It’s somehow almost time to turn our attention to the NFL Draft, which means I’ll be taking a bit of a break from counting down the Top 20 New England Patriots Moments of 2021 as we welcome in the new rookie class and scramble to look up who the defensive back Bill Belichick selected in the second round is.
But before that, I’m excited to sneak one more pre-draft item in here this afternoon. But first, the list so far:
20. The Patriots trade Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick.
19. A Week 1 goal line fumble costs the Patriots the game at home against the Miami Dolphins.
18. A four interception day secures New England’s first win of the season against the New York Jets.
17. Mac Jones hits Nelson Agholor for the first TD of the season against the Miami Dolphins.
16. A 41-yard Kendrick Bourne TD reception opens the game up against the Tennessee Titans.
15. A late Nick Folk field goal caps off a 15 play game-winning drive over the Houston Texans.
14. Mac Jones is named the starter over Cam Newton.
At Number 13, we have one of a few moments from last season that came in a loss, but really felt like a win.
13. Nick Folk can’t connect on a 56 yard FG attempt to complete the comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I’m not sure if anyone else noticed, but last season saw Tom Brady return to Foxboro Stadium for the first time since his departure down to Tampa Bay to play for the Buccaneers. There was barely any media coverage on it, which was an odd choice, in my opinion; you figure that’s the kind of narrative that they’d all start beating to death the moment the schedule came out and not stop...well, ever.
If there has ever been a more hyped up Week 4 matchup between two non-conference opponents with almost zero history between them, I have no idea what it is. Tampa Bay was fresh off a Super Bowl win, sitting pretty at 2-1 on the year, and coming into a primetime game against a Patriots squad that had yet to win a home game, led by rookie Mac Jones. I’ll do us all the courtesy of not rehashing any of the headlines we all had to endure leading up to this one and simply state that, for most Patriots fans, we all more or less had this one chalked up as an L from the jump. The main hope was to make a game of it and see how our young QB would be able to handle a game of this magnitude.
As far as game scripts go, I don’t think anyone saw it coming. If you look at the box score stats, you’d think that the Bucs absolute ran away with this game. Tommy B threw for 269 yards with no picks, Tampa picked up 120 yards on the ground, and held New England to negative one — that’s right folks, negative one — rushing yards. The Patriots ran the ball just eight times all day, and the leading rushing was Nelson Agholor with four yards on one carry. Mac Jones threw for 275 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. Just a weird, weird night from a stats standpoint.
Which is yet another reason why the people who base all things football on what can be translated onto an Excel spreadsheet are complete idiots, because this was a fairly wild game in which no team ever led by more than six points. Two stout defenses forced punts from both sides early before a missed Tampa field goal attempt gave the Patriots the chance to take the lead, which they did via an 11 play, 74 yard drive that ended with Hunter Henry in the end zone. New England took a 7-6 lead into the locker room at halftime, a score that would stick until the very end of the third quarter, when Ronald Jones capped off a 52 yard drive with a TD run. Mc Jones, however, put together yet another 70+ scoring drive right away to regain the lead.
Unfortunately, it seemed that both teams used up all their punts in the first half, as both Tampa and New England scored on their next possessions. Neither team was able to find the end zone, but both kickers were on point, and Ryan Succop knocked a 48 yarder through with just under two minutes to play to put the Bucs up 19-17. The defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by the greatest quarterback of all time who used to play for the very team he was now winning against, kicked the ball back to an offense led by a rookie making his first ever primetime start, where he took the field at his own 25 with 1:57 left on the clock.
Hunter Henry drew a DPI flag on the very first play, setting the Pats up at the 45. Henry picked up 9 more yards, and then a quick out to Brandon Bolden netted seven more. An out route to Jakobi Meyers picked up seven more yards to set up a 3rd and 3, but the ensuing pass fell short. The Patriots were facing a 4th and 3 at the Tampa 37 yard line, faced with a choice: go for the first down, knowing that a failure to convert meant the end of the game, or march out Nick Folk, who had been money all day, to try for a 56 yarder.
New England chose the latter.
The snap was good, the hold was good, and the kick was great - had the distance and looked right on target. But it slowly started to curve to the left as it sailed towards the end zone, and with a strong, vibrant thud that may still be echoing up and down Route 1 in Foxborough, the ball clanked off the left goalpost and out. No good. Three kneel-downs later, and Tampa moved to 3-1 on the day.
Yeah, the Patriots lost — but nobody was overly upset about it. If anything, the most annoying part of the L was the decision to try for a 56 yard field goal instead of trying to pick up three yards from the TB 37 yard line by going for it on 4th down. Even if Folk had made that kick, he’d be giving Tom Brady the ball back at his own 25 with about 52 seconds to play, which is about four and a half hours if you convert it into Brady years. The odds of Tommy B engineering yet another game-winning drive were pretty high - the Patriots of all people should be well aware of that fact - so it seems like going for it was the way to go.
But the fact that such a small decision is the main criticism that people took away from this game, that it was close enough to come down to the final play like that, felt like a massive win for this young Patriots team. Mac Jones wasn’t perfect, but you could argue that he was actually the better quarterback on the day. He had less than zero help from the running game, threw for more yards, and had more TDs than Brady did. The kid rose to the occasion and then some. He didn’t crumble in any way, shape, or form. He put his team in position to win it late and I think he converts on that 4th and 3 if given the opportunity. Sure, the Patriots dropped to 1-3 on the year, but it was an expected loss anyway, and save for only the most pessimistic of fans, most of us walked away from that result pretty happy. So even in a loss, this one is well positioned here at Number 13.
Game highlights here.