Football is officially back! No more predictions! No more random guesses! No more spending Sundays being a normal human being! And not a moment too soon, I say.
But before we officially close the books on the offseason and get ready to dive into 2016 in earnest, there's a small bit of unfinished business to take care of: finishing off our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2016. It's been a long time coming, but here we finally are once again.
Looking back on previous lists, these Number 1 Moments have found themselves in some pretty mighty company. Ever since I started doing these countdowns, the play or moment that topped the charts has been nothing short of epic. The Buttfumble. An unbelievable comeback against the Denver Broncos. And of course, last year brought us Malcolm Butler and Pink Stripes. And while the odds are good that nothing is ever going to top that Butler pick no matter how many more years I keep on with these lists, The Number One Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2015 won't find itself feeling self conscious as it takes its place up here on the pantheon of awesome.
After all, it shares quite a bit in common with one of its predecessors.
But first, let's look back at how we got here:
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.
3. Dion Lewis makes a one-handed grab and jukes out the entire Cowboys D on his way to the end zone.
2. The Patriots exorcise some old demons and finally beat the New York Giants in dramatic fashion.
The winning moment may have been a high point of the New England season, but it was certainly a low point of another team's.
1. The Funt.
Patriots vs. Colts. A classic rivalry that goes back for decades. Once considered a playoff for last place in the division, Pats/Colts would eventually come to represent must-watch television and signified a meeting of two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Pats Colts week inevitably became Brady Manning week, and year after year we all had the privilege of watching the best QB rivalry we will likely ever see in our lifetime. And while Peyton Manning's departure to Denver lessened the rivalry a bit, everybody still always knew when the Patriots would be playing Indy - especially since the Colts were fortunate enough to have the league's newest savior and Golden Boy, Andre Luck, fall to them with the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. Granted, Luck was - and is - no Manning, and the rivalry took a hit over the years as Luck still hasn't found a way to beat the Patriots, but it's hard to completely erase what has been such an important part of Patriots history.
Cut to 2015. New England is scheduled to visit Indianapolis Week 6, following their Week 5 bye and the first four games of the year that was supposed to represent Tom Brady's suspension for
deflating footballs being aware that deflation might have occurred not cooperating fully with the league not delivering all relevant text messages something else that nobody knows about that the Patriots probably got away with destroying his phone. The very game which started it all, the AFC Championship Game, was against these very Colts. The game wasn't even close, as we all know, but... well, there's no need to get into it here. We all know what happened and the ensuing aftermath. The bottom line is that Tommy B was supposed to come back from his suspension and beat the Colts by exact 754 points.
Tom Brady's suspension ended up getting overturned, Indy ended up being terrible last year, and the Patriots Colts Sunday night game ended up being somewhat lackluster. Indy actually took a one point lead into the half, courtesy of a gift-wrapped pick-six off a Julian Edelman bobble, but only managed to put a pair of field goals on the board in the second half as the Patriots came away with a 34-27 victory. It was a nice win for the Patriots, but far from the statement game it was supposed to be. There was no blowout. No revenge. No angry celebrations or taking the Colts to task. Just a good win to put the Patriots at 5-0 and give them the head-to-head edge over a conference opponent come playoff time.
Only one play stood out, really, from this one. One play that's still worth talking about all these months later.
It's easy to forget that, up until late in the 3rd quarter, this was less than a one score game. The Patriots scored on their opening drive of the third quarter, but after that, it was two straight punts from them as they were only able to engineer a single 2nd half first down. The Colts were a touchdown away from regaining the lead, and seeing as how New England couldn't get anything going, it could possibly be a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Luckily, the defense stayed strong. After holding Indy to just 17 yards on 6 plays, they came out to punt from their own 37 on 4th and r in what looked to be a standard punt formation. New England accordingly lined up in their coverage unit. Then, all of a sudden, the entire Colts line motioned out wide to the right, once again assuming what looked like standard punt formation, except all the way along the right sideline instead. Griff Whalen shifted from gunner to center, and behind him was safety Colt Anderson, seemingly ready to take the snap. After some initial confusion on the New England side, the Patriots shifted themselves accordingly, with Brandon Bolden and John Bostic staying close to home to remain near the ball. Nate Ebner was bridging the gap between the line and the ball, with Matthew Slater shifting up into some kind of weird safety/linebacker role. Nobody really seemed to know what was going on, but the Pats stayed disciplined.
Little did they know, the New England punt team was infinitely more prepared for the play than the Colts were.
Inexplicably, Whalen snapped the ball to Anderson, who was immediately brought down by Bolden for a loss as a flag flew. Anderson, after picking himself up off the ground, looked to Whalen with the kind of "what the hell was that?" look that I thought was reserved solely for high school students coming out of chemistry midterms. The camera then cut to Chuck Pagano, looking like Chris Hanson had just walked out from behind the curtain and told him to take a seat. As the Indy fans sat there in stunned silence, the ref came over the PA to announce the call behind the penalty flag:
"Illegal formation, the whole right side of the line was not on the line of scrimmage, offense. This penalty is declined, the result of the play is first down, New England."
Indy was facing a five yard penalty on the play, regardless of outcome. So even if it had worked, whatever the hell is is that they were planning to do, it would have been negated by a penalty. Instead, Belichick declined it, Tommy B got the ball on the Colts 35, and six plays later LeGarrette Blount had his first career receiving TD as the Patriots took a 34-21 lead. Indy would score a late TD to bring it back to within one, but the game was more or less over after that fake punt debacle. There was no life in the stadium and the lead was insurmountable at that point.
Maybe the Colts had something up their sleeve. Maybe they were trying to draw the Patriots offsides. Maybe they were hoping that New England would burn a timeout. Punter Pat McAfee tried to explain what was going on there, but there really isn't all that much to explain. It was just an all-time boneheaded play, and one that will likely go down as one of the worst plays in NFL history. Nicknamed The Funt by WEEI's Jerry Thornton, it absolutely dominated the sports headlines for all the wrong reasons. One idiot took a survey over which play was worse, the Funt or The Buttfumble. Absolutely nothing about it made any sense whatsoever and it more or less cost the Colts the game. It turns out that the Patriots didn't need to humiliate them, as they did a better job of doing it to themselves that New England ever could.
It was a planned out, practiced, designed play. It was inserted into the playbook and called in by the coaching staff. It wasn't a busted play or a freak accident. It was premeditated, and it was a disaster. And once again, it came against the Patriots on national TV, and I can't remember laughing so hard as I did that night. While it's always going to be The Buttfumble for me in terms of most ridiculous plays of all time, the Fun certainly gives it a run for its money. And because of that, it takes it's rightful place as the Number One moment of the entire 2015 season.
Check out the play, for the 5,000th time, here.
And with that, it's time to close the books on another countdown. I know it didn't quite have the magic that the Super Bowl season did, but that's OK. They can't all be that special. Each and every season is awesome in its own way, and I can't wait to embark on yet another one with everyone here at Pats Pulpit. Thanks so much for following the list, and for your comments, and here's to a Top 20 Moments of 2016 that ends with some highly obnoxious thumb jewelry.