Here we are. At long last. Time for Numero Uno.
2020 was a weird year for the NFL in so many ways. A global pandemic had the entire season in jeopardy. The Draft was remote. Bye weeks got shuffled around. There were no fans in the stands. The Patriots didn’t make the playoffs. Not a whole lot made sense for us as we all got through the season, and the year, as best we can.
So I guess it’s fitting, then, that my Number One Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2020 is absolutely nothing like the ones that came before it. Up until now, I couldn’t wait to recount whatever I thought deserved to occupy this spot - usually because it meant I got to relive yet another Super Bowl victory. But even when the Patriots weren’t hoisting Lombardi trophies, they were enjoying 24 point comebacks, last-minute game-sealing INTs, fake punts from hell, and Buttfumbles. There have just been so many amazing moments that I’ve had the privilege of crowning this list with.
And while what takes the one spot here in 2020 may very well be the single most memorable non-Super Bowl event that has ever happened or will ever happen to the New England Patriots, it’s not something I’m particularly looking forward to remembering. I’m guessing that most of you all kind of saw this one coming, based on this offseason countdown and what happened with the team - the #1 Moment is never that hard to guess. It ain’t pretty, but it happened, and since there’s simply no denying the impact it had on both the team and the league, may as well just bite the bullet and get to it.
But first, for the last time, 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
5. Gunner Olzsewski takes a punt return to the house against the San Diego Chargers.
4. Jakobi Meyers hits Cam Newton in stride for a 19 yard score against the New York Jets.
3. A blocked field goal attempt just before halftime leads to the second Special Teams TD of the day against the Los Angeles Chargers.
2. The Patriots upset the Ravens at home in the blinding rain in a win that absolutely nobody saw coming.
Sorry about this, everybody.
1. Tom Brady announces he’s leaving the Patriots.
There were a number of pundits that felt the 2018 Patriots season, which culminated in yet another Super Bowl victory, had an air of finality to it. The Patriots had something of an up-and-down campaign in 2018, losing back-to-back games early and late in the year, but they got hot at the right time, leaned on a stout defense, and relied on the greatest quarterback of all time to call upon whatever supernatural force resides within him to deliver a drive when his team needed it most to take out the Rams 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII.
And when the 2019 Patriots started the season 8-0, there was plenty of reason to believe that those pundits were wrong. The offense, led by Tom Brady and his new two-year contract that was really just a one year contract, was without a newly retired Gronk and wasn’t really doing much to inspire confidence; sure, there were a lot of points on the board, but many of those scores came via defensive plays, special teams TDs, and short fields generated by turnovers. The “they haven’t really played anybody yet” chorus was singing loud and clear - a chorus that only got louder when the Pats got spanked on their first true test of the season in a 37-20 beatdown at the hands of the Ravens. New England lost five of their final eight games, including an absolutely embarrassing home loss to the Dolphins that cost them a playoff bye, to finish 11-5; still good enough for the AFC East crown and a home playoff game, but not enough to get that coveted extra week off they became so used to.
We all know what happened next: Tennessee ran Derrick Henry down New England’s throat and Tom Brady threw a pick six to ice the game. For the first time since 2009, the Patriots wouldn’t be playing in the Divisional Round, and the world rejoiced.
Amazingly, even though the playoffs were still happening, the question on everyone’s mind was, what’s next for Tom Brady?
Not even remotely amazingly, there was no shortage of hot takes on the matter.
He was furious with Belichick for the roster he was given in 2019.
He for sure wanted to come back and go out on a high note.
There was no way he was going to end his tenure as a Patriot with a pick six as his last throw.
He’s wanted out for years now and this is finally his chance.
He loves this team and will never, ever, ever, ever leave.
Even though absolutely nobody had any idea, that didn’t stop folks from stating with absolute certainty what was going to happen, just as they have been doing ever since that first “Tom Brady’s window is closing article” first came out five or six Super Bowls ago.
What followed, of course, was the scrutinization of every single Tom Brady quote, picture, and media post at a level that I can only dream will one day be applied to things that actually matter in this world. That Pair of Eyes Emoji Tweet means he was coming back. A picture of him and his wife in California meant he was going to the Niners. This photo became the NFL equivalent of the blue dress/white dress debate that took over the world. He was walking towards the stadium! He’s coming back! He was walking away from the stadium! He’s leaving! I mean yeah, there was the actual 2019 NFL Playoffs and the rest of the offseason and all that still taking place, but like when Hogan dropped the belt to the Warrior in Wrestlemania VI, all eyes were away from the action.
