Here we are. The Top 10.
Usually around this time we’re getting excited about training camp, which should be right around the corner. And maybe that’s still the case; who knows. I personally can’t see any scenario where the NFL decides to miss out on making money regardless of whether or not it’s safe for the players, so hopefully the arrow keeps trending in the right direction and we’ll all be able to enjoy some normalcy this summer - assuming you also define “normalcy” as obsessing over a bunch of guys in jerseys running around cones.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots draft N’Keal Harry.
19. The Patriots trade for Mohammed Sanu.
18. Josh Gordon breaks three tackles to score the first Patriots touchdown of the 2019 season.
17. The kicker carousel.
16. A Kyle van Noy scoop and score ices the game against the New York Giants.
15. The refs screw the Pats out of not one, but two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
14. The Patriots play the Jets twice - and the defense shuts them out twice.
13. The Patriots force four interceptions as they dominate the Cincinnati Bengals and secure a playoff spot.
12. Julian Edelman hits Philip Dorsett in the end zone to help lift the Patriots over the Eagles.
11. N’Keal Harry scores his first NFL touchdown with a back shoulder grab against the Dallas Cowboys.
At Number 10, we toe that fine line between sports and pure comedy.
10. The Patriots force three turnovers on three straight plays against the Cleveland Browns.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.
An AFC team has an aggressive offseason. They spend big money on key free agents. They make a bunch of trades to bring in some real talent. They draft a young stud out of college who is poised to take the league by storm. They’re early favorites to win the AFC East and will finally be the team to dethrone the Patriots. The media is all behind them, the preseason Power Rankings have them right at the top, and the hype train is speeding along at full throttle.
And then...the season starts. This hot new team plays the Patriots. And they get absolutely smoked.
It’s become something of an annual tradition in the NFL during the 21st Century, and 2019 was no different. Last season’s darling was the Cleveland Browns, led by young upstart Baker Mayfield and boasting new weapons like Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Myles Garrett. They seemed absolutely loaded on paper, ready to shake off the title of league laughingstock and finally make a push for a Super Bowl. The October 27th matchup between the Browns and Patriots was going to be, for many, a potential AFC Championship preview, with the winner possibly gaining the inside track for the 1 seed.
The Browns team that came to Foxboro for that Week 8 game was 2-4, losers of two out of the last three, including a 31-3 shellacking at the hands of the 49ers. The Patriots, however, were 8-0, had scored at least 30 points in the last three contests, and had surrendered just 48 points all year. Not quite the showdown for the ages we were force-fed for months.
And this game was over with about two minutes left in the first quarter, as the Patriots defense somehow managed to completely outdo itself and generated three turnovers on three consecutive plays. To notch three turnovers in a game is impressive enough as it is, but to go all ‘93 Bulls on the Browns and get back-to-back-to-back turnovers like that is just insane.
The first turnover came just after the Patriots managed to take a 3-0 after - wait for it - a promising offensive series sputtered at the goal line and the Patriots were forced to settle for a FG at the Cleveland two yard line. Cleveland’s answering drive lasted exactly two plays: a three yard out to Beckham, and then a Nick Chubb run that he bobbled. Dont’a Hightower scooped the ball up and returned it 26 yards for the score. New England 10, Cleveland nothing.
The Browns got the ball back on their own 40 after Jake Bailey kicked the ball out of bounds, and decided to go to Chubb again in order to give him a chance to redeem himself. And it seemed like he was able to do just that, as he took a shotgun toss play, found a hole, and just took off, breaking multiple tackles and barrelling towards the end zone for what looked like a score. However, right at the 10 yard line, Jonathan Jones slammed a closed fist right into Chubb’s arm, knocking the ball loose, and Devin McCourty fell on it right on the four yard line. What seemed to be a surefire score and a big momentum shift was once again stymied by the Patriots.
New England couldn’t get anything going on that drive, though, and had to punt. Cleveland got the ball back on their own 31, really needing to give their defense a break, get some points on the board, and settle in. The way you usually do that is either with a running play or some kind of high percentage pass, like a sweep toss or an out route. Well the Browns did neither, and somehow the ball ended up in the hands of Lawrence Guy, who was as surprised as anybody to suddenly have possession. He was able to rumble down to the Cleveland 10 yard line, and two plays later, Tommy B hit Julian Edelman in the end zone for a 17 point first quarter lead.
Cleveland tried to make a game out of it - at one point the score was 17-10 - but they were just in too deep of a hole. New England would go on to cruise, 27-13, dropping the Browns to 2-5 and raising the Patriots to 8-0, ensuring that, for the billions consecutive year, New England wouldn’t have a losing season.
This game also marked Bill Belichick’s 300th win as a head coach, behind only Don Shula and George Halas on the All-Time list. It also more or less RIP’d the Browns for the year and reminded everyone, once again, that very rarely do the preseason darlings ever live up to the hype.
In retrospect, I made a pretty big mistake ranking this game at 10; it really should be higher. I mean, three turnovers on three plays, coupled with win number 300, should have probably put it more in the Top 5 category, to be honest. But the damage is done now, and all I can do is learn from my mistake and try to do better going forward.
Game highlights here.