At long last, we're finally into the Top 10 of our 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2015.
Whenever you have a Top 10 of anything, it always represents the best of the best. So from here on out, it's nothing but huge plays, major milestones, and dominant performances as we find ourselves rapidly charging towards training camp and Opening Day (less than 100 days out!). There may have been a few moments thus far that weren't as big a deal as they could have been, but all that stops from here on out.
And speaking of prior moments, 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.
13. A pair of James White catch and runs show off some agility, speed, and elusiveness.
12. The Patriots absolutely destroy the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football.
11. Julian Edelman outruns the entire Cowboys D on his way to the end zone.
At number 10, we find ourselves revisiting a play that not only spurred the Patriots to victory, but may very well have defined the entire 2015 postseason landscape.
10. A huge 1st down conversion on 3rd and 17 helps push the Patriots to victory over the New York Jets.
Before the 2015 season kicked off, few - if any - analysts had the Jets pegged as the biggest threat to the Patriots' long-standing AFC East crown. The Dolphins had had another strong offseason, the Bills under Rex Ryan were poised to make a run, and the Jets...well, the Jets had just lost their quarterback to a broken jaw, forcing journeyman and graduate of...somewhere, literally nobody ever brings it up... Ryan Fitzpatrick to assume the starting role. Pretty much everyone dismissed the Jets right from the start - which made their 4-1 record to open up the year all that much more surprising. So when they came to New England for a Week 7 matchup against the Patriots, what was initially assumed to be an easy bid for the defending champs suddenly seemed like more of a test than everyone thought.
And a test it most certainly was. Defense and drops ruled the day, for both sides, as yards and points were hard to come by, and New England took a narrow 13-10 lead into the locker room at halftime. New England actually had a chance to jump out to a 10 point lead early in the third quarter, but their opening drive of the 2nd half stalled at the NYJ 6 and they had to settle for a field goal. Down 16-10, Ryan Fitzpatrick engineered one of his best answering drives of the entire season, an 11 play, 80 yard campaign that ate up almost half of the entire quarter and resulted in a Chris Ivory touchdown to give the Jets the lead. The Patriots were only able to generate a single first down on their next possession and had to punt it back to the Jets, who once again march right down the field to the New England 12. On 3rd and 7, Fitzpatrick hit Brandon Marshall right in the hands in the end zone, but the usually sure-handed receiver dropped the pass, forcing a field goal. Instead of being up 24-16, the Jets only went up four after Nick Folk split the uprights. While the drive ultimately stalled, it stalled due to player error as opposed to strong defense, and the Jets had engineered back-to-back drives of 80 and 71 yards that both ended in points. New England, on the other hand, had pretty much done nothing since both teams emerged from the locker room.
New England needed to answer with something, both to get some points on the board and to give the defense a much needed break from a relentless running game and quick passing attack that suddenly couldn't be stopped. Starting from their own 20, the Patriots were able to pick up a quick first down before LeGarrette Blount got absolutely blown up on a designed run, losing seven yards and setting up a 2nd and 17 from the NE 27. The next play saw a short attempt to Amendola fall incomplete and suddenly it was 3rd and 17 with barely two minutes off the clock. All signs pointed to another punt and a tired New England defense once again forced to take the field against a Jets offense that was suddenly clicking on all cylinders with the clock winding down in the 4th quarter. Another long Jets drive that resulted in points of any kind would more or less put the game away.
The play saw Brady in an empty backfield with Gronk lined up close to the line, Amendola and Dobson on the left, and LaFell and Amendola on the right. The Jets opened in a 4-5 Nickel with both safeties jamming towards the middle, most likely to defend against a Gronkowski seam route. At the snap, all five receivers ran an identical seven yard Go sprint before Gronk broke off to the left and towards the sideline. Amendola, Dobson, and LaFell all continued the Go sprint up the field, drawing their cornerbacks with them. Edelman mirrored LeFell's route, but at the last minute cut inside to turn the route into a slant. Brady fired off an absolute bullet just before Edelman started his cut and hit his man right in stride as Edelman slid in for the catch. They needed 17 and gained 23. With a new set of downs, the Pats would go on to score a touchdown on the drive, and eight yard strike to Amendola, and then another touchdown on their next drive to make the score 30-23. The Jets would actually have a chance late, as they recovered their own onside kick, but a Brandon Marshall false start on the final play of the game resulted in a 10 second runoff and a victory for New England.
In and of itself, this was a great play; it was well-designed, everyone did their jobs, and it represented a prime example of a QB and receiver both on the same page and reading the defense correctly. However, what makes it even more special is that if New England doesn't make that conversion, they probably lose this game. And if they lose this game, the Jets probably end up making the playoffs - possibly as division champs, as both teams would have finished the season 11-5 with New York owning the head to head tiebreaker. That's obviously a lot of conjecture and what-ifs regarding how the rest of the year shakes out, but it isn't implausible to say that this play was the difference between the Patriots resting at home during Wild Card Weekend and them having to go on the road to play an extra game. A football season is comprised of thousands of tiny little moments, and as far as tiny moments go, this conversion was a massive one, and thus rightly earns it's spot at Number 10.
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here.