It was 29 degrees when I woke up this morning.
Now normally that wouldn't be a big deal; after all, I live in the Northeast, and I have chosen to live in the Northeast, so at the end of the day I have no right to complain about cold weather. However, it's also April 5th, which is at least a month later than it should be for weather like this, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm a little grumpy today.
I guess it's kind of fitting, though, as the temperature today roughly mirrors the game day temperature of our Number 17 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2015. I wish that wasn't the case, and I wish I had a better way to transition into the moment itself...but what can you do.
The list so far:
20. In the span of two weeks, the Patriots make two trades to acquire and .
19. A decision to kick in OT backfires as the Jets beat the Patriots in Week 16.
18. Otherwordly phenom and greatest player of all time J.J. Watt is held completely ineffective as the Patriots secure a playoff spot against the Houston Texans.
Our Number 17 Moment takes place just one week after the Texans game, as the Patriots closed out their 2015 home slate.
17. Chandler Jones and Akiem Hicks team up for a strip sack touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.
When the Tennessee Titans, already well on their way to securing the 1sdt overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, came into Gillette Stadium for New England's final home game of the 2015 season, absolutely nobody was picking them to win. And while the Philadelphia Eagles had managed an improbable upset at Foxboro just a few weeks earlier, the Pats don't drop two games like that in a single season. Plus, New England needed this game to maintain the top spot in the AFC and had the opportunity to secure a 1st round bye with a win and a Broncos loss. However, this is the NFL, and pretty much anything goes in this league, and so "cautious optimism" was the name of the game as Stephen Gostkowski kicked off.
"Cautious optimism," however, was quickly replaced by "blowout snoozer," as the Patriots took over the game right away and never looked back. After holding Tennessee to a fast three and out, Tommy B led the offense on an 11 play, six minute drive that ended with a three yard connection from Brady to Gronk for the first points of the day. Tennesse was able to move the ball on their next possession, but a sack and a holding penalty left the Titans with a 4th and 24 at their own 38 to short-circuit the drive. An illegal formation penalty and a Brady sack stalled New England's drive as well, giving Tennessee the ball back with the chance to tie the game.
Starting from their own 25, a four yard run from Antonio Andrews followed by a two yard run from Andrews set up a 3rd and 4 from the 31. Taylor Lewan false started to lose most of those yards gained on the next snap, creating a 3rd and 9. Now in an obvious passing situation, New England subbed into a Cover 1 nickel package with Patrick Chung cheating up close to the line, showing blitz. Chung dropped into coverage, however, as did Jamie Collins, while Dont'a Hightower stunted around linemen Jabaal Sheard and Akiem Hicks to crash the middle of the line. Mariota, seeing Hightower's trajectory, stepped up and right into the pocket, hoping to hit a streaking Harry Douglas down the sideline.
Chandler Jones, meanwhile, had drawn single coverage against Lewan and jumped off the line immediately at the snap, getting under Lewan and driving him back. Lewan tried to compensate for Jones's push and length by squaring his shoulders and driving his chin upward as he rushed (which I always thought was illegal hands to the face, but after watching Jones these past few years I need to reassess that evaluation). Jones, however, kept the legs churning, and got his inside hand on the ball just as Mariota was getting ready to release, knocking the ball loose.
In the mad scramble that followed, Akiem Hicks was able to pick up the ball at the seven yard line, but was unable to secure it as it continued to bobble. He eventually fell on it in the end zone for the score, putting the Patriots up by 13. Ghost would secure the extra point for a full two touchdown lead, and that was pretty much all she wrote. New England took a 24-3 lead into the locker room at halftime and more or less put the game on cruise control from there on out, particularly with Zach Mettenberger in for Mariota after he suffered a knee injury in the 2nd quarter.
Ironically, Chandler Jones's last strip sack as a Patriot mirrored his first - in his very first game as a rookie, he strip sacked Jake Locker and fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower was able to recover for the TD. Not only was it a great play and a phenomenal individual effort, but it more or less put the game away early, illustrated the defense stepping up as the offense continued to deal with injury, and helped secure a crucial first round bye. The Titans game was also the last regular season matchup the Patriots would win in 2015, and this play was hands down the best play of the day on either side. This play would probably be higher if it came in a more meaningful game, but since it was a contest that was never really in doubt and the Pats would win this one regardless of the strip sack, I think it's well seeded at 17.