It’s the Monday after a long holiday weekend. Nothing is getting done today and we all know it. So thanks for slacking off with me as we continue our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2018. We’re starting to get into the nitty gritty here, which means that training camp is right around the corner, so time to get a move on.
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.
Every year, I post a moment or two that comes in a loss, and this year is no exception. Usually it isn’t ranked this high, but given the play and the circumstances...
7. The Miami Miracle.
Patriots at Miami. If those three words don’t cause you to shudder a little bit, you haven’t been watching this team for the past two decades. When it comes to divisional matchups, talent, records, and probabilities all go out the window, and never is that more true than when the Patriots travel to Miami. You can almost always chalk that one up to a loss - some more painful than others.
But when the 9-3 Patriots went down to South Florida to take on the 6-6 Dolphins, it looked like they’d be walking away with a season sweep. New England had already manhandled Miami in Week 4, and a 358 yard, 3 TD day from Tommy B had the Patriots up 33-28 with only 16 second left to play. The Patriots had just engineered a 10 play, 69 yard drive that not only killed the last five minutes of gameclock, but put New England up by five points, meaning the Dolphins had to get into the end zone or lose the game.
Gostkowski opted for a short kick, forcing a return to keep those final seconds ticking. Kalen Ballage fielded it at the 15 and took it out to the Miami 31. Nine seconds had elapsed, giving the Fins seven seconds and one play to go 69 yards.
At the snap, which was more or less an All Go with a few deep crosses thrown in, the Patriots only rushed four, with everyone else well back to swat down the Hail Mary pass and/or make the tackle when necessary.
Tannehill hit Kenny Stills at the 46, who immediately lateraled the ball to DeVante Parker. Parker then immediately tossed it to Kenyan Drake, who started weaving around the sidelines as the Patriots converged. They seemed to have him dead to rights - until he was able to sneak out into a bit of daylight and make a break for the end zone. Drake suddenly had daylight, and the only person between him and victory was, inexplicably, Rob Gronkowski. What Gronk was doing on the field during that play as Devin McCourty remained on the sidelines is a topic of debate even now, as he’s not a natural tackler and had been in steady decline physically as the season went on. Because Gronk couldn’t even come close to catching Drake, and as the clock expired, he waltzed into the end zone to give the Dolphins a 34-33 win.
Everyone went nuts. The stadium exploded. Max Kellerman passed out from joy. An onslaught of memes almost broke the internet. It was an impossible play, something that rarely ever happens, and certainly not to the Patriots, and once again, the Pats lost in Miami.
The loss dropped the Patriots to 9-4, causing them to lose their stranglehold on the One seed in the playoffs. It also left the division once again up for grabs, as Miami had evened out the tiebreaker and could make a late push to finally take the AFC East crown back from the team that won it every year. Dolphins fans couldn’t get enough of the play, and it didn’t take long before it was given a nickname: The Miami Miracle. It was one of those plays that will be adorning highlight reels for decades to come, and the image of a hobbled Gronk limping in vain to try and make the final play will be burned into our memories forever.
Under normal circumstances, I’d never rank a play like The Miami Miracle so high on a countdown of memorable moments from the previous season. However, I feel very confident ranking it here at Number 7 - and could easily have made a case for ranking it even higher - and here’s why.
First, it was just an objectively awesome play. It always sucks to be on the ass end of some insane, once-in-a-million-years event that costs your team the game - the Patriots know this feeling all too well - but if you take away the emotion that accompanies watching your team drop a game to some absolute craziness, you can acknowledge that plays like the Miami Miracle are a big part of what makes football so great. I’d like to hope we can all acknowledge that now; we’d all love to watch it if it happened to literally any other team but ours, so we have to factor that in. The Miami Miracle was a defining play of the 2018 NFL season as a whole.
Two, this play, more than most, gave me a deep and newfound appreciation for just how lucky we all are to be Patriots fans. Hear me out here: if the situation were reversed and the Patriots had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Miami on this play, it would have been awesome and for sure made the offseason countdown - but once we re-lived it here, that would have more or less been it. It wouldn’t have been the best play of the season by a longshot. We wouldn’t keep talking about it and celebrating it, as we all have much bigger moments to think about. For the Dolphins, however... I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that The Miami Miracle is one of the top moments, ever, for that franchise, and it’s certainly the one of the best things to happen to that team in the past ten years. I’m no Fins fan, and I could be totally wrong here, but I’d guess that Dolphins fans have The Miami Miracle, winning the AFC East in 2008, and the debut of the Wildcat Offense (also against the Patriots) as the top three Dolphins moments of the entire 21st Century. Hell, folks even had t-shirts made to commemorate the event.
Think about that for a moment: two regular season wins an a playoff appearance. Maybe I’m way off on that, but what else do Fins fans have to celebrate this century? As we Patriots fans bask in our sixth championship, Dolphins fans are looking back fondly on a freak play that took place during a regular season game that gave them an unlikely victory against a division rival that went on to win the Super Bowl later that year. Their all-time highlight is something we all would have completely forgotten about come September when the team raised their championship banner. If that level of disparity doesn’t make you kneel at the altar of Tebow and give praise to the fact that you’re a Pats fan, I don’t know what will.
And three - most importantly - if this play doesn’t happen, the Patriots win that game. If the Patriots win that game, they finish 12-4 and get the 1 Seed in the AFC. The AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Chiefs takes place at Gillette, not Arrowhead. Tom Brady doesn’t get his signature road win. That particular monkey remains on his back. Now obviously, this all assumes that the rest of the season and playoffs play out the same way and who knows what would have happened had the Miami Miracle not taken place, but given the way the season played out, this moment had a definitive impact on the Patriots beating Kansas City on the road on their way to their sixth Lombardi Trophy. A road AFC Championship win is way, way better than a home AFC Championship win, as it once again shut up all the talking heads trying to discredit Brady for not being able to win on the road in the playoffs. The narrative of the 2018 Patriots has this play to thank for making it an exceptionally sweet playoff run. Yeah, it sucked at the time, sure, but the end result of 2018 turned The Miami Miracle from a bitter pill to swallow to a sweet pull on an ice cold draft on a hot summer day, and so I think Number 7 is the right ranking.
If you feel like watching it, check out The Miami Miracle here.
Full Pats/Dolphins highlights here.