Here we are. The Top 5 at last.
Training camp is all set to begin, and we’re under a month out from the first Patriots preseason game of the season. It’s always awesome that the last few moments on the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of the previous season fall right around the time that training camp and the preseason get under way, as it gives us the best of both worlds; we can look back at the absolute best of the year before while stoking our optimism and expectations for the season to come.
As with any Top 5, only the best can make the cut. I always factor in not only the quality of the play/moment, but also the circumstances surrounding it and the impact it had on the narrative as a whole. This year’s Top 5 Moments are all awesome, and I can’t wait until we get to Number 1.
But first, 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.
6. A Devin McCourty pick-six seals a Monday Night victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Number 5 should probably be an entire game, but we already have something like that coming up very soon, and I already touched on this game as we cracked the Top 10, so we’re going to stick with a specific drive here so this article isn’t 10,000 words long.
5. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski team up to lead the Patriots on a late game-winning drive against the Kansas City Chiefs.
When you look back on the first game of 2018 between the Patriots and Chiefs, it’s easy to forget that the score was 24-9 New England leading into the half. When the final score of a contest is 43-40, you figure the score at halftime is something like 28-28, but KC had all kinds of problems finding the end zone in the first two quarters of this one (something of a theme with that team, it would appear).
However, the third quarter saw the Chiefs score on all three their possessions, while the Patriots were only able to manage two field goals. KC also scored on their first possession of the fourth quarter too in what became an absolute explosion of offense; when the Patriots were able to take a 40-33 lead with just over three minutes to go, the speed at which both teams had been scoring left nobody thinking the score would stay the way it was for long.
What nobody saw coming, though, was a one play, 75 yard drive in which Patrick Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill in stride and he absolutely rocketed down the sideline to even the score just like that. It was 40-33 with 3:15 to play, and 40-40 with 3:03 left to play. It was just that kind of game.
The good news about such a quick score was that it gave Tommy B more time to work his way down the field. The Chiefs defense was gassed, and with the score tied the Patriots only needed to get into FG range to take home a win that would decide who had the inside track on the 1 Seed in the AFC. Furthermore, the Chiefs had already used two of their three 2nd hald timeouts already, so the Patriots were in prime position - as long as they could move the ball.
After the touchback, Brady hit Julian Edelman for seven yards, then picked up the first on two Sony Michel runs. A short pass to James White not only gave New England 16 more yards, but also put Tom Brady at 3rd all-time with his 84th career 300 yard game. The Patriots had 1st and 10 at the KC 48 with 51 seconds to play.
Up to this point in the drive, the Patriots had been going shallow, taking the easy yards, and milking the clock. They only needed about 15 more yards or so to be well within Ghost’s range, and seeing as how there was still plenty of time left, it made all the sense in the world to keep looking for the short, high probability throws. Because of that, on the next play the Chiefs played press at the line, looking to bump the receivers and take away anything underneath.
With James White in the backfield and Chris Hogan wide to the right, Julian Edelman and Gronk were in the right slot with Josh Gordon alone on the left side. Who was covering who was completely irrelevant, as Brady saw the mismatch right away: Josh Shaw was alone on Gronk, with only one safety in the backfield charged with covering to much field. As Edelman broke on a skinny post to the inside and Gordon ran the Go, the safety had no choice but to stick to the middle as Gronkowski put a move on Shaw and got a step. Hogan’s quick in route ensured that Gronk was alone on the sideline, and Tommy B showed the world what a lousy deep ball he has by putting it right on Gronk’s hands for a 39 yard gain. Shaw tackled Gronk inside the 10 yard line, forcing the Chiefs to use their final timeout with 17 seconds to play.
The next play was just a smush run to the center of the field for Brady, and Gostkowski kicked the 28 yard chip shot right as time expired to give the Patriots a 43-40 win in an absolutely wild primetime matchup.
At the time, everyone simply assumed that this game meant that when these two teams met again in the playoffs, it would be in Foxboro as opposed to at Arrowhead. it obviously didn’t work out that way (and thank Tebow, I say), but this was about as big a win as it gets in the regular season, and it was a great confidence boost to any Patriots fan who might have been a little pessimistic about this team.
This drive was also as classic a Tom Brady drive as it gets. Late in the fourth quarter, game is on the line, the Patriots need a drive, and Tommy B delivers. In an early part of the season marred by consecutive losses and question marks about whether or not this team still had that killer instinct, the Patriots answered the bell here.
It was also just vintage Brady to Gronk, a connection that we may very well never see again. Gronkowski only had three catches on the day, but all of them were huge, and when Brady needed to make a play to give his team the chance to win, there was only one place he was going (foreshadowing!). Gronkowski’s career highlight reel is lousy with plays like this, but every big play he made in 2018 - his last season - is just a little more meaningful.
Check out the game highlights here.