Training camp is inching closer and close. Bill Belichick is most likely spending this afternoon fishing on VIII Rings, Tommy B is likely in Montanta doing sprints, Julian Edelman is likely somewhere being really, really good looking, and here we all are in the home stretch of our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2018.
We’re almost into the Top 5. As with any countdown, the Top 5 represents the best of the best. Only the most significant, meaningful, and/or impactful plays make that particular list within a list. So the last play not to make the cut is sort of the best not-best play of the year, if that makes any sense. Big shoes to fill for sure, and to be honest you could have made a strong case for any number of the list so far to be in the six spot instead of this one.
Speaking of the list so far:
20. Danny Etling gets half of the Giants fired with an 86 yard touchdown run.
19. The Patriots demolish the Jets at home to secure a playoff bye.
18. Julian Edelman bounces off a Bill and into the end zone on a 4th down conversion.
17. Some punt team acrobatics keep the Steelers from getting a touchback.
16. Gronk magic returns with a 34 yard touchdown seam route catch against the New York Jets.
15. James Develin finds the end zone twice against the Minnesota Vikings.
14. The New England Patriots trade for Josh Gordon.
13. A Julian Edelman screen pass and an epic Tom Brady fakeout secures a primetime win on Sunday Night Football over the Green Bay Packers.
12. The Patriots right the ship with a Week 4 blowout of the Miami Dolphins.
11. Special teams lead the way for a decisive road victory over the Chicago Bears.
10. Tom Brady avoids the sack on 3rd and goal and dives headfirst into the end zone to take the lead against the Kansas City Chiefs.
9. Tom Brady becomes the all time passing yards leader in a win over the New York Jets.
8. Tom Brady eclipses 1,000 career rushing yards with a five yard scamper against the Minnesota Vikings.
7. The Miami Miracle.
It’s all too rare that I get the chance to give some props to one of the cornerstones of the 2010s Patriots team, and so I’m very happy to be giving him some much deserved credit today.
6. A Devin McCourty pick-six seals a Monday Night victory over the Buffalo Bills.
The 2018 Patriots were, for a good chunk of the season, a team in transition. They took significantly longer than usual finding their stride, and even late in the season they still didn’t really have an identity the way that Patriots teams of the past did. They weren’t a defensive juggernaut complemented by an efficient offense. They weren’t putting everyone’s mind in a pretzel with a 2TE Joker base offense. And they certainly weren’t a high flying passing attack that could seemingly score points at will; in fact, as the Week 8 Monday Night showdown at Buffalo approached, the offense had only managed to crack score more than 24 points once all season, a 43-40 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. The Patriots did hang 38 on the Bears the following week, but two of those TDs came from special teams. So while folks were certainly confident of a Patriots win over the Bills, especially with Buffalo forced to start Derek Anderson at QB, they weren’t sure what to expect from an offensive standpoint - particularly given Buffalo’s stout, punishing defense.
And for most of this game, defense was all there really was to talk about. New England’s first half possessions went punt, FG, FG, FG, Missed FG, and they only broke into the red zone once. Buffalo didn’t fare much better, scoring just three points on four drives, and the 9-3 score as both teams headed into the locker room had most casual fans reaching for the remote to see what else was on.
The second half didn’t fare any better, punts and field goals were the magic words of the day, and as the third quarter bled into the fourth, neither team had found the end zone. The Patriots were up 12-6, and people started to get the feeling that the first team to score a touchdown was going to win the game.
After forcing a Buffalo punt at the start of the fourth quarter, the New England offense finally woke up. Starting from their own 15, it became the Julian Edelman and James White show (also sound familiar?) as Brady hit one or the other to drive the Patriots to the Buffalo 444 yard line. A Cordarrelle Patterson end around picked up 22 more, and then a deep pass to Chris Hogan put the ball at the Buffalo one yard line. James White punched it in to cap off the 10 play, 85 yard drive that represented pretty much the only thing either offense had done up to that point. The Pats tried to go for two, but the attempt failed, making the score 18-6.
There was 10 minutes left in the game at this point, which was enough time to come back if the Bills could just score on their ensuing possession. And score they did, it would appear; Derek Anderson marched the Bills down to the New England 25 yard line and hit Jason Croom for the score. However, the booth review revealed that Croom bobbled the ball in the end zone and thus never had full possession, negating the TD. 3rd and 10 Buffalo from the 25. A Charles Clay false start then pushed Buffalo back five yards, making it 3rd and 15.
There are very few plays in the playbook designed to pick up 15 yards, and even fewer quarterbacks who can run those plays effectively. Derek Anderson is not among those quarterbacks.
The Bills were in shotgun with Stephon Gilmore isolated on Kelvin Benjamin on the weak side. Charles Clay was lined up in the slot across from JC Jackson. At the snap, Clay ran a simple post route to the sticks with Jackson gaining outside leverage. Clay actually had a slight step on Jackson, so if Anderson could really rifle it in there, there was a chance to make the conversion.
As the play unfolded, Devin McCourty was patrolling the deep third of the zone with eyes on both Benjamin and Clay. Gilmore was able to use his size and hips to force Benjamin towards the sidelines, meaning McCourty wasn’t needed for inside support. At the same time, McCourty looked into the backfield at Anderson, who quickly glanced Benjamin’s way before locking in on Clay, who was just starting to break into his post. Anderson let the pass go, completely oblivious to McCourty, who timed his run perfectly and intercepted the pass at the 16 yard line.
Since McCourty caught the pass in stride, he was able to immediately take off running down the sidelines, where a wall of Patriots defenders were there to block for him. He ran completely untouched to the 20 yard line, were only Derek Anderson was there to try and make the tackle. Not only would Anderson have had to get past Adrian Clayborn, who was there to block, but McCourty made a quick juke like he was going to cut inside before, which completely turned Anderson around and allowed McCourty to go 84 yards to the house. Patriots 25, Bills 6.
Although the game was never really in doubt, you never know with these divisional matchups, and the Bills were driving and were a bobbled catch away from making it a one score contest. However, McCourty once again proved that he’s one of the smartest, most athletic safeties in the league and helped his team generate yet another win. Not only was it a great individual effort, but it was a perfectly diagnosed read and a rare display of just how fast Devin McCourty actually is. Combine all that with the play being a pick six, and an 84 yard one at that, this one is an easy choice for Number 6.
Check out the play here.
Full Pats/Bills highlights here.