I’m not exactly sure when the time known as “the dog days of summer” officially start, but I’m fairly certain it’s August. July has the 4th, we’re all officially into the swing of vacations and beach days and enjoying the weather, it’s not unbearably hot just yet, and players and coaches all around the NFL are enjoying some time off before training camp starts in earnest. I hope everyone is enjoying themselves, because football is almost here.
And so we better get a move on with this countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2020. We’re into the Top 5 now, the five moments that best defined this past year as a whole. So the bar has been raised.
But since the Patriots set the bar so low last season, don’t be surprised if this moment only bangs you in the shin as opposed to stubbing your toe.
The list so far:
20. A diving N’Keal Harry grab in the end zone makes it a game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
19. A last second 51 yard Nick Folk field goal caps off a comeback win against the New York Jets.
18. Two red zone trips, zero total points against the Kansas City Chiefs.
17. A fourth down option read to James White puts the Patriots on the board against the Arizona Cardinals.
16. A last-second goal line stand prevents the Patriots from stealing a game on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.
15. A nonsensical blindside blocking flag negates an 82 yard punt return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.
14. Derrick Carr is strip sacked in the end zone to put six points on the board and put the game away against the Las Vegas Raiders.
13. A goal line stand just before halftime keeps the game close against the Arizona Cardinals.
12. The Patriots debut the RPO offense against the Miami Dolphins.
11. Rex Burkhead hurdles into the end zone just before halftime against the Las Vegas Raiders.
10. The Patriots sign Cam Newton.
9. Cam Newton hits Damiere Byrd for a 42 yard touchdown bomb against the Houston Texans.
8. Jakobi Meyers connects with Rex Burkhead in the end zone to take a 14-10 lead into the half against the Baltimore Ravens.
7. A last minute fumble short-circuits an epic comeback attempt against the Buffalo Bills.
6. A 49-yard Cam Newton rush against the New York Jets sets a Patriots record for longest run by a QB
At Number 5, we see some nice redemption for a player whose stock is on the rise.
5. Gunner Olzsewski takes a punt return to the house against the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers don’t beat the Patriots, it seems. Whether they hail from San Diego or Los Angeles, this is a team that hasn’t beaten New England since the Matt Cassel- led 2008 squad got their doors blown off, 30-10. They’re just one of those teams that always seems to have talent, but can’t ever put it all together for a serious run.
But this wasn’t the Patriots team everyone knew and hated. So when the 2-8 Chargers came to face the 5-6 Patriots, one team out of contention and another team fighting for its postseason life, nobody really knew what to expect. Neither team was really going anywhere, but what would the matchup bring?
Predictions were fairly mixed regarding who would win, but what nobody predicted was an absolute drubbing to the tune of 45-0, primarily courtesy of a 21 point second quarter that allowed the Pats to take a four score lead into the locker room at halftime.
Now when the score is that lopsided, you expect one team to have some gaudy stats and one team to have some horrible ones. But looking at the Box Score, nothing really indicates that this was such a blowout. Cam Newton only passed for 69 yards, and Jarrett Stidham only threw for 61 in relief duty. The 165 total rushing yards is nice, but nothing crazy. The defense forced two picks, which is good - but again, nothing staggering, and LA ceded no fumbles.
So what the hell happened?
Special teams, that’s what.
After a relatively quiet first quarter in which the Patriots capped off a seven-plus minute drive with a TD and the Chargers capped of a six-plus minute drive with a missed FG attempt, both teams closed out the quarter with a pair of three and outs. The Patriots amassed a whopping -1 yards on their possession, and LA managed to double that total with one total positive yard on theirs. The Chargers punted inside their own 10, and it was a beauty; the booming kick came down to Gunner right at the 30 yard line.
He took off immediately down the right sideline, where he found a beautifully created lane by some perpetual journeyman, epic bust, and special teams nightmare named Matthew Slater. As Slater cleared the way, Gunner turned on the second gear and took off, making it all the way to the Charger 25 yard line before he was even touched by a member of the opposing team. Two quick cuts and another great block by another ST scrub named Justin Bethel later, and it was 14-0 Patriots. The rout was on.
I ranked this play so high for a few reasons. One, punt return touchdowns are always exciting, and they’re the kind of play that can completely alter the landscape of a game. Two, this play wasn’t just made by Olszewski’s vision and speed; it was perfectly executed at all levels and gave us yet another reminder as to why Matthew Slater is in the conversation for greatest special teams ace of all time. Three, it opened up the scoring for the kind of blowout we really didn’t get at all in 2020 and made this one of those “let’s just relax and enjoy the W” kind of Patriots game viewing experiences that have become a rarity as of late. And four, it was some nice redemption for a guy who 100% should have taken one to the house earlier in the year against the Cardinals, but the play was called back due to an absolutely ridiculous blindside blocking penalty. I always love it when the football gods make up for some misfortune, and to see Olszewski get his here was awesome. He’s one of the players to watch in 2021, and so I feel like it’s only fair that he should kick off the best of the best here at Number 5.
(And for completely selfish reasons, I wrote this piece to force myself to figure out how to spell this kid’s last name. I think I got it now. Olszewski. Olszewski Olszewski Olszewski. First you type Ols. Then you add a Zew. Then the Ski. Easy enough.)
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here.