We're almost at the halfway point of our countdown of the Top 20 Patriots Moments of 2014, and as we make our way towards the Top 10, it's crazy to look back at how many moments that probably would have had a single digit next to them in years past that were forced out of the top spots for no other reason than that this season was just so insanely good. Let's take a look at 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.
The Number 11 Moment isn't so much a moment as it is an entire game - a game that generated a ton of momentum, some supreme confidence, and no small amount of satisfaction regarding some events that transpired earlier in the year.
11. The Patriots avenge a Week 1 loss by obliterating the Dolphins to secure the AFC East.
When the Dolphins came to Foxboro in Week 15 to take on the 11-3 Patriots, it seemed like the loss that opened the season was a lifetime ago. The Fins started out hot, but as they have so many times in the past, they fizzled down the stretch and traveled to Gillette at 7-6 in desperate need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. New England had just completed a two week road stretch capped off by a huge victory against the San Diego Chargers and were in position to lock up the division yet again with a win at home.
The game didn't exactly start out the way the Patriots had hoped, as Tannehill connected with Mike Wallace for 50 yards, with Malcolm Butler in coverage, on the very first play from scrimmage to put the ball at the New England 30. That was the highlight of the drive, however, as three runs for a total of four yards ended things and brought out Caleb Sturgis for the field goal attempt. Sturgis conveniently forgot that Jamie Collins is an absolute monster, as his kick was blocked right into Kyle Arrington's waiting arms and he ran the ball back for six. Despite giving up a big play early, the Patriots were quickly up 7-0. That would be the only touchdown of the quarter, as neither team could get anything going offensively until almost halfway through the second, a three yard Shane Vereen run set up by a 60 yard Duron Harmon interception return. New England seemed poised to take a big lead into halftime and set to receive the ball to start the 3rd quarter.
However, since this is a divisional game, it can't get out of hand too quickly.The Dolphins got a field goal out of their next drive, and the teams exchanged punts for a while. Just before halftime, Ryan Allen got of a weak punt which Jarvis Landry returned 32 yards to the New England 32. The Dolphins were already in field goal range with just enough time for a few shots at the end zone.
One shot it all they needed, as Tannehil hit Wallace for a beautiful one-handed grab in the end zone (with Dont'a Hightower inexplicably in coverage) that was initially ruled incomplete, but overturned after official review. What should have been a 14-3 lead was now 14-13 in just a matter of minutes.
And while that touchdown was sweet, it also represented the last points that Miami would score that day.
New England's first drive of the 3rd quarter was eight plays and 79 yards long, ending with a LeGarrette Blount three yard TD. Miami went 3 and out on their first possession of the half and gave the ball right back, where the Patriots went 47 yards on 10 plays to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Ryan Tannehil threw his second pick of the day on the very first throw of his next drive when a pass intended for Lamar Miller bounced up in the air and directly into Pat Chung's hands, where he returned it to the 27. Tommy B hit Gronk on the very next play for a TD, and suddenly it was 31-13.
Another three and out for Miami, followed by another score for New England - 47 yards on just three plays, capped off with a six yard score to Edelman. The Patriots took a 38-13 lead into the 4th quarter with the game well in hand.
Miami finally put a decent drive together to start the quarter, making it all the way down to the New England 17 before a Chandler Jones strip sack, recovered by the Dolphins, set them back 16 yards. By the time 4th and 18 came around, there was no choice but to go for it, and the pass fell incomplete. New England went down the field for another field goal to pad their lead, and from there it was just a matter of running out the clock. Miami's last possession of the day ended on the New England 23 with an 11 yard sack by Jones and Hightower, and Jonas Gray was able to close out the game from there. The team that beat the Patriots by double digits to start the season lost by four touchdowns in December, and the Patriots were once again AFC East Champions.
This game makes the list for a few reasons. One, it was a revenge game; not only did the Patriots lose to the Dolphins early, but that game kicked off the narrative that the Patriots were done and Tom Brady was finished as a quarterback. It always feels good to get redemption for losses like that. Two, it was the game that clinched the division yet again and put an exclamation point on the middle finger directed towards everyone who said the Pats will miss the playoffs this year. Three, it was a statement win: the Patriots didn't just beat the Fins, they dominated them. And four, it was a full team win in every sense of the word. The offense scored points on every single drive of the second half (minus the clock kill at the end). The defense made key stops when it needed to and generated huge turnovers to give the offense great field position. The special teams unit came up big with a field goal block and, for the most part, ensured that Miami always started a drive with a long field. To get a win like that, especially in Week 15 as the playoffs start to come into focus, is exactly the kind of thing that builds momentum and inspires confidence heading into the postseason. Just s solid victory all around that made everyone, player and fan alike, feel great.
Game highlights here.