Welp...here we are. Late June. The deadest of the deadest time on the NFL calendar. Bill Belichick is off in Nantucket fishing on
V VI VII Rings. Gronk is off partying on cruise ships and spiking anything he can get his hands on. Tom Brady is...well, Tom Brady is probably still at Gillette training, because he's an animal. But most of the football world is trying to relax for a few weeks before things ramp up and it's back to the grind.
So what better time 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 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 Blount owns Byron Maxwell with an epic hurdle.
15. A different kind of Malcolm Go highlights a convincing road win against the San Francisco 49ers.
14. Chris Hogan finds some nice redemption against his old team in the form of a beautiful 53 yard TD.
13. Shea McClellin leaps the line to block a FG against the Baltimore Ravens.
12. LeGarrette Blount sets a franchise record with his 15th rushing TD of the year against the Denver Broncos.
11. Tom Brady hits Chris Hogan for a 79 yard TD to ice the game against the Baltimore Ravens.
10. Rob Gronkowski sets a Patriots All-Time receiving TD record by notching his 69th against the Buffalo Bills.
9. A kickoff return for a TD highlights a historic night for Dion Lewis in the AFC Divisional Round against the Houston Texans.
Number 8 is particularly special to me, as I was at this game as was able to witness it live from way, way up in the nosebleeds where all the degenerates and folks who don't have good enough credit to take out the bank loan necessary to afford lower bow seats are located.
8. Dont'a Hightower blows up Andy Dalton for a safety to give the Patriots some much-needed momentum against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sunday, October 16, 2016. The 2-3 Bengals travel to Foxboro to take on the 4-1 Patriots. More importantly, Tom Brady travels to Foxboro for the first time this season, back from his ludicrous suspension and playing at home after a fairly memorable game at Cleveland the week before. Cincy was coming off a loss at Dallas and were something of a disappointment so far in 2016, but most experts agreed that they had underperformed thus far and had the weapons to be a contender in the AFC. This was the Patriots, though, and Tommy B's homecoming, so there's no way that the Bengals would be able to hang with New England.
The final score of 35-17 makes this game seem like it was much more of a blowout than it actually was. The reality is that the Bengals kept this game extremely close for much of the contest; the score was 10-7 at halftime, and Cincy opened the third quarter with a nine play, 80 yard drive that saw Andy Dalton sneak into the end zone for the go-ahead score. When New England couldn't get anything going on their next drive and were forced to punt, the Bengals had the chance to potentially blow the game wide open with another score. Luckily, Ryan Allen pinned them inside their own 20 with his kick, and an offensive holding penalty on 2nd and 10 backed the Bengals up to their own eight yard line.
On 2nd and 18, the Bengals came out in a one back shotgun set, New England countering with the 5-2 nickel that became a staple of their defense in 2016. At the snap, Elandon Roberts blitzed right away, drawing the center over to his side, as Hightower masked his coverage as a robber linebacker. Dalton looked left, thinking that his line had picked up the blitz, and waited for his receiver to break out of his route. Just as he began turning his head, Hightower crashed the line, coming through virtually untouched and wrapping Dalton up before he was even able to register the pressure. Hightower spun Dalton around and dropped him in the end zone for the safety.
Gillette Stadium erupted. The defense went nuts. The Bengals offense walked to the sideline, dejected. With their lead cut to two points, they were forced to punt. Tommy B went 68 yards on 5 plays on the ensuing possession to retake the lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the day. New England added an exclamation point score with less than a minute left in the game to complete the convincing 35-17 victory.
Up until that sack, New England wasn't playing all that well. They certainly weren't playing poorly, but Brady was a little inaccurate, the defense was getting gashed, and they were having trouble moving the ball. Afterwards, though, it's like this was a completely different team. As great as this play was, it also represents what a real thing momentum is in the NFL. That sack took the Bengals out of their game and completely invigorated the Patriots. Their next four possessions went touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown to close out the game. Cincy would only tack on another three points before the whistle blew. As he has so many other times in the past, when the team needed a big play, Hightower took it upon himself to make it and completely changed the course of the game. There's a slight chance that it's more probable than not that I'm at least generally aware that Hightower might be showing up again at some point during this countdown, but for now his huge sack (heh) and safety is well-positioned at Number 8.
Check out the sack here.
Full Pats/Bengals highlights here.