Training camp is set to kick off! Football is back!
This is the best time of the year in a lot of ways; optimism is sky high, there’s at least one football game on every week from now until February of 2020, and we’re all getting ready to play our favorite Patriots preseason game, “Who The Hell is That Guy?”
But that means we need to wrap up this countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2018 as soon as possible so we can start making our wildly inaccurate 53 man roster projections and dust off those tried and true buzzwords like “longshot,” “camp body” “dark horse,” and “preseason sleeper.”
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.
5. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski team up to lead the Patriots on a late game-winning drive against the Kansas City Chiefs.
As we inch closer and closer to the end of this list, it’s only fitting that we start talking about the only part of the NFL calendar that actually matters in New England: the postseason.
4. The Patriots shut everybody up and dismantle the Los Angeles Chargers in the Divisional Round.
The New England Patriots finished the 2018 season with a paltry 11-5 record, their worst finish since all the way back in 2009. They had lost back-to-back games on two different occasions throughout the year, including the crucial month of December, and closed out the regular season with two wins over the hapless Jets and Bills. 11-5 was good enough for a first round playoff bye and the two seed in the AFC Overall, but as this team entered into the playoffs, they weren’t perceived in the same manner as past iterations of the January Patriots. The Pats were usually the team to beat in the AFC, if not the NFL overall, but in 2018 there were two teams that seemed to be making much more Super Bowl noise than New England was.
One of those teams was the #1 Seed Kansas City Chiefs, led by league MVP Patrick Mahomes. The other was their division rival, the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers shared the best record in the AFC with the Chiefs, but due to the head-to-head tiebreaker, LA was relegated to a Wild Card spot and would be playing all of its playoff games on the road. In any other division, the Chargers would be at home enjoying a week off during Wild Card Weekend, but since the rules are the rules, what many thought was the best team in the conference had to go on the road to Baltimore in the first round.
The Chargers handled the Ravens fairly easily, notching six sacks and jumping out to a 23-3 lead before Baltimore made it interesting too little, too late. And since the 6 Seed Colts took down the AFC South Champ Texans, that meant that Indy was heading to KC and LA was heading to Foxboro for the Divisional Round.
Everybody knows that the Patriots are excellent at home in the playoffs; their record speaks for itself. But this just wasn’t the same Patriots team. It was all smoke and mirrors. The offense didn’t have teeth. The defense couldn’t rush the passer. the 2018 Patriots were a paper lion, just waiting for a team like Los Angeles to come in and send them home for a long, controversy-filled offseason. The real question on many peoples’ minds wasn’t whether or not the Chargers could take out the Patriots - of course they could - but just how far Philip Rivers could take this squad in the playoffs.
The answer to that question, as it turns out, was the coin toss in the AFC Divisional Round.
New England received the opening kickoff and launched a fourteen play, 83 yard drive that ate up almost half of the quarter. The Chargers were able to answer right back on a busted coverage to even the score, but that was more or less all she wrote. New England scored TDs on four of their next five possessions, whereas the Chargers would never hold the ball for longer than three minutes on a drive. Sony Michel had three rushing touchdowns. Rex Burkhead added another. Tommy B hit Philip Dorsett on a beautiful corner route. The Patriots were up 35-7 at halftime in a game that honestly wasn’t even that close, and the Chargers had absolutely no answers.
With the game more or less over by halftime, the Patriots altered their offensive strategy in the third quarter and stuck almost exclusively to runs and short passes in order to kill clock and limit LA possessions. Two drives of 14 and 8 plays to open up the second half both ended in field goals, and from there it was clock kill mode in full swing. The Chargers put 14 points on the board late when the game was already well out of reach, but with the final score 41-28, nobody ever thought there was a comeback in the works at any point. The Patriots once again handled their business at home and prepared to head to Kansas City for yet another AFC Championship game.
Tom Brady threw for 343 yards and a TD. New England racked up 155 total yards on the ground, led by the rookie Michel’s 129 and 3 TDs. The defense sacked Rivers twice, picked him off once, and limited the Chargers to just 19 yards rushing. Granted, LA more or less had to abandon the run after finding themselves in such a deep hole so early, but Melvin Gordon is one of the better RBs in the league. It was just total domination from start to finish, and there wasn’t anything anybody could say about it. There were, of course, those who decided to spin the victory as LA laying an egg and not showing up on defense, but for anyone who actually watched the game could do nothing but sigh and get ready to watch the Patriots play for yet another shot at the Super Bowl.
Victories like this one are sweet for a number of reasons. One, first and foremost, it’s a playoff win; these are the only wins that matter in New England. Two, it was a complete team victory, the running game and the passing game and the defense and the special teams units all working in unison to compliment each other. And three, it was the Patriots shutting everyone up in spectacular fashion. Make no mistake; the Los Angeles Chargers were a wagon in 2018. They only scored less than 20 points once all year. Rivers threw for 4300 yards and 32 TDs. But the Patriots are the Patriots, and this was just such a sweet reminder that the real talking gets done on the field.
Full game highlights here.