Here we are. The Top 3.
I looked back through my files from last year, and it would seem that I’m ahead of my usual schedule on the countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2018. Usually I end up revealing Number 1 just before the regular season kicks off, and yet here we are, only three to go, and the Patriots’ preseason hasn’t even started yet. Guess I’ve been slacking off at work more frequently as of late.
It’s ultimately a good thing, though, as getting this list done earlier will give us all more time to focus on training camp and preseason games and roster projections and all the stuff that really matters. After all, 2018 is in the books, and the Patriots have a title to defend. So let’s finish strong!
Of course, that said, watch me not post another one of these until Labor Day.
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.
4. The Patriots shut everybody up and dismantle the Los Angeles Chargers in the Divisional Round.
At Number 3, we go back to the regular season to check out another record, an amazing catch, and unlimited potential.
3. Tom Brady hits a double-covered Josh Gordon in the end zone for a 34 yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts.
Remember when Pats/Colts was a rivalry?
All of that ended the day Peyton Manning departed for Denver; since Andrew Luck was drafted, the Colts have yet to take a game from New England. It’s going to happen eventually, I’m sure - but it certainly didn’t happen this season.
The Colts were struggling early, sitting at 1-3 as they came to Foxboro on October 4th, 2018 to take on the 2-2 Patriots. New England was coming off of an absolute beatdown of the Dolphins at home, whereas Indy had just dropped a close one to the Texans. Nobody really thought that the Colts were going to come into Gillette and win - but it had been a rocky start for the Patriots thus far...so, maybe?
The Patriots scored on four of their six first half possessions, and it was 24-3 at the half as the Colts simply couldn’t get anything going. However, in the 2nd half, Tommy B saw good passes bounce right off the hands of Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowksi, both of which ended up as interceptions for the Colts, and they were able to capitalize in order to bring the score up to 24-17. The momentum had swung clearly in Indianapolis’s favor, and the Patriots needed to do something to get it back.
The Patriots took the ensuing kickoff from their own 25 yard line, and Brady hit Josh Gordon for a quick 16 yards followed by two Sony Michel runs to set the Patriots up at the Indy 48. Brady’s next pass was a 7 yard out to Chris Hogan that put Tommy B over 300 yards passing for the 83rd time, good enough for 3rd all time. Seven more yards to Edelman put the Patriots on the Colts 34, in field goal range and in position to make it a two score game.
On the next play, New England came out in a single back bunch set with Gordon alone on the right side, Edelman and Hogan on the left. Gronk was on the line of scrimmage as an extra blocker. The linebackers bit on the playaction to Michel, the offensive line did their job, and Brady scanned the left side of the field. Hogan was the target on a deep post as Edelman ran a shallow out towards the sidelines. Gordon ran a simple middle cross route in order to draw safeties to him in order to open up the field for Hogan. However, the Colts recovered from the playaction well, the safeties didn’t bite, and Hogan wasn’t able to get enough separation to make the long bomb worth the risk. The play was basically over...but the line held, and Tommy B still had time.
As Hogan came out of his route, Tom Brady pointed over to his right, indicating that he wanted Hogan to streak across the end zone. Hogan made the break - but by this point the line had been blocking for upwards of eight seconds, and the Colts had finally broken through. With a defender in his face, Brady let the ball rip at the 42 yard line, eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.
As Hogan streaked across the field, Josh Gordon had also broken out of his route. Christopher Milton had him blanketed, but slipped slightly as Gordon broke off and headed for the end zone. Safety Matthias Farley was in pursuit, and Milton showed impressive recovery speed as Gordon took off. When Brady released the ball, Gordon had a step on Milton and Farley was still heading over to assist, creating a decent window; however, the pressure in Brady’s face forced him to put a little more air under it than he probably would have liked, which gave both Milton and Farley time to close the distance on Gordon.
It turns out that it wouldn’t matter. Gordon beat the double coverage, came down with the ball, and scored his first touchdown as a Patriot. New England 30, Indy 17.
The stadium exploded. Not only were the Patriots back in control of the game, but Brady’s new toy had just shown us all that he can still ball. His teammates ran over to congratulate him, Ghost kicked the extra point through, and the Patriots would go on to win this game comfortably, 38-24.
There are four things that has me ranking this play so highly on this list. One, it moved the history books in two ways; with that throw and catch, Tom Brady threw his 500th TD pass, which put him at 3rd most all time. Josh Gordon was also the 71st player to catch a touchdown from Tom Brady, which was a new NFL record (the previous record holder was Vinny Testaverde with 70). 500 touchdowns to 71 different players is an unreal stat, and that Brady was able to do it with one play is pretty cool.
Two, it showed just how much trust Brady had in Gordon in a very short time. Earning Tommy B’s trust is a difficult thing for a receiver to do, and some players never get there; that Gordon had enough of Brady’s trust for him to huck it up there into double coverage knowing that Gordon would be able to get it was just awesome to see.
Three, what an incredible display of athleticism by Josh Gordon. The man is covered there; no question about it. But he’s able to make the adjustment in mid-air in order to split the defenders and make the grab. Anyone who watched that and didn’t immediately think of Randy Moss in 2007 against the Dolphins must not have been a fan of the Pats back in 2007.
And four - what an uplifting play that was, for everyone involved. Not only were fans rewarded with a great moment and phenomenal optimism that New England had finally found the big, athletic deep threat that it has been missing for so long, but Josh Gordon was rewarded for his hustle and commitment. Watching him spike the ball, raise his arms in the air, and run to his teammates, who genuinely couldn’t have been happier for him, gave everyone a lot of hope. It was exciting, it was pure, it was the promise of someone starting over, and it was sports at its finest. Sadly, it didn’t stay that way for Gordon...but at that moment, all was right with the world. You can’t let later transgressions cloud what was a wonderful moment, so it’s right where it belongs at Number Three.
Check out the play here.
Full Pats/Colts highlights here.