pass (not the least of which was a clutch Danny Amendola 7 yard reception on 3rd and 7 to keep the clock and the chains moving) followed by 17 yard run by Brandon Bolden on 3rd and 1 with less than two minutes to play allowed Tommy B to kneel on the ball and escape with the W. At 12-3 the worst the Patriots could finish in the AFC was as the two seed, thus locking up both the AFC East and a first round bye in one fell swoop, not to mention the season sweep of the Jets. Later on in the evening, the Bengals would defeat the Broncos to clinch the 1 seed for New England, making Week 16 one of the better ones for Patriots fans everywhere.
What a classic example of just how much Big Vince meant to this team. While he was only directly involved in one huge, momentum swinging play, he was the crucial element in all of the others and allowed his teammates to make huge plays to secure the win. If Wilfork hadn't drawn the double team, Jones wouldn't have been able to pressure Geno for the Collins pick. If he hadn't crashed the line in front of Hightower, the Jets probably make that kick, and possibly win the game. The Patriots may have had to play Buffalo for real the following week, and who knows what would have happened had that been the case. But, as always, Vince came through when it mattered, excelled the play of everyone around him, and sent the Patriots to the postseason.
Check out full game highlights here.