If you're anything like me, you absolutely can't wait for Shark Week on The Discovery Channel. For the most part, my TV watching experience consists of sports, Seinfeld reruns, and...well, that's pretty much it, but I'll always make time for Shark Week. There's just something about watching those monsters absolutely shred everything in their path that riles me right up.
And speaking of superior predators tearing apart weaker prey... I can absolutely swear on all things Tebow that it's sheer coincidence, and nothing more, that has caused Shark Week to coincide with the stretch on the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2014 dedicated entirely to the Indianapolis Colts.
Welcome to Colts Month.
The Pats played the Colts twice last year, winning by a combined score of 87-27, in games jam-packed with almost as many great moments as there were points. Believe it or not, when I first sat down to hammer out this list, I had zero intention of bunching all of these plays together like this, but that's just the way things shook out. So we may as well get right to it.
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.
18. The Patriots get embarrassed on national television with a 41-14 beatdown at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
17. The Patriots sign Darrelle Revis.
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.
10. Julian Edelman's catch and run helps lift the Patriots over the San Diego Chargers.
9. Danny Amendola hauls in a 19 yard touchdown catch on 3rd and goal against the Jets to secure a lead.
The number 8 moment introduces us to a player that nobody had heard of before Week 11...and nobody has heard of since.
8. Jonas Gray rushes for 200+ yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts.
New England traveled to Indianapolis for a Sunday night game coming off a bye week and an absolutely monster victory in Week 9 over the Denver Broncos. Indy, also coming off a bye, beat the Giants in Week 9 and were looking to make a home statement game against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs the year before. Pitted as a potential AFC Championship Preview, it was a battle between the old guard and the new, Tom Brady against Andrew Luck.
Quarterbacks, however, most certainly did not dominate the narrative.
After a quick three and out from Indy, New England started their opening drive from their own 11. The drive went 89 yards on 11 plays, mainly through the air, but three plays stood out: practice-squad callup turned starter Jonas Gray received just four touches on that first drive, where he gained 7 yards, 7 yards, 16 yards, and ran for a four yard score to put the Patriots up 7-0. Nobody had seen a whisper of this guy since the preseason, but here he was gaining ground in large chunks. Indy was able to answer back with a field goal, and then New England's next drive was short-circuited when a deep pass intended for Brian Tyms (remember him) was intercepted at the Indy six. Not a great possession, but another number stood out: a 20 yard scamper from Gray, his only touch of the drive.
It doesn't take a genius to see that the ground game, Gray specifically, was working. But since Bill Belichick is a genius, he made the adjustment right away. After the Colts punted, New England went heavy in their formation, and after a short pass to Edelman, it was all Gray. 6 yards. Then 14 more. Another three yards. The drive ultimately stalled on some incompletions, but Gray remained more or less unstoppable. His second TD of the day came with just under five minutes to play in the first half, a barreling run up the middle for two yards and the score to put the Patriots up 14-3. It was a lead that New England would have taken with them into the locker room had Tommy B made an absolutely awful decision accompanied by an even worse throw as he basically hucked it up there in the general direction of Rob Gronkowski, only to be intercepted by Mike Adams, his second of the day. Given the short field, Luck hit Hakim Nicks in the end zone to cut the lead to just four.
Now I can only speculate how the halftime speech went in the New England locker room, but I think it went something like this:
"OK, nuts to the rest of the gameplan. Let's just get an extra lineman in there and give it to Jonas."
Because that's exactly what they did.
After a few quick passes, one of which went to Shane Vereen for 39 yards, the Patriots' playcalling for the rest of their first drive of the 3rd quarter went as follows:
- Cameron Fleming reported in as eligible. J.Gray right tackle to IND 13 for 14 yards.
- Cameron Fleming reported in as eligible. J.Gray left guard to IND 8 for 5 yards.
- Cameron Fleming reported in as eligible. J.Gray right tackle to IND 4 for 4 yards.
- Cameron Fleming reported in as eligible. J.Gray right tackle to IND 2 for 2 yards.
By this point, the Colts had literally every large man they had stacked up on the line as New England came out for first and goal. Tommy B sold the playaction, everybody, including the camera guys, bit on it, and he hit a wide open Tim Wright in the end zone. 21-13.
The Colts stalled again, settling for a field goal, and then it was right back to work with Gray. 5 yards here. 4 more yards there. A few playactions to LaFell and Edelman to keep the defense from completely selling out. 5 more yards from Gray, then another 6. Cameron Fleming eligible once again, and into the endzone Gray went on a two yard dive for his third TD of the evening. The score was 28-13, the Pats were dominating possession, and the game looked well in hand.
The Colts were able to score on the next possession to bring it to a 1 TD game, but at that point nobody had any confidence that they would be able to stop New England's offense. The running game was so effective that the Colts had no choice but to bite on every single playaction, allowing receivers to roam free everywhere. When Gray wasn't gaining 7 or 8 yards at a clip, LaFell was hauling in 27 yard strikes and Gronk was wreaking havoc over the middle. Tommy B took the offense 80 yards on 10 plays, ending in Gray's final TD of the day, another 2 yard bulldozing run that saw two instances of major pwnage - the entire Indy defensive line, and Sergio Brown trying to hold his block on Gronk. Of those 80 yards, Gray gained 43, including the facemask he drew as defenders tried desperately to stop him. At 35-20, the game was well out of hand at this point, and it was just a matter of running out the clock - something else Gray did extremely well. The Patriots would finish with one more touchdown, a 26 yard Gronk catch-and-run, and the final score read 42-20 as the whistle blew. Jonas Gray finished the game with 201 yards on 37 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per run, to go along with his four scores.
A few things caused such a high ranking here. One, it was an absolutely dominant, will-imposing, foot-on-the-throat, slap you around win that can give a team all sorts of confidence heading into the most important stretch of the regular season calendar. Two, it illustrated New England's offensive versatility; win through the air one week, win on the ground the next. Three, it was a road victory against the team, and the quarterback, who had many convinced that they were the next big thing in the AFC and were in prime position to dethrone the kings - a win like that definitely feels sweet. And fourth, it was a classic example of a brilliant coach getting the most out of an NFL journeyman, recognizing strength and mismatches, and exemplifying the phrase "next man up." Jonas Gray would go on to make the cover of Sports Illustrated that week, set the fantasy waiver wire aflame, and was heralded as the next big thing.
Of course, he was late for practice the next week and more or less never gained another yard for the rest of the year, but man did he shine when the opportunity arose. Few things are more enjoyable than watching the underdog succeed, and Jonas Gray's night at Indianapolis was definitely a feel-good story. For that, it absolutely belongs at the number 8 spot.
Game highlights here.
To watch just the Jonas Gray highlights as he rumbled his way into the spotlight, click here.