We have finally reached the Top 3 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2014. Were this an Olympic Sport, we'd officially be on the medal stand right now. Granted, this is America, which means we would have dismissed and belittled the notion of a bronze medal, but to the rest of the rational world, being the third best at anything isn't too shabby.
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.
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.
8. Jonas Gray rushes for 200+ yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts.
7. LeGarrette Blount goes off - again - against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
6. Nate Solder rumbles into the end zone off a playaction pass against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game.
5. Rob Gronkowski bowls over the entire Colts defense on his way to the end zone and a 42-20 rout.
4. A spectacular one-handed catch caps off a 43-21 beatdown of the Denver Broncos.
At number three, we have not only an amazing Patriots moment, but what would go on to become a catch phrase for the entire league.
3. We're on to Cincinnati.
When the Patriots got absolutely demolished by the Kansas City Chiefs in front of the entire country during a Monday Night showdown, the general consensus was that they were done. A loss to Miami, a feeble victory against the Raiders, and this most recent smackdown led virtually every analyst in the country to officially write the Patriots off and ring in the end of the dynasty.
To make matters worse, Tom Brady's absolute nightmare of a game was staunchly juxtaposed with Jimmy Garoppolo, who came in for New England after the game was well out of hand and did what Brady could not: he moved the ball well, provided a spark to the offense, and hit Gronk in the end zone for a touchdown. So not only were the Patriots officially done, but we may have all just witnessed the end of the Tom Brady era as well.
Cut to later that week. After several days of nothing but negative attention, gloomy prognostications, and predictions as to when exactly Brady would be swapped out for Garoppolo for good, Bill Belichick took the podium for what is hands down the most enjoyable part of his week: his weekly press conference. After some brief opening remarks addressing the quick turnaround between a Monday night and a Sunday night game, reporters began asking the expected questions about Tommy B, a struggling team, and the possible future of the franchise. His response to every single one of them?
We're on to Cincinnati.
Q: Your team has been successful for so long. How difficult is it to adjust to the adversity of Monday night's game and get back on track? This team and organization hasn't had these sort of issues in the past.
BB: We're on to Cincinnati.
Q: You mentioned Tom Brady's age at the draft –
BB: We're on to Cincinnati.
Q: Do you think having a 37-year old –
BB: We're on to Cincinnati. It's nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now we're preparing for Cincinnati.
Q: Do you think the talent you have here is good?
BB: We're getting ready for Cincinnati.
Q: Do you think you've done enough to help Tom Brady?
BB: We're getting ready for Cincinnati. That's what we're doing.
No matter what was asked, what was posited, it was nothing but the same from our beloved coach. For a coach known for being stony and vague in his press conferences, this was by far the Bill Belichickiest answer he had ever given.
But the message was clear. The past was the past, the future was the future, and all that was happening in this moment was game preparation. The page had been turned and it was time to move on with the season.
"We're on to Cincinnati" became a rallying cry of sorts. Fans embraced it, media mocked it, and the team - well the team took the advice of their coach and got themselves ready to face a 3-0 Bengals team fresh off a bye and touted as one of the stronger teams in the AFC. If the Patriots lost this one, at home on a Sunday night in another primetime game to fall to 2-3, it might be time to write them off for good.
But fall they most certainly did not.
New England received the opening kickoff and Brady took the offense 80 yards on 10 plays before Stevan Ridley found the end zone. On his next possession, he went 58 yards in just six plays, connecting with Tim Wright for another touchdown.
The defense was stifling, holding Cincy to just three first half points. The Bengals wouldn't get into the end zone until midway through the third quarter, when Andy Dalton his Mohamed Sanu for 37 yards on what was mainly a blown coverage.
However, Brady answered right back with another 80+ yard drive, this time going 86 yards on 10 plays and hitting Gronk for a 16 yard TD that represented the 45th time the duo had hooked up for a score, which was good enough to move them behind only Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates on the All-Time list (it was also Gronk's 13th 100 yard game, extending his own Patriots record).
Not wanting to be left out of the action, New England's special teams came up big on the very next play, forcing a Brandon Tate fumble on the kickoff that Kyle Arrington picked up and ran back into the end zone to make the score 34-10. At that point, it was just a matter of running out the clock, and New England leaned on the run while adding three additional field goals in the 4th quarter.
The final score was a 43-17 beatdown that wasn't nearly as close as the score reflected. The crowd at Gillette, loud, rowdy, and hydrated, began a "Bra-dy! Bra-dy! Bra-dy!" chant that hasn't really stopped, to be honest. It was the start of a seven game winning streak and a not-so-subtle reminder that, as usual, reports of New England's demise were greatly exaggerated.
The Monday morning after that game was the best I had felt as a Patriots fan in a very long time. Coming off an extremely rough week, to see the team band together, block out the hype, and do their talking on the field was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had in my 25 years of watching Patriots football.
Listening to Brady's teammates vocally and emotionally support him, reiterate what a great leader he is and how much he means to this team and the entire region, and hearing them talk about how they wanted to give Tommy B everything that they had to show how much they believed in him - that's an extreme rarity in a day and age where many players' loyalties lie nowhere but their own bank accounts.
It was a game that had me believing that the Patriots were going to win the Super Bowl and that they weren't ever going to let what happened the previous Monday night happen again. It was Rocky Balboa getting up off the mat. It was Daniel LaRusso gearing up for a crane kick. It was the Little Giants coming out of the locker room at halftime to take on the Little Cowboys. It was our team, our boys, our New England goddam Patriots, putting their fists up and reminding anyone foolish enough to stand in their way that they didn't hear no bell.
It was, for lack of a better term, freaking awesome, and represented the beginning of what ultimately became a world championship run.
Check out game highlights here.
Relive Bill Belichick's epic press conference here.