Yet another quiet week of news around here, and that's just fine with me; the NFL 2017 Schedule is about to drop, the draft is just a few weeks away, and it's almost time for OTAs and mini-camp, so we should all enjoy these last few moments of peace while we still can. Plus, it gives me a chance to continue with our 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.
The (non) news this week in Patriots Nation has centered around the running back situation and whether or not the Patriots will be bringing back a familiar face or trying to fill that need elsewhere. It's fitting, therefore that the Number 16 Most Memorable Moment of 2016 perhaps makes the case for why New England should maybe go with a proven commodity who knows how to close out a game.
16. LeGarrette Blout owns Byron Maxwell with an epic hurdle.
The Week 2 matchup between the Patriots and Dolphins seems like it took place years ago at this point. Honestly, it's almost as if that game happened in a completely different season. And in a way, these sentiments are completely understandable; not only has a lot transpired between September 18th and now, but we kind of saw two different Patriots teams playing in that game. New England was fresh off a seemingly improbable win, on the road, against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night, and Jimmy Garoppolo was making his first ever start at Gillette Stadium in hopes of following up a very solid regular season debut. Miami, on the other hand, had just dropped a fairly ugly game to the Seattle Seahawks that they probably should have won, but were only able to put up 10 points on the day. Once again, everything in the AFC East seemed to be shaking out just as it was supposed to.
And for the first half of this game, Patriots fans were absolutely blown away by their young new quarterback. Jimmy G's first three drives were as follows: eight plays, 75 yards, TD; seven plays, 75 yards, TD; 12 plays, 76 yards, TD. Before a good number of fans had even finished their first beer of the day, the Patriots were up 21-0 and we all began to brace ourselves for the media storm regarding the sudden "quarterback controversy" that was about to rock New England. Garoppolo was a bona fide stud.
However, as the first half came to a close, Garoppolo was hit by Kiko Alonzo and came down hard on his shoulder. It was a clean hit, but Garoppolo fell awkwardly and the linebacker came down with all his weight on that throwing arm. Jimmy G, in obvious pain, was escorted to the locker room as the third string QB, rookie Jacoby Brissett, took the field. The drive stalled with Brissett under center, but Garoppolo had driven the Pats down to within field goal range, so New England was able to take a 24-3 lead into halftime.
The 2nd half of this game couldn't have been more different from the first. Josh McDaniels had to more or less throw his playbook out and simply the offense as much as possible for the young rookie, which meant a much bigger reliance on the running game and short, high percentage passes. Brissett was actually able to generate a TD drive on his first possession of the 3rd quarter, courtesy of a busted coverage play to Martellus Bennet and some great YAC from James White. LeGarrette Blount finished the drive with a nine yard TD run to put the Pats up 31-3. It would end up being a lead the Patriots would desperately cling to as the Dolphins scored touchdowns on their next three drives to bring the game to within one score. New England would hold on to win the game 31-24 on a last-second Duron Harmon pick in the end zone, but there was a period where the victory was all but guaranteed. Brissett did an admirable job in his first start, but what really helped secure this game was Blount. He put the team on his back, ground out the yards, and kept that clock moving. he finished the day with 123 yards on 29 carries and a score - but more importantly, a 4.2 yards per carry average that made getting first downs much more manageable for a rookie who wasn't even supposed to sniff the field in 2016.
Undoubtedly Blount's best play of the game came at the very start of the 4th quarter, with the Patriots up 31-17 at their own 19 yard line. Facing 1st and 10, New England came out in a 3WR set with Bennett as the move TE, shifting across the line and over to the left side. At the snap, Bennett and Nate Solder switched assignments as Solder pulled around Bennett to create a lane for Blount. Blount received the toss and followed Solder upfield with a very nice lane, aided by Joe Thuney, and ran for the first down completely untouched. Safety Byron Maxwell met him at the 29 yard line to try and make the stop.
But Maxwell went low; you kind of have to for a back Blount's size. Blount, however, went high, leaping directly over the safety and cutting upfield for an extra 16 yards. In one play, Blount completely switched the field and gave New England a much needed boost of energy to finish out the game strong. The Patriots would eventually have to punt on the drive, as a holding penalty and a sack took them well out of FG range, but it was a huge play nontheless and a great example of the kind of back Blount can be once he gets going. It was also a tremendous display of athleticism and an excellent individual play that represents one guy stepping up when he was needed by his team. One of the many things that made the 2016 Patriots so special was that virtually every single man on that roster played a crucial role at some point, and when his name was called, he answered the bell. Blount took up that role several times throughout the course of the season, and this particular hurtle can be seen as the one that...um...jump-started his historic year. Great individual plays that help secure a win and are representative of the season as a whole are always a shoe-in for this list, and I think that 16 is the perfect spot for it.
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here.