I debated writing another LeGarrette Blount article today - maybe something like "LeGarrette Blount Still Thinking about Patriots Offer" or "LeGarrette Blount Still Wants to Play in the NFL" - but I opted against it. I may regret that decision down the road a ways, but for now, I think I'll just continue on with out countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2016.
The list so far:
20. The New England Patriots trade Jamie Collins to Cleveland for a bag of peanuts.
19. LeGarrette Blount runs through the entire Seahawka line on his way to the end zone.
18. A Chris Long strip sack helps to ice the game against the New York Jets.
17. The Patriots defense shuts down Trevor Siemean and the Denver Broncos on the road.
16. LeGarrette Blout owns Byron Maxwell with an epic hurdle.
Number 15 gives us a nice combination of firsts; a first ever touchdown for a rookie, and a first ever appearance for a legend.
15. A different kind of Malcolm Go highlights a convincing road win against the San Francisco 49ers.
You'd figure that, having been in the National Football League for almost two decades, that Tommy B would have played every stadium multiple times over by this point. However, the Week 11 matchup between the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers represented the first time that Brady had ever taken the field in the Bay Area; while he had been to the arena many times as a fan, he had never played there; the last time the Patriots went to San Fran was 2008, when Brady was on IR, and then the 49ers came to New England in 2012. So this was undoubtedly a special game for Tommy B, as it not only completed his NFL stadium tour, but represented the chance to play at the fabled Candlestick, which undoubtedly fueled his dreams to one day become the greatest quarterback to ever put on a helmet.
And as expected, Brady was masterful. He finished the day 24 of 40 for 280 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Granted, the 49ers were one of the worst teams in the league in 2016, but west coast trips are always tough, and New England had just lost a heartbreaker the week before to the Seahawks. Furthermore, Gronk was out that week with a lung injury, so what the offense was going to do was something of a question mark.
And for the first half, this was something of a ballgame. New England scored quickly on their first two possessions, but Ghost shanked an extra point to make the score 13-3. San Francisco then put together an eight play, 92 yard drive in which they didn't even need a third down to score. Both teams went into the locker room at halftime with the score 13-10, and based on how the 49ers closed out the second quarter, there was certainly some cause for concern.
New England wouldn't get going again until late in the 3rd quarter, when a 10 play, 80 yard drive ended with a Danny Amendola touchdown to put the Patriots up 20-10. The teams traded punts for a few possessions, and then New England got the ball back with about 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter with the opportunity to more or less put the game out of reach.
Facing a 3rd and 8 from their own 44, the Patriots came out in a two back shotgun set with both James White and Dion Lewis in the backfield (a formation we didn't see all that much this year, sadly). San Francisco was in a Wide 3-3-5 Nickel and only brought four on the pass rush in order to accommodate for both dangerous receiving backs. Lewis and White both ran identical Flat Routes, which drew the linebackers out towards the sidelines, leaving the middle of the field open for Brady's first look on the play, Julian Edelman. Edelman ran a simple cut-in route, and was open, but didn't have much room in front of him to work and likely would have been tackled before reaching the first down marker. As the routes unfolded, 49ers edge rushers Eli Harold and Ahmad Brooks got outside leverage on tackles Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder, which started to collapse the pocket. Sensing pressure, Brady stepped up and began to roll right. Brooks beat Cannon and, as Brady scrambled, had a direct line to the quarterback. Brady seemed to be holding the ball away from his body, making it look like a strip sack was all but inevitable. As Brooks closed in on Brady, Tommy B took four steps forward and fired a rocket pass downfield just as he was getting hit, seemingly directly in between two 49ers defensive backs. Luckily, in the middle of those backs was rookie Malcolm Mitchell, who brought the pass in and took off for the end zone. Once Mitchell saw that he had some daylight, he turned on the afterburners and the next player to touch him was Danny Amendola, congratulating his teammate for making a great play and putting the Patriots up by 16. It was Brady's 4th TD of the day, Mitchell's first TD of his career, and it put any dim hopes of a San Francisco comeback to bed. The Patriots would go on to win the game 30-17, with the Niners tacking on a garbage time score to make the game seem a little closer than it actually was. New England improved to 8-2 on the year while the 49ers dropped to a pitiful 1-9.
I don't know why, but I absolutely love this play. Of all the highlights of the 2016 season I've watched since it ended - and believe me when I say I have watched more than any sane person should - I may have gone back to this one the most. It wasn't even the throw, to be honest; yes, it was phenomenal pocket awareness, shockingly adept mobility, and an absolutely laser-accurate bullet that whizzed right by Keith Reaser's earhole and right into Mitchell's hands, but Brady highlight reels are lousy with throws like those; Tommy B will probably make another dozen or so plays like that before the 2017 bye week even hits. What really did it for me was how hard Mitchell ran after making the reception. There's just something about watching him put his head down, pump his arms, and give everything he had to seeing the end zone for the first time that made me fall in love with the kid. He also had a solid day overall, four catches for 98 yards, and showed tremendous skills as a blocking receiver. It was also excellent awareness by the rookie in that he saw Brady scrambling, and so he cut off his route and came back across the field to help his quarterback out and give him an option. New England has been burned by rookie receivers not understanding the fundamentals quite a bit in the past, so to see a rookie understand the dynamics of the play and make the correct decision in order to help his team, and then run like just found out his flight got cancelled and they booked him on United instead....it was just awesome to see. In other years, this play probably would have been ranked higher, but the competition was stiffer than ever this year, and so I feel good putting it here at Number 15.
Watch the play again here.
Full game highlights here.