Almost every year, when I count down the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of the previous season, the Top 3 coincides with the start of training camp. It's an extremely exciting time; all news we hear is relevant, the optimism and excitement is sky-high, and we're into the elite of the elite moments on the countdown. And at number three, we have a play that a lot of fans likely still remember as clear as day.
But first, the list so far:
20. In the span of two weeks, the Patriots make two trades to acquire Keshawn Martin and Akiem Hicks.
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.
10. A huge 1st down conversion on 3rd and 17 helps push the Patriots to victory over the New York Jets.
9. Jaime Collins hurtles the entire offensive line to block a PAT against the Indianapolis Colts.
8. Tom Brady reaches the 400 TD mark with a one yard pass to Danny Amendola.
7. Opening night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
6. The Patriots offense comes back in style against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round.
5. Judge Berman overrules Roger Goodell and Tom Brady is allowed to play.
4. The Buffalo Bills lose their Week 2 Super Bowl in spectacular fashion.
Can't wait for this little guy to come off the PUP list and start doing things like this again in 2016.
3. Dion Lewis makes a one-handed grab and jukes out the entire Cowboys D on his way to the end zone.
Up until the Week 5 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, running back Dion Lewis was viewed by most as a pleasant surprise. A good number of fans had barely even heard of him coming into the season, and the majority of fans figured he was a roster bubble player heading into training camp. But Lewis started turning heads right away, and by the time the Dallas game rolled around, he had already amassed himself a fairly impressive highlight reel. It wasn't until early in the 3rd quarter against Dallas, however, that Lews stepped out of the realm of feel-good story and into the territory of bona fide stud.
That New England was going to beat Dallas was more or less a foregone conclusion. It was hyped up as one of the big games of the year heading into the season, but an injury to Tony Romo left the Cowboys with Brandon Weeden under center and a completely anemic offense. Still, the Dallas D was able to keep in close heading into the half with a fierce pass rush and a ton of swagger; New England was only up 13-3 as they took possession in the third quarter. The drive started from the Patriots 20, and a steady dose of Gronk and Blount got New England down to the Dallas 10 yard line to set up a first and goal.
Goal-to-go from the 10 is actually a pretty tall order in the grand scheme of things. The playbook shrinks, as does the playing field, and the last thing you want to do is only gain a few yards on first down to shrink the playbook even further and force the offense into a passing situation, thus allowing the defense -particularly one like Dallas - to pin its ears back and not worry about the ground game. So when the Patriots came out in a single back set with Lewis in the backfield and Amendola out wide, Dallas cheated up to the line looking to snuff out a run. Just before the snap, Edelman ran a Jet Sweep fake in order to draw the line with him while Tommy B motioned into a double playaction to Edelman, and then Lewis. The defense, however, didn't bite on either, and diagnosed the play as it was unfolding. Ideally, most of the line would follow Edelman or crash the center as Lewis ran out into the right flat for either a decent chunk of yards or an easy score. However, with the defense standing pat, there were no lanes open. Furthermore, Tommy B appeared to be a bit spooked by edge rusher Jack Crawford, who was given a free release, and threw the ball a little too quickly off of his back foot and behind Lewis, who had to stop his momentum in order to make the play. He reeled in the ball with one hand, an extremely impressive catch, right at the line of scrimmage as four Dallas defenders, ready for it, converged on him for what looked to be a one yard gain at best.
Safety Barry Church got there first and prepared to wrap Lewis up. Lewis, however, had other plans, as he somehow stopped on a dime and cut back towards the inside, leaving Church flailing at nothing but air. Unfortunately, Crawford had broken out of his rush and was in hot pursuit, coming to Lewis right as he made his first move. In one fluid motion, Lewis lowered his shoulders and upper body, ducking right under Crawford's clothesline, and started to move forward - just as Brandon Carr started diving for his waist. Another phenomenal jump-cut to the left, and Carr is also grabbing at air. The first Cowboy to really get his hands on Lewis was J.J. Wilcox, who shoved hard and knocked Lewis to the ground. Unfortunately for Dallas, Lewis had dodged, ducked, dipped, dove, and dodged his way to the two yard line by that point, and he fell harmlessly into the end zone for the score. And extra point later, the Patriots were up 20-3 and the game was essentially over.
There was a physical change on both sides of the field after that play. The entire Patriots offense ran over to congratulate their teammate (a sneaky hilarious moment, as Lewis barely clears the numbers of pretty much everyone else on the offense) while the pile of bodies left in Lewis's wake sat there, dejected, unable to figure out how in the hell that just happened. I can't really blame them, to be honest; I've watched that play dozens of times now and I still have zero clue how Dion Lewis did what he did. It was probably the signature offensive play of the entire New England season and the exact moment when Dion Lewis announced to the league that he was here to stay. I feel like it's a moment that everyone who has been following this series has been waiting for for months now, and I'm more than happy to place here at Number 3.
Check the play out here.