This may be my favorite Friday of the year.
That’s a weird thing to say, as it’s just a random Friday in the Middle of May, but the bottom line is that by this time next week, we’ll all be getting ready to kick off Memorial Day Weekend and the unofficial start of summer. It won’t be long before beaches, barbecues, and more importantly, training camp, starts back up. So yeah, we’re all stuck at work today, but there are some pretty sweet times ahead.
And speaking of sweet, we’re rapidly approaching the Top 10 on our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2017. But we aren’t there yet...so let’s get to it.
The list so far:
20. Back-to-back touchdowns before the half against the New York Jets help the Patriots secure the #1 Seed in the AFC.
19. A one-handed Dion Lewis grab is pretty much the only thing that goes right against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
18. The Patriots pick up James Harrison.
17. A safety and a strip sack to help secure the Number 1 Seed in the AFC against the New York Jets.
16. Gronk’s inner caveman finally reveals itself and gets him suspended.
15. Brandin Cooks follows Gronk into the end zone...and rides him out.
14. A throw off the back foot leads to an epic Gronk touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.
13. Tom Brady hits Brandin Cooks for a 64 yard TD against the Oakland Raiders.
Number 12 finds us reliving a game that was supposed to be epic, but ended up a blowout.
12. A goal line stand ends with a huge stuff on 4th and 3 to preserve the shutout against the Atlanta Falcons.
Sometimes, the football scheduling gods just smile upon you, and a huge game the previous season presents itself the following year in the form of a much anticipated rematch. In 2016, it didn’t get any bigger than the last game of the season, in which the Patriots completed a comeback for the ages against the Atlanta Falcons to give Tom Brady his fifth championship. It was one of the greatest games ever played, the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, and an instant classic. So when the schedule for the 2017 season came out in April, one of the first things everyone looked for was when the Falcons would be coming to Foxboro in hopes of exacting some revenge. The answer to that question was October 22nd, Week 7, representing the third of four straight AFC East opponents for Atlanta. So far, they had yet to beat an opponent in the division, dropping a Week 6 game to Miami and a Week 4 game to Buffalo. A hot 3-0 start quickly turned to 3-2, and if the Falcons were going to avoid dropping to .500 on the year, they would need to beat New England, at home, in primetime on Sunday night.
In what was a polar opposite of the Super Bowl, this was a game led by defense, at least early on. Both teams traded punts, and then Atlanta was able to drive all the way down to the New England 19 on their third possession before Cassius Marsh blocked a FG attempt to keep the game scoreless. Tommy B marched right down the field after that, hitting Brandin Cooks for the 11 yard TD to begin a series of five consecutive scoring drives for the Patriots. Atlanta, however, couldn’t get anything going at all; whether it was nerves, lack of execution, or Bill Belichick cheating by manipulating the weather a la Storm from the X-Men to ensure a heavy fog settled over Gillette Stadium is anybody’s guess, but the Patriots took a 17-0 lead into the half and coasted to a 23-7 win.
Perhaps the most memorable part of this game was NBC needing to abandon their standard camera angle due to a complete lack of visibility, meaning much of the contest was broadcast like it was a game of Madden Football. Nobody really knew what was going on (not that that was too much of a chance of pace for Chris Collinsworth), and the 2nd half more or less flew by as the Patriots played possession, milked the clock, and added two field goals in the 2nd half to fully put the game away. The Falcons sniffed the red zone a few times, and scored a garbage time TD on their last possession of the game, but this one was never close.
A close 2nd to the fog and camera angle, however, came early in the 4th quarter as Atlanta was driving. they had missed a FG on their previous possession, which meant they were moving the ball; they just couldn’t get any points on the board. However, if they could score a TD to bring it to a three score game...well, we all know a thing or two about the Patriots, Falcons, and erasing big leads. Atlanta had a 1st and Goal at the 10 before a nine yard pass to Mohamed Sanu on 2nd down brought the ball to the 1 yard line. On 3rd and Goal, a fade route to Julio Jones got broken up by Malcolm Butler, and suddenly it was 4th down.
Not only had the Falcons had no FG luck this game, they also needed touchdowns, not field goals. Furthermore, it was only one yard to score, the fog was thick, and they had a solid running attack. Going for it was a no brainer.
The Falcons, came out with an empty backfield as New England operated out of their goal line package, which caused a bit of a ruckus in the Patriots secondary as adjustments were made. Taylor Gabriel ran in motion pre-snap, and then took the ball from Matt Ryan via handoff for a Jet Sweep.
The Patriots were not fooled.
Shedding his block immediately, Kyle Van Noy met Gabriel five yards behind the line of scrimmage and brought him to the ground immediately, resulting in a loss of five and a turnover on downs. The play was doomed from the start, as the Patriots seemed to read it all they way and the Atlanta blockers offered little resistance as Van Noy penetrated the backfield and made the stop. Yet another red zone trip by Atlanta ended in no points. The Patriots would add a field goal to their lead on a drive that started from their own six, going 74 yards and eating up over five minutes of clock.
This was just such a definitive moment in this game. It almost reminded me of the Pats/Bills matchup in 2003 where the Patriots, winning 31-0 (the same score they got beat by in Week 1 of that year) brought their starters back into the game to ensure they preserved the shutout. The score ultimately wouldn’t have mattered based on the way the Patriots were playing, but it was almost like it was a matter of principle. This play officially broke the Falcons will (well, that day, at least), reminded the world that this was Tom Brady’s house, and served as the ultimate example of one team imposing their will on another. Granted, it wasn’t the smartest playcall on Atlanta’s part...but that’s kind of par for the course for them when they play the Patriots.
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here.