Well, here we are. Just a few days away from the start of training camp. Rookies report on Sunday. Veterans report on Wednesday. By this time next week, you’ll be able to come to this site and read about what’s actually going on in the NFL instead of predictions and these recaps.
But that’s then. This is now. We’re officially into the Top 5 of the Top 20 Most Memorable Moments of 2017, so it’s time to get to work.
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.
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.
9. Stephon Gilmore gets airborne to break up a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game.
8. The Patriots trade Jimmy Garoppolo.
7. Gronk goes beast mode in the final two minutes to give the Patriots the lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
6. A standard punt return somehow turns into a safety against the Los Angeles Chargers.
As we enter into the Top 5, we take a look at one of the longest tenured Patriots as he makes his way into the record books.
5. Stephen Gostkowski sets a personal and franchise record with a 62 yard field goal just before halftime against the Oakland Raiders.
We’ve already broken down much of this game in our Number 13 Moment, so there’s no need to go into too much depth here. What was supposed to be a potential AFC Championship preview down in Mexico City turned into a 33-8 snoozer in which the Pats shut the Raiders out until the 4th quarter. New England only punted once all game. Tommy B threw for 340 yards and 3 TDs. The defense picked off Derek Carr and recovered a fumble. It was 17-0 at halftime and the rest of the game was more or less playing out the clock. As far as memorable games go, there isn’t a whole lot here that’s going to stick with us beyond this season.
With one very notable exception.
There’s a reason that Bill Belichick prefers to defer to the second half when it comes to possession. The logic is that if the Patriots can put up some points before halftime, they can then get the ball back, score again, and basically steal a possession by engineering back-to-back scoring drives. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can really swing the momentum of the game.
If you want to see this strategy executed to perfection, look no further than the last possession of the 2nd quarter in this game.
After cutting a promising Raiders drive short with a huge strip by Marquis Flowers and recovery by Pat Chung, the Patriots got the ball back at their own 7 yard line with just over 30 second left to play, two timeouts. Given the time and field position, it was definitely one of those “let’s see what happens on the first play of the game” scenarios regarding whether or not the Patriots were going to go aggressive and try to tack some points on the board. Dion Lewis was able to pick up 20 yards on 1st down, so it was on. Two plays later, Brady hit Danny Amendola for 18. a 10 yard completion to Gronk put the Patriots on the Raider 45 with five seconds left to play, and they burned their final timeout.
Perhaps in a different stadium, at a different altitude, with different weather conditions, Belichick would have opted for a Hail Mary here. A 62 yard field goal, if made, would represent the 3rd longest kick in NFL history, just two yards behind Matt Prater’s current record of 64. 62 yards would also be a Patriots record, as well as a personal record for kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who’s previous long kick was 58 earlier that year against the Carolina Panthers. So it was by no means a sure thing. But Ghost had been kicking well that season, the air was thin, the weather was perfect, and the clock would expire with the kick regardless, meaning the field position issue was moot. So why the hell not?
The special teams unit took the field. The Raiders burned their final timeout in an attempt to ice the kicker.
It didn’t work.
Gostkowski absolutely crushed the kick. It sailed through the right side of the upright and hit the protective net with force. Honestly, that kick would have been good from 70. As the ball sailed through, giving the Patriots a 17-0 lead heading into the locker room, Gostkowski was surrounded by teammates congratulating him on his achievement. The Patriots would captialize on that momentum in rthe 3rd quarter, needing just three plays to find the end zone again and put this one away for good.
At the end of the day, kicking a field goal in a blowout win isn’t anything to write home about. But whenever a Patriot player sets a personal and franchise record - one that isn’t too likely to be broken anytime soon - it’s definitely worthy of the Top 5. Not only that, but that was a beautiful kick, and had the Pats been a little bit less efficient on that final drive, Gostkowski could be sitting here right now as the NFL record holder for longest kick.
Plus, I feel like today is as good as any to give Ghost the recognition he deserves; he had some impossibly big shoes to fill as the successor to the single most clutch kicker in NFL history, a guy who kicked a 45 yard FG in the blinding snow and two games later kicked a 48 yarder to give the Patriots their first ever Super Bowl. Through absolutely no fault of his own, Gostkowski will always be compared to Adam Vinatieri. And because of that, fans (myself included) have been especially harsh on him, particularly during the very few cold streaks during his tenure with the team. But he’s one of the best, most reliable kickers in the league, we’re all lucky to have had him, and I’m glad he could finally get some love on this list.
Check out the kick here.
Full Pats/Raiders highlights here.