We're cruising right along in our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Moments of 2015 as the amount of news around Patriot Nation continues to be little as we head into one of the quieter times on the NFL calendar.
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.
17. Chandler Jones and Akiem Hicks team up for a strip sack touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.
16. Stopped in the backfield, LeGarrette Blount sheds tacklers and rumbles for a 17 yard gain against the Houston Texans.
15. Danny Amendola and Tom Brady connect for some trickery against the Philadelphia Eagles.
14. The Patriots continue to kick in Rex Ryan's world with a season sweep of the Buffalo Bills.
The Number 13 moment is really more a pair of moments, but they are indicative of some great football and a player who was needed stepping up and taking advantage of the chance he was given.
13. A pair of James White catch and runs show off some agility, speed, and elusiveness.
The New England coaching staff has been high on running back James White ever since he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft; they were always singing his praises and couldn't say enough good things about his work ethic and practice habits. When he was on the field, however, fans were more or less left scratching their heads, as he seemed indecisive out of the backfield and slow to gain separation when asked to run receiving routes. White saw very little action during the 2014 season, and with LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis ahead of him on the depth chart in 2015, it seemed that White was destined for another season of anonymity.
However, when Lewis and Blount were both lost for the season, White was suddenly thrust into a starting role with the opportunity to showcase those seemingly nonexistent skills that the coaches were always touting. Fans were skeptical, but at that point most folks were just happy that there were enough healthy bodies to field a team. Nobody had much in terms of expectations for White. But as many other players have done before him, White took the opportunity he was given and ran with it, serving as a legitimate receiving threat and emerging as one of Tom Brady's most reliable targets. With pretty much everyone banged up, White stepped up and finally put some legitimate skills on display.
And perhaps most indicative of those skills are two plays in particular where White was given little, but took a lot, and made huge gains that either resulted in a score or directly set one up.
The first, a week 15 matchup against the Tennessee Titans, saw the Patriots up 14-3 with just under 9 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. New England had been given great field position after a 75 yard Keshawn Martin kick return set the Pats up at the Titans 30. The first play from scrimmage was an incomplete pass intended for Danny Amendola to set up a 2nd and 10 which saw Brady in a shotgun 4 WR set with White in the backfield. The play was a designed screen to White, which he caught about four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Showing tremendous vision and patience, White scampered forward with just enough hesitancy to allow his blocks to develop before he exploded through the hole into the secondary. Once he had the space, he was as good as gone, blowing by pursuing linebackers and ducking in between two excellently thrown blocks from Amendola and LaFell for the easy score. It was a great example of a well-designed play in which everyone did their jobs - but it was also an extremely nice individual effort by White, as he didn't rush into progressing forward and used solid foresight to anticipate where the blocks would be coming from. It was a score that put the Patriots up 21-3 and allowed them to more or less coast through the rest of the game and ensure that nobody else was lost to injury.
The second, during a Week 17 game against the Miami Dolphins, saw the Patriots resting pretty much everyone even though they needed to win that game in order to wrap up the 1 seed. The thought process was to just take the two, get as healthy as possible, and take their chances. Tommy B only threw for 134 yards as the Pats more or less mailed it in from the opening whistle. Brady's leading receiver in that game was none other than James White, who only had two catches for 63 yards, and on one of those catches he actually went backwards. it was just a lousy day overall for everyone.
However, on White's other catch, which came on a crucial 3rd and 4 of the Patriots first possession of the 2nd half, he took what should probably have been a nine or 10 yard gain and put the Pats into scoring position. Motioned out wide to the right, he ran a quick up and in as LaFell cleared the slot corner towards the sideline, and caught the ball in stride just as two Dolphins defenders were converging on him. With an amazingly quick juke, he left them both behind and broke for daylight straight down the middle of the field, leaving a trail of Fins defenders behind him. He was eventually brought down by Tony Lippett at the Miami six, setting up a first and goal. On the very next play following a Miami penalty to move the ball up to the Mami 2, Steven Jackson punched it in to tie the game up. It was more or less New England's only offensive drive worth talking about that day, and it all came from an individual effort by White.
Perhaps in another year, these plays are left off the list altogether, or ranked a little lower than I have them here. However, with the amount of injuries this team suffered in 2015, and with the running back position as uncertain as it was, and withe the Patriots trying to balance on one leg offensively for a good chunk of the second half of the season, White really stepped up and made some extremely solid contributions when he was needed. There were times when he was the sole offensive threat, and when the Patriots needed a spark, White was the one to deliver. Because of that, I'm bumping him up a few spots and feel good putting the plays here at number 13.
Check out the Titans play here.
Check out the Dolphins play here.