Here we are, right in the thick of summer, and getting ready to break out the Top 3 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2021. I’m hoping to get this list finished before the first preseason game of the year so I can turn my full focus towards the upcoming season, but anybody who has been reading my work for the last decade-plus knows that I’m lazy, irresponsible, and easily distracted (hey look, a penny!), so I don’t want to promise anything. You’d think it would be no problem to write two articles between now and August 11th, but with this guy, you just never know.
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.
5. A J.C. Jackson 88-yard pick-six ices the game against the Carolina Panthers.
4. Mac Jones connects with Kendrick Bourne for a 75 yard touchdown to take a late lead against the Dallas Cowboys.
Our number 3 Moment would likely have made the Top 5 even if we still had the GOAT under center. But that we got to witness it with a rookie is just a whole different level.
3. A 22 yard laser from Mac Jones to Kendrick Bourne caps off a 99 yard scoring drive against the Cleveland Browns.
Oh, those Cleveland Browns.
Every year, it seems, they’re an early season pick to make a deep playoff run; they make a blockbuster trade, they move up in the draft to select a hot prospect, or they go crazy in Free Agency to present an absolutely stacked team. And every year, it seems, they completely underwhelm and their matchup with the Patriots is a one-sided affair that is often over before the fourth quarter even gets underway. Shockingly, 2021 was no exception.
The final score of 45-7 doesn’t, shockingly, even dictate how thorough of a beatdown this game was. Cleveland struck first with an 84 yard, 11 play drive, and then seemed to have been satisfied with their performance after that point, because it was the last decent thing the did all afternoon. The Patriots, on the other hand, put together a complete performance in all three phases, and this game was over by halftime - primarily thanks to one drive in particular.
With New England up 14-7 with just under 12 minutes to play in the 2nd quarter, an absolutely booming Browns punt pinned the Patriots back at their own one yard line, the whole field in front of them. A three and out here would give Cleveland the ball back with great field position and the chance to cut the lead to a single score with a solid drive.
What happened instead was an 11 play, 99 yard drive in which the Patriots gained yards in chunks, punished the Browns on the ground, drew the linebackers up, and attacked the middle third through the air. Mac Jones changed plays at the line, reading the defense and giving the ball to Rhamondre Stevenson and JJ Taylor, who combined for 33 yards on the possession. When he wasn’t handing it off, he found Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne for big gains. No matter what Cleveland did to try and stop the Patriots, Mac Jones put the offense in position to do the opposite.
After Brandon Bolden picked up five yards to set up a 2nd and 5 at the Cleveland 23, New England came out in a shotgun single back set with Kendrick Bourne in the strong side slot, Jakobi Meyers on the flank to his left, Nelson Agholor as the X receiver. Tight End Hunter Henry stayed in to block, but as the play developed he chipped his man and broke to the flat for the outlet pass. Brandon Bolden broke to the other flat as Agholor ran a simple go Route. Meyers tried to draw the safety to the corner with a post route, but he didn’t bite, instead choosing to shift towards Bourne, who was running that old fashions Gronkowski seam. As the pass rushed closed in, Mac Jones fired a bullet, right in between two Browns defenders in perfect coverage, to Bourne, who made the leaping grab and came down with possession in the end zone. Patriots 21, Cleveland 7.
New England would add one more FG before halftime to make it 24-7, but the game was effectively over by this point. The Patriots would improve to 6-4 on the year as the Browns dropped to 5-5, and once again, any talk of Cleveland being an AFC contender more or less went away for the rest of the year.
I picked this particular drive because it was the longest of the game, and of the season...but honestly, I could have dipped into any one of Mac Jones’s six scoring possessions and made a case for it. Jones was able to engineer points on drives of 99, 92, and 83 yards during this matchup - something you rarely see from veterans, let alone rookies. But that 99 yard drive was nothing short of spectacular. Not only did it eat up almost half of a quarter, but it was the perfect mix of run and pass, saw Jones audible multiple times, demonstrated a complete command of the offense, and the final play was just an absolute dime between two defenders that easily could have been its own Top Moment on this list. This drive was one of a handful of moments that made us all realize that we just might have something special in our young new signal caller, and seeing that absurd throw, in an incredibly tight window, to cap off the drive was the kind of thing you can legitimately build a season around. It was the perfect example of a Patriots team that, while inconsistent in 2021, was clearly capable of hanging with anyone in the NFL, and thus a great choice here at Number 3.
See the Bourne TD pass here.
Full game highlights here.