I can’t believe it’s the last weekend of July. Summers absolutely fly by, don’t they?
On one hand, that stinks; summer is the time of year where folks take time off, enjoy some long weekends at the beach, and fire up the grill to gorge themselves on all kinds of cured meats. But on the other hand, a rapidly dwindling summer means that training camp has officially started and the NFL season isn’t too far away.
And with that in mind... time to keep on down the home stretch of our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots 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.
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.
5. Stephen Gostkowski sets a personal and franchise record with a 62 yard field goal just before halftime against the Oakland Raiders.
It’s always great when you can come up big on the road at a stadium that usually gives you nightmares, so our Number 4 Moment takes us over to Denver.
4. A 103 yard Dion Lewis kickoff return for a touchdown highlights special teams dominance in a beatdown of the Denver Broncos.
Patriots at Denver. If you’ve been following this team in the 21st century, those three words have historically been enough to make you feel a little queasy. As dominant as Tommy B has been in his Hall of Fame career, there has just been something about going to Mile High Stadium to play the Broncos that brings him down to earth a bit. Whether it’s the altitude, the hostile environment, or the historically great defense that has been the catalyst, Patriots fans are usually at their least confident when the team has to travel to Denver. Brady came into Mile high for the Week 10 matchup at a paltry 7-9 against the Broncos, and had won only three of his 10 trips to the stadium. The Broncos were struggling in 2017, having lost their last four straight, but none of that really matters when these two teams play, and the energy inside the stadium was palpable.
Tommy B got off to an ignominious start, as the Patriots received the opening kickoff and immediately went three and out, gaining just five yards in 90 seconds. Ryan Allen lined up to punt, setting the Broncos up to take a lead and the momentum that is so crucial in games like these. However, return man Isaiah McKenzie muffed the punt and Jacob Hollister recovered, giving the Pats the ball at the Denver 24. Two passes to Rex Burkhead later, and the Patriots were up 7-0.
Denver was actually able to put together a pretty solid answering drive, traveling 58 yards on eight plays before the offense stalled at the NE 21 and had to settle for a field goal. Brock Osweiler was accurate and decisive, and CJ Anderson was running well. The defense had done its job before being forced back into an impossibly short field, and if the offense could keep moving the ball, the Broncos could make a game of it.
Of course, the ensuing kickoff put all that to bed.
Dion Lewis fielded McManus’s kick three yards deep in his own end zone with a decent wedge forming in front of him. Blocking was excellent (although Brandon Bolden may have gotten away with a little bit of a hold), and Lewis made it all the way to the 20 before a Bronco had a bead on him. However, Lewis turned on another gear and broke down the sideline, the entire Broncos kicking unit behind him. The only player between Lewis and the end zone was Brandon McManus, which was one of the mismatchiest mismatches of the entire 2017 season. A quick juke inside, a cut outside, and McManus was left behind like Wyle E. Coyote in a cloud of Roadrunner dust. Lewis broke down the sideline and headed for daylight.
The juke and cut Lewis used to smoke McManus had cost him a little bit of speed, however, and it allowed Devontae Booker to get an angle and catch up.
Lewis turned the burners back on just as Booker reached him, and all he could do was offer a little shove in an attempt to push Lewis out of bounds. It didn’t work, and Lewis raced the rest of the way into the end zone untouched. Patriots 14, Broncos 3.
After another Broncos field goal, the ensuing New England possessions went as follows: field goal, field goal (coming from a blocked punt that gave the Pats great field position), touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. By the time the Patriots turned the ball over on downs on back-to-back possessions from the Denver 25 and 33 respectively, the game was 41-16 and had more or less been over since halftime, where the Patriots took a 27-9 lead into the locker room. Tom Brady threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns - but perhaps most impressive was the single sack that he registered on the day.
Most impressive on offense, at least - because this game was all about the special teams. A recovered muffed punt, a kickoff touchdown, and a punt block, all of which resulted in points, represented a total team victory against a team that was suddenly no longer scaring anyone. Tommy B played well - which he doesn’t often do in Denver - but special teams made sure that the Patriots were going to come out of there with the W. The Lewis run and score gets the highlight reel nod here, but in reality, a huge special teams day is what gets this one into the four spot on this list.
Check out the Lewis return here.
Full game highlights here.