And then came March 17th — perhaps the third Holiest Day on the Boston Calendar behind Easter and August 3rd. Saint Patrick’s Day. The NFL Free Agency period was getting underway as Bostonians everywhere drank their green beer from the comfort of their locked down homes. And between what I’m guessing was their third and fourth Irish Coffee of the day, Brady dropped this bomb on Instagram, titled FOREVER A PATRIOT:
To all my teammates, coaches, executives and staff, Coach Belichick, RKK and the Kraft family and the entire organization, I want to say thank you for the past twenty years of my life and the daily commitment to winning and creating a winning culture built on great values. I am grateful for all that you have taught me - I have learned from everyone. You have allowed me to maximize my potential and that is all a player can ever hope for. Everything we have accomplished brings me joy and the lessons I have learned will carry on with me forever. I couldn’t be the man I am today without the relationships you have allowed me to build with you. I have benefited from all you have given me. I cherished every opportunity I have to be a part of our team, and I love you all for that.
Tom Brady was leaving. The Brady Era in New England was over.
I’d like to hope that Brady waited until Saint Patty’s Day to hit us with the news because he knew we’d all be drinking anyway and the booze might help to numb the pain. But like most decisions Brady makes, we’ll never know for sure.
Needless to say, the news absolutely rocked not only the NFL world, but the world in general. Tom Brady, the GOAT, was going to be a Free Agent for the first time in his career. The cheers from Miami, New York, and Buffalo are still rattling around some parts of America. Patriots haters danced in the streets. New England fans experienced all five stages of grief over and over again in rapid succession. Everything from “Thank you, Tom!” to “Tom Brady is dead to me” and everything in between was shot around on every platform possible. But amid all the hooting, the hollering, and the gnashing of teeth, there was the simple reality that Tom Brady, while Forever a Patriot, was a Patriot no more.
Just a few days later, on March 20th, Tommy B announced that he would be signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, taking him out of the AFC altogether. And we are all very aware how that went for Tampa; the Buccaneers went on to win three straight road playoff games and became world champs on their own home turf as Brady definitively nipped any discussions about Mahomes overtaking him on the GOAT scale. Tommy B got another Super Bowl MVP and a seventh ring. He was hammered in at the parade in Tampa, throwing Lombardi trophies around on party boats that look significantly more enjoyable than occupying an amphibious vehicle outdoors in Boston in February.
The Patriots, on the other hand, went 7-9, had trouble scoring any points at all, and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the last time Tom Brady wasn’t under center. Some Patriots fans were happy for Brady and proud that he was able to get another ring, even if it was elsewhere. Other Patriots fans could barely watch, comparing the experience to getting dumped and having to watch your significant other live it up with their new, better looking, more successful partner. It gave plenty of fuel to the “it’s Brady, not Belichick” crowd, infuriated those last two or three people on the planet who have decided to die on the “Brady is overrated” hill no matter what their eyes tell them, and changed the NFL landscape forever.
Excuse me for a minute, I need to take a shot of bourbon.
OK, I’m back now.
To be honest, I approached this list from every possible angle, looking for ways to avoid putting this up at Number One. But I just couldn’t do it, and here’s why.
I may eventually have trouble remembering what year Malcolm Butler intercepted his way into immortality. I might not be able to recall exactly when Tommy B came back down 24 against the Peyton Manning-led Broncos to win the game in OT. I’ll likely always remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Mark Sanchez slammed into Brandon Moore’s butt...but I can’t guarantee that. As you get older, certain events and dates and years all start to blend together, and it’s harder to recall exactly when they happened. But what I know, with absolute razor certainty, is that I will always remember 2020 as the year Tom Brady stopped playing for this team. Amid the chaos of this past year, adding this move, this seismic shift in the pro sports world and how the year went for the Pats and how the year went for Brady...it’s the single most memorable Patriots moment of this past season and it isn’t even close. Hell, it’s one of the most memorable moments in professional sports. There’s just no way I couldn’t rank it at Number One. We may not like it, we’re not the NFL ignoring science and sworn testimony. Facts are facts.
In case you need something to cleanse your soul after reading this, here’s a video of every single TD Tommy B has ever thrown.
And with that, my Top 20 Countdown officially comes to a close, much earlier than usual. It’s nice that I can now completely close the book on last season and focus on the upcoming preseason games, which should be wildly interesting for a number of reasons.
Even though last year was kind of a dud, I still had a blast recapping the season - I always enjoy these lists, and hopefully you all do to. You may not agree with all of my choices, or where I ranked them...but that’s what makes all of this so fun. Sports talk is nothing if not a bunch of people getting way too passionate about unimportant issues with no real correct answer.
And the Patriots have kind of been on a “win a Super Bowl every other year or so” kick for a while now, so maybe next year’s Number One Moment will taste a whole lot sweeter than this one does.
Thanks for reading, everyone. And Go Patriots.