Happy 4th of July Weekend, everyone!
Hope your grills are ready, your fridges and coolers are stocked, and your supply of perfectly legally obtained fireworks are stored someplace safe. I’m very much looking forward to a weekend of floating in the lake, beer in one hand, and burger in the other. May all of you here in Pats Nation have something similar on the docket.
And I can’t think of many better ways to kick off the long weekend by cracking into the Top 5 Most Memorable New England Patriots Moments of 2021. There’s nothing more patriotic than July 4th, and we as Americans love us a good Top 5, so starting the Top 5 Patriots moments today is quite serendipitous. Sometimes things just work out this way.
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.
13. Nick Folk can’t connect on a 56 yard FG attempt to complete the comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
12. An Adrian Phillips pick-six seals the game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
11. Kendrick Bourne connects with Nelson Agholor to kick off an epic beatdown of the New York Jets.
10. A quick out to Jakobi Meyers results in his first career touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.
9. Free Agent Frenzy.
8. The Patriots obliterate the Jacksonville Jaguars and find themselves back in the NFL Playoffs.
7. A diving interception gives J.C. Jackson an impressive record.
6. Damien Harris bowls over seven different Jets on his way to a 26 yard touchdown run.
This year’s Top 5 is going to be somewhat unconventional, but that’s OK; it wasn’t the most conventional of seasons. But Number 5 is rock solid and something we’ve all grown quite familiar with, for a number of reasons.
5. A J.C. Jackson 88-yard pick-six ices the game against the Carolina Panthers.
Looking back on a non-conference game in which the Patriots won 24-6, it’s easy to sort of write off the Week 9 matchup between the Patriots and Panthers. But this was a fairly important game for both sides; New England had finally managed to claw their way back to .500 on the year, winners of two straight for the first time all season and looking to continue building momentum. Carolina, after a 3-0 start, had just snapped a four game losing skid the week before and were also sitting at .500, hoping to right the ship with a home win against one of 2021’s dark horse teams. A bit of added spice to the mix was the potential for a revenge game for Stephon Gilmore, acquired from New England for a measly sixth round pick.
The final score would also give the casual fan cause to remember this game as a blowout — which it for sure was, but not until midway through the third quarter. A scoreless first quarter was followed by two Carolina field goals and two Patriots touchdowns in the second; New England took a 14-6 lead into the locker room at halftime with Carolina set to receive the third quarter kickoff. It was a one score game, both sides were flashing at times and looking lousy at times, and control of the game was very much up for grabs.
Carolina’s first possession of the third quarter netted four yards on three plays before they were forced to punt. Not to be outdone, New England answered with a three play, one yard drive before giving it right back. The Panthers got the ball back on their own 16 and started driving. Using a solid mix of run and pass, Carolina marched 64 yards in five minutes, all the way down to the New England 20, without even needing a single third down to do it. Knocking on the door with the chance to tie the game, the Patriot defense needed a stop.
Christian McCaffrey was stopped for no gain on 1st-and-10. On 2nd-and-11 with just over seven minutes to play in the third, a designed play-action rollout saw McCaffrey bring the defense with him to the right as quarterback Sam Darnold rolled right as his receivers ran what looked to be stacked Levels routes. Christian Barmore, however, didn’t bite on the play-action and began his aggressive pursuit of Darnold in the backfield, forcing him up into the pocket. Just as he stopped going east to west and started up north again, Matthew Judon shed his block and began charging forward.
Darnold, perhaps terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought by the blur of red sleeves barreling towards him, made a throw towards the left sideline that I can only guess was originally intended for tight end Ian Thomas, but grossly overthrew him. There, waiting like he was the intended receiver, was none other than Mr. INT himself, J.C. Jackson, making the catch at the 12 yard line and taking off with nothing but 88 yards of green field between himself and the end zone. Robbie Anderson gave chase, but ultimately fell short as Jackson crossed the goal line for the score. Patriots 21, Panthers 6.
Sam Darnold may have been so terrified by Matthew Judon on that play that he threw two more picks on the next two drives, one to Jamie Collins in what kind of became his calling card of freakishly athletic plays surrounded by mediocre plays, and the other to — once again — J.C. Jackson in the end zone after a deep pass intended for D.J. Moore was overthrown. New England added another FG off the turnovers to finish the game 24-6.
There are few plays more exciting than a pick six. It’s an immediate momentum swing and can completely change the complexion of a game. That this was an 88 yard pick six just makes it all that much better. Plus, it was this play that iced the game that got the Pats above .500 for the first time all year. It was the third of seven straight wins the Patriots rattled off as everything started to click for the squad. It was the defense doing its job as the offense continued to gel with a rookie QB. And it was an amazing play by a great corner for whom we’ll always have a lot of love. So I think it’s the perfect moment to kick off the Top 5.
Check out the play here.
Full game highlights here.