Minicamp is over, summer is upon us, and we’re going to be starved for football news for the next few weeks. What better time to continue our countdown of 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 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.
10. Rob Gronkowski hauls in a spectacular one-handed TD grab to even the score against the Buffalo Bills.
The Number 9 Moment takes us into the playoffs for the first time, and a huge stop from a former division rival.
Patriots vs. Steelers for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl seemed like a foregone conclusion since before the 2017 season even started; the only real question in everybody’s minds was whether the game would happen in Foxboro or Pittsburgh. Which made Jacksonville’s upset of the Steelers in the divisional round all that much more of a surprise - nobody saw that one coming, including Patriots fans, so when Blake Bortles and company came to Gillette Stadium on January 21st, 2018, there were a few folks who were understandably confident in a victory. After all, Bortles was no Big Ben, and the Patriots weren’t going to overlook the Jaguars the way the Steelers did.
So when the Jags took a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter, holding the Patriots completely scoreless in the third, the nerves began to set in. Jacksonville’s defense was among the best in the league, and with an offensive gameplan that included high percentage passes and clock-killing runs, there simply might not be enough time to mount a patented Tom Brady 4th quarter comeback.
We all know how that ended.
We’ll be skipping ahead a bit here, as I have a feeling this game will be making another appearance on this list before too long, but the Patriots were able to engineer two touchdown drives to take a 20-24 lead with a little less than three minutes left in the game. The New England defense had been phenomenal all half, only surrendering two field goals, and would need to make one more stand to keep the Jags out of the end zone and send the Patriots to their second consecutive Super Bowl.
Jacksonville started on their own 25 yard line. Two plays later, they were on the New England 38, courtesy of a 29 yard bomb to Dede Westbrook. Stephon Gilmore was in coverage, but he got beat at the line and allowed Westbrook to get behind him for a huge gain. The Jags were knocking on the door, and the two minute warning hadn’t even sounded yet.
The Patriots were able to make a massive play just two plays later, when Kyle van Noy penetrated the backfield and stripped Bortles of the ball just as he was about to release it. Jacksonville recovered, but lost nine yards on the play to bring up a 3rd and 19. It was obviously four down territory here, and Jacksonville had the two minute warning to formulate a strategy.
The next play saw the Jags only gain four yards on a short right out to tight end James O’Shaughnessy - a name that should be familiar to Patriots fans, as he came to the team via the Chiefs on a trade in April of last year. It was 4th and 15 at the NE 43; one more shot to make history for Blake Bortles.
It was a 3WR bunch formation for Jacksonville, and the Patriots opted for man coverage. Gilmore was on Washington, the receiver who had burned him earlier that drive. At the snap, James Harrison got a good jump at the line, beat his man, and forced Bortles to step up in the pocket, where Trey Flowers had shed his block and closed in to make the hit. Bortles had to throw about a second earlier than he would have liked as Westbrook broke off his cut and drove up the field. He had a step on Gilmore, with nobody behind him; if Bortles could get enough air under the ball, there was nothing between Washington and the end zone but grass.
The ball was well-thrown, but the timing of Gilmore’s leap was better. He jumped up, completely laid himself out, raised his right hand, and batted the ball away for a turnover on downs. One of the most athletic plays you’ll see all year came on a 4th down that gave the ball back to Tommy B and the offense and allowed them to close out the game.
Fans were lukewarm on Gilmore during the first few games of 2017. He looked lost at times, communication was a huge issue, and people were starting to wonder if Gilmore would be the latest acquisition who simply didn’t have the level of football intelligence necessary to make it in the Patriots system. However, he really came into his own as the season progressed and became a staple of the New England secondary. This play was almost like a cap on the decision to sign him, combined with the gravity of the situation, so I think it makes all the sense in the world to rank it here at Number 9.
Check out the play here.
Film room breakdown of the play here.