And here we find ourselves.
Right in the heart of the slowest time in the National Football League, right in the heart of all of this beautiful weather, and right in the heart of the 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2014. There's just something about a Top 10 anything that gives it a certain weight - we have the recently retired David Letterman to thank for that - and this year more than most sees some absolutely monster moments gracing the list as we count down towards number one.
But 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 .
16. Vince Wilfork and Jamie Collins help the Patriots lock up a 1st round bye against the New York Jets.
15. Chandler Jones blocks a Blair Walsh field goal attempt against the Minnesota Vikings to keep the momentum with the Patriots.
14. Rob Gronkowski officially returns to form as the Patriots destroy the Chicago Bears.
13. Darrelle Revis shuts down Calvin Johnson as the Patriots stomp the Lions.
12. Chris Jones finds redemption in the form of a last second blocked field goal against the New York Jets.
11. The Patriots avenge a Week 1 loss by obliterating the Dolphins to secure the AFC East.
As we enter into the Top 10, we start with one of the more exciting single plays of the entire season.
10. Julian Edelman's catch and run helps lift the Patriots over the San Diego Chargers.
The first week of December saw the Patriots travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers for the second of a two week road stand that prevented the team from spending any time in Foxboro between matchups. The week before, the Patriots dropped a close one at Green Bay to snap a seven game win streak, whereas the Chargers had just eked out a one point win against the Ravens at Baltimore. With New England 9-3 and San Diego 8-4, it was a crucial matchup for both teams that carried with it significant playoff implications and a chance to either continue or regain some momentum as the end of the season loomed. As both teams took the field, one couldn't help but notice the large number of Patriots fans in the stands, which made the game feel significantly closer to home than the team was originally used to.
The game was a defensive battle to start off, as the first quarter came to a close with nothing more than a New England field goal on the scoreboard. The second quarter, however, saw the tide start to turn San Diego's way; Philip Rivers hit Malcolm Floyd in the end zone to cap off an 11 play, 80 yard drive, and then a Brandon LaFell fumble was recovered and returned for a touchdown by Darrell Stuckey to put the Chargers up 14-3 before most of the fans had even returned from the beer stands.The Patriots were able to string 12 plays together on their next possession, but stalled out inside the five and once again had to settle for a field goal. Up until this point, the Patriots were moving the ball well, but still looked tentative and unable to really figure out the San Diego defense. If the Chargers scored another touchdown to make it 21-6, there might be too large a hole for the Patriots to escape from.
However, as they have all year, the Patriots defense stepped up when they needed to and held the Chargers to a three and out. Even better, Brandon Bolden got a great jump on the 4th down snap and was able to block the San Diego punt and give Tommy B the ball at the 25. Three plays, later, Brady hit Gronk in the end zone for a 14 yard score and New England's first touchdown of the day. The Patriots went into the half only down by one and with the ball to start the third quarter.
The third quarter was a defensive-minded fan's dream come true, as the New England San Diego exchange went as follows: 3 and out, 3 and out, 3 and out, 3 and out. The Chargers finally got a first down with about six minutes to play in the quarter - but that first down came on an absolutely garbage unnecessary roughness penalty on Brandon Browner, who cleanly lowered his shoulder and hit receiver Ladarius Green right on the pads to knock the ball loose and into Devin McCourty's hands for what should have been a pick six. Their next first down came on another questionable Pass Interference call, and the very next play saw Akeem Ayers intercept a pass intended for Keenan Allen to stall the first offensive drive of the half. The Patriots responded with another three and out, and then San Diego did more of the same. The fourth quarter began with the same score as at halftime, with the Patriots driving from their own 25.
Yet another red zone stall, and the Pats took their first lead of the game off a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. The defense held San Diego to another three and out, and New England set up at their own 31 with the chance to pad their lead and finally take control of the game.
On 1st and 10, New England came out in a double-wide, two TE set with Gronk and Hoo-man both lined up on the right side and Blount in the backfield. Edelman, who was also lined up on the right, motioned in across the line before reversing field and cutting back to the X slot. Brady, able to read man coverage from Edelman's motion, snapped the ball and, after a delayed playaction, zeroed in on Edelman, who posted towards the middle of the field. He connected with him at the New England 45 yard line after the linebackers bit hard on the playaction, and Edelman was able to break free from Brandon Flowers and Marcus Gilchrist to travel 69 yards for the score. New England 23, San Diego 14. That's the way the score would stay, as the Chargers would only generate one more first down for the rest of the game. Edelman finished the day with 141 yards on eight receptions, and the Patriots would secure yet another season with double digit wins.
Not only was the Edelman catch-and-run a great play unto itself, but it so accurately represented what made this 2014 Patriots team so great. In years past, if New England didn't come out firing offensively, the team was going to be in trouble. However, this was a season in which the defense was able to pick up the slack while the offense figured out how to best move the ball forward, and when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, being able to hold a team to just a single offensive touchdown is a huge asset. And when a big play was needed, Edelman delivered. It fired up the entire side and all but guaranteed a Patriots victory when they really needed one. It also helped to set the tone for the most important month on the NFL calendar.
Full game highlights here.