The schedule is out! The draft is here! It's almost time for mini-camp! It will be Fall before you know it!
Which means I'd better get a move on with this countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Moments of 2016. We're only five in, so there's a long way to go.
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 Seahawks 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 Siemian and the Denver Broncos on the road.
16. LeGarrette Blout owns Byron Maxwell with an epic hurdle.
15. A different kind of Malcolm Go highlights a convincing road win against the San Francisco 49ers.
I absolutely love moments like Number 14, as it's yet another example of one team's castoff becoming New England's treasure. And when that player is able to stick it to the guys who decided to let him go, it's all that much sweeter.
14. Chris Hogan finds some nice redemption against his old team in the form of a beautiful 53 yard TD.
The Buffalo Bills were one of only two teams to beat the Patriots in 2016, and the only one to shut them out completely. Granted, that win came inn Week 4 against a 3rd string rookie quarterback who had injured the thumb on his throwing arm to the point where he could barely even grip the ball, but a win is a win, and so when the Patriots traveled to Buffalo for the rematch in Week 8, redemption was the name of the game. They had just beaten the Steelers on the road to improve to 6-1, while the Bills were coming off a 28-25 heartbreaker against the Dolphins.
The Patriots would go on to absolutely throttle the Bills in this one, 41-25, in a game that wasn't even that close. The Patriots pulled ahead 14-3 in the first quarter and never looked back. Tommy B finished the game slightly better than Jacoby Brissett did against Buffalo, going 22 of 33 for 315 yards, no picks, and four touchdowns. The Bills were simply outclassed, outgunned, and outmatched from the start as the Patriots coasted to victory.
The Bills did lead 3-0 at one point, though, so there's that.
The play that was basically the early dagger in this game came courtesy of a man the Patriots saw enough value in to sign to an offer sheet this past offseason. Chris Hogan was known as a flashy, yet inconsistent, receiver in Buffalo. New England thought he'd make a good fit for their offense, so they made sure that the offer was one that the Bills wouldn't match. Hogan was tall, he was fast, and he represented that outside threat that the team has been missing since Randy Moss. However, up until this point, Hogan and Brady hadn't connected for anything major.
All that changed, however, in the middle of the first quarter with the Patriots holding a 7-3 lead. New England had just had a huge gain on 3rd and 8 called back due to an illegal receiver downfield penalty on Marcus Canon, and thus faced a 3rd and 13 from their own 47. Working out of the gun with James White in the backfield, Brady had three receivers stacked right with Hogan in isolation against his newest teammate, Stephon Gilmore.Hogan ran a simple Go Route at the snap as the Bills overloaded the left side of the line with a cornerback blitz. White picked up the rusher, giving Brady, who froze the safety over the middle just long enough, the time he needed to launch it deep in Hogan's direction. Hogan got a great release at the line, and one he had separation, just left Gilmore in the dust. It looks like Gilmore was expecting safety help over the top, but he most certainly didn't get it. Brady hit Hogan in stride - he actually had to slow down just a bit to wait for the pass to catch up - and he waltzed into the end zone for a 53 yard score. Patriots 14, Bills 3. Buffalo made it 14-10 at one point, but that was the closest they would come all day. The loss dropped Buffalo down to .500 on the year as the Patriots improved to 7-1.
This play makes the list for a few reasons. First and foremost, it was a great individual play. Hogan is a burner, and he completely smoked the man the Patriots just paid a lot of money to sign. Any time you get a big play for a score, it's going to be a contender for this list. Second, it was the first time that Brady and Hogan had connected on the season; he scored New England's first TD of 2016, but that was a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo. Third, it was the play that showed that Hogan was a legit deep threat, which most certainly got everyone in Patriots Nation all hot and bothered. And finally, this play is a fantastic example of Tommy B and Chris Hogan being on the same page and seeing the same thing offensively; sometimes it takes a little while for a QB and receiver to hit their stride, and while Hogan had had his moments in the past, he hadn't broken any games open just yet. All that changed with this play.
Chris Hogan just might be making another appearance or two on this list, but for now, I think he's well slotted right here at 14.
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here. (There are some nice additional Mike Gillislee highlights in here as well)