Congratulations, everyone - we did it.
We survived the Winter. We endured a pretty crappy Spring. And we coasted through moments 20-11 on our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2017, which means it’s time to crack the coveted Top 10.
The list so far:
20. Back-to-back touchdowns before the half against the New York Jets help the Patriotssecure 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.
12. A goal line stand ends with a huge stuff on 4th and 3 to preserve the shutout against the Atlanta Falcons.
11. A bizarre fumble turns a touchdown into a touchback against the New York Jets.
Our number 10 moment once again sees a familiar face, doing familiar things - but that doesn’t mean we should be taking it for granted.
10. Rob Gronkowski hauls in a spectacular one-handed TD grab to even the score against the Buffalo Bills.
Everyone expected the Week 16 matchup between the Patriots and Bills to have huge playoff implications for both teams all the way back in September, right?
It’s funny; every year, the experts talk about how the Patriots window is closing and how the AFC East is terrible division, and yet every year, there seems to be an AFC East team vying for a Wild Card spot. This was certainly the case this past season, as the 8-6 Buffalo Bills traveled to Foxboro in hopes of securing a much needed win to finally break their decades-long playoff drought. The Patriots, on the other hand, needed to keep winning in order to keep Pitssburgh at bay and maintain their hold on the number one seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. What was supposed to be more or less a throwaway game had a lot riding on it for both sides.
And things didn’t start out too well for New England. They punted on their first possession, couldn’t punch it in from the Bills 3 yard line on their next and settled for a field goal, and then Tommy B threw a pick six after that. Buffalo had a 10-3 lead midway through the 2nd quarter and seemed to be holding strong, the possibility of a playoff berth galvanizing the team, and that pick six had the crowd at Gillette eerily silent.
Luckily for the Patriots, the team woke up on the ensuing drive, going 75 yards on nine plays that ended with a 17 yard TD pass to Gronk to even the score. And what a pass it was; facing single coverage on 1st and 10, Gronk was lined up as the Z receiver at the snap across from safety Micah Hyde. Brady, seeing the mismatch (crazy to think that Micah Hyde on a TE is a mismatch, but that’s life with Gronk), didn’t even bother waiting for any of the plays to develop as he released the ball almost immediately in Gronk’s direction. Hyde was in solid coverage, matching Gronk step for step and funneling him towards the sidelines to prevent any in-cuts; however, any DB will tell you that a perfectly thrown back shoulder pass is virtually impossible to defend, and that’s basically what this play was.
With one small caveat, of course.
Brady, perhaps respecting Hyde’s abilities and understanding that Gronk has roughly the wingspan of a small plane, threw the ball well towards the sideline and almost out of bounds. Gronkowski, adjusting in mid-air, reached his massive right paw out and hauled the ball in with one hand, all the while managing to secure it and get both feet in before falling across the goal line. Every possible replay angle showed a clean catch, the establishment of possession, and both feet in bounds...touchdown Patriots.
New England would go on to score on every ensuing possession of that game except for the Brian Hoyer human victory cigar drive, while the Bills could only muster up a few field goals. The final score was 37-16, an absolute blowout to get Pats fans’ holiday started a little early, and built some nice momentum going into the final week of the year.
But more importantly - what a grab by Gronkowski. It has become something of a common occurrence around Patriots Nation to watch Gronk haul in an absurd catch like this one, but that shouldn’t make it any less impressive. A man of his size shouldn’t have that kind of agility, but time and time again he proves that he’s the best in the game right now, and quite possibly the best tight end of all time. To jump, turn in mid-air, avoid tight coverage from a very good safety, pinpoint the ball, catch it using only one hand, establish possession, get both feet in bounds, and complete the process of the catch while going through the end zone is a remarkable feat no matter who you are; when you’re 6’6”, 270 lbs, and built like a gorilla, it’s even more impressive. So I can’t think of a better play to kick off the Top 10.
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here.