The 2018 NFL Draft is over, the Patriots have their rookie class, mini-camp is about to start, and the dead time on the NFL calendar is just around the corner. Time to get back to work counting down the Top 20 Most Memorable Moments of 2017.
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.
It would appear that we’re right in the thick of a Rob Gronkowski hot streak in our countdown, as the big man makes his third consecutive appearance on this list at Number 14.
14. A throw off the back foot leads to an epic Gronk touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.
The Patriots had lost, at home, against a team they probably should have beat to kick off the 2017 season. It’s pretty rare that the Patriots ever have a losing record, and what was supposed to be a joyous occasion - hoisting that 5th Championship Banner - was very much dampened by a loss that cast a pallor over the festivities. Their Week 2 matchup was against another team that had dropped the season opener in New Orleans; starting 0-2 isn’t a death sentence for your playoff chances, but it definitely doesn’t make things easy, and so both teams had a lot riding on this game.
Luckily for the Patriots, they came out of the gate swinging. They scored on seven of their 10 possessions and led this game 30-13 at halftime. It ended up being a 36-20 blowout that wasn’t even that close, as the Pats laid off the gas in the 2nd half out of respect for the other team in the NFL to get completely screwed over by Roger Goodell. It was a good mix of ground and air attack, but Tommy B was the start of the day, going 30 of 39 for 447 yards and 3 TDs. All the “Brady is finally starting to show his age” morons who were blathering away in Week 1 suddenly had to find a new talking point.
The whole game was a blast to watch, but it was New England’s 2nd TD of the day that really stands out. After holding the Saints to a field goal on their opening possession, New England started their next drive from the 25 yard line following a touchback. Brady was able to pick up a quick first down after a short screen to Rex Burkhead - who hauled in a receiving TD on the previous drive - went for 18 yards. A Mike Gillislee five yard run, followed by a Mike Gillislee one yard loss, set the Patriots up with a 3rd and 6 at their own 48.
With Brady in shotgun and Chris Hogan motioning from right to left, Gronk in the left slot and Dorsett as the Z receiver, the play designed seemed to be a split-level quick outs pass in which Tommy B would hit Hogan or Dorsett, whoever was most open. Gronk ran a shallow in-cross to draw both the LB and the safeties to the other side of the field, leaving single coverage on Hogan and Dorsett. However, neither safety bit, and coverage was solid along the left side. Brandin Cooks ran an out and up in the middle of the field, which drew the safety his way in order to prevent the big play. Unfortunately, that left poor Alex Anzalone, covering well above his pay grade, alone against the best tight end in the game. Gronk put a little juke step on Anzalone, broke free, and Anzalone tripped trying to keep up, leaving the big man all alone.
As all this was going down, Brady’s pocket was collapsing. he pulled his initial throw to Dorsett in order to prevent a potential pick as Joe Thuney struggled to keep inside leverage on his man. As the New Orleans defensive line swarmed around Tommy B, he kept his eyes downfield, seeing Gronk just as a hand got on his jersey to pull him down. Throwing off-balance and off his back foot, he hit a streaking Gronk perfectly in stride at the NO 30 yard line, where he broke for the end zone. Marcus Williams tried to make the stop, but he was helpless. Gronk stepped right over him and barreled into the end zone to put the Patriots up 13-3. It would soon be 20-3, at which point the game was pretty much over.
There are several reasons why this play makes the list. One, it was a great play by Gronk to get open, and good foresight by him to keep the play alive when the first looks broke down. Second, it was excellent vision, patience, and foresight by Brady, coupled with an amazing throw as he was going to the ground. And third, it was a much needed morale boost, a massive Brady-to-Gronk TD connection to officially put the ugliness of the week prior behind them. This offense was explosive, could score at will when firing on all cylinders, and things were going to be just fine. In Patriots Nation, regular season losses are major events, and it’s always good to get one back in convincing fashion. So this play is right where it should be at Number 14.
Check out the play here.
Full Pats/Saints highlights here.