Eventually, every streak has to come to an end. Injury, bad luck or just not living up to the usual standards may all cause a success-story to stop, no matter how great it is – like starting your career on a ten-game playoff win streak.
Tom Brady did just that when the final whistle was blown after the New England Patriots’ wild card playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in January 2006. Brady’s team won the contest 28-3 and earned its right to advance to the divisional round.
New England, which ended the 2005 regular season with a 10-6 record, had to travel to Colorado to face the 13-3 Denver Broncos, who, as the number two seed in the AFC, were coming off a bye week.
The game started as a defensive stalemate before the momentum slowly turned towards the Patriots. It wouldn’t last long, though, as a 3-0 lead turned into a 10-3 deficit in a little more than one minute of game-time. First Kevin Faulk lost a fumble on New England’s side of the field, which Denver turned into a touchdown two plays later, then Ellis Hobbs lost a fumble on the ensuing kick-off.
They were the first of many costly mistakes made by the visitors, and not even the superstar quarterback was immune.
Late in the third quarter, with the Patriots down 10-6, the team had finally found its offensive rhythm and drove from its own 22-yard line to the Denver 5 in just five plays. However, facing 3rd and goal, momentum turned again. Brady rolled out to his right and fired a pass into the end zone towards wide receiver Troy Brown.
Brown never touched the ball, as cornerback Champ Bailey intercepted the pass one yard deep into the end zone – with nothing but 101 yards of green-brown Mile High grass in front of him. Bailey started sprinting down the sideline, where his teammates and coaches were celebrating the interception, while witnessing what started to look like a sure-fire pick-6 once Bailey evaded a tackle attempt by Kevin Faulk at Denver’s 45-yard line.
Stephen Neal couldn’t catch Bailey.
Tom Brady couldn’t catch Bailey.
Troy Brown couldn’t catch Bailey.
Nobody could. Until the 1-yard line.
Benjamin Watson was originally lined up next to left tackle Tom Ashworth. The second-year tight end was not meant to run a lot on the play, his job was to block and help give Tom Brady time to find an open receiver.
Once Bailey intercepted Brady’s pass attempt, however, Watson turned around and started to run. He started at the 8-yard line on the opposite side of the field. When Bailey was at the Denver 20, Watson was at the Denver 20. When Bailey was at midfield, Watson almost ran over referee Jeff Triplette. When Bailey was at the New England 20, Watson was at the New England 20.
Yet there were still about 10 yards and two additional Denver Broncos – safety Nick Ferguson and defensive tackle and future Patriot Gerard Warren – between the two players. But Ferguson and Warren started to slow down with no New England players near them. They never saw Ben Watson.
Neither did Champ Bailey – until the 1-yard line.
Watson tackled Bailey short of the goal-line and the ball popped out of the cornerback’s right hand. It landed out of bounds. The Patriots thought it was a touchback, which would have given New England the ball at the 20-yard line. Even Champ Bailey thought it was a touchback. Only Jeff Triplette and his crew didn’t think it was a touchback, even after Bill Belichick challenged the call (ever since that day, Belichick lobbies for sideline and goal-line cameras).
After the very next play, Denver led 17-6. New England was unable to come back from the deficit as the team missed a field goal and turned the ball over two more times. Not only did the Patriots’ 2005 season end in Colorado, Tom Brady’s ten-game playoff win streak did as well.
Despite the loss, Benjamin Watson chasing down Champ Bailey to stop him one yard before reaching the end zone, became the most notable play of the Patriots’ season. Now, ten years later, the team has the chance to do what Watson and the 2005 squad was unable to do: leave Denver with a playoff victory.
To relive Ben Watson's tackle, click here.