Welp... Here we are. At long last, it’s time to reveal my No. 1 Most Memorable New England Patriots Moment of 2021.
As we all sit here on the eve of training camp, as excited as ever for what the 2022 Patriots might be capable of, I know that I for one can’t wait to get back to covering live football. Looking back on the previous season is always a blast, but I’ll take live football over my nonsensical ramblings any day.
Almost every year, what I was going to pick for the No. 1 moment was pretty obvious from the jump. This year, though, I waffled back and forth on this pick for almost the entire offseason. I have completely lost count of the number of times I switched out this moment with the Mac Jones draft pick for spots No. 1 and No. 2. And maybe if training camp started a little later and I still had some more time with this list, I would have ranked drafting Jones at No. 1. But I’m going to stick to my gut for this one, as history was 100 percent made this season in one of the craziest games any of us have ever seen.
But before we get into it, for the last time, 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.
3. A 22 yard laser from Mac Jones to Kendrick Bourne caps off a 99 yard scoring drive against the Cleveland Browns.
2. The Patriots draft Mac Jones.
At Number One, we go to a game where the most valuable player on the field, for either side, was the blustering wind.
1. Three passes and 222 yards rushing help the Patriots defeat the Buffalo Bills in a wild Monday Night Football Game.
The Buffalo Bills spent the entirety of the 21st century looking up from the bottom of the AFC East at the Patriots as they went on an absolutely insane run of success never before seen in any professional sport. For Bills fans, in-season optimism usually meant hoping and praying to maybe sneak into a Wild Card spot, and if the football gods were really smiling down, perhaps steal one of the two games against the Patriots. That was just life if you supported the Bills.
But then, at long last, it was over. Tom Brady was finally leaving the division. Even better, he was leaving the conference. The Patriots’ reign of terror was blissfully at an end - timed perfectly with Buffalo drafting one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Josh Allen. And while the 2020 season was something of an anomaly due to the pandemic, Buffalo’s 13-3 finish and a trip to the AFC Championship game represented a new sheriff in town for the AFC East.
There was no reason to think that the East wasn’t still Buffalo’s to lose; Miami was still a few years away from being a contender, the Jets were the Jets, and the Patriots had just drafted a rookie at quarterback as they continued the rebuild. The Bills, on the other hand, were absolutely loaded, and were once again among the favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. And as the 2021 season got underway, Buffalo seemed to be living up to those expectations; other than an inexplicable 9-6 loss to the Jaguars, the Bills were taking care of business and entered the last month of the regular season just a half game back in the division at 7-4.
The team they were behind? The New England Patriots, winners of six straight and surging out of a rough start to enter the conversation of the better teams in the AFC. The Patriots and Bills hadn’t played yet, as the NFL was hoping that backloading divisional matchups would make the last few weeks of the regular season more meaningful. They were spot on in this case, as the Patriots traveled to Buffalo for a Week 13 Monday Night matchup with not only the division on the line, but the inside track for that coveted playoff bye.
Patriots at Bills on Monday night isn’t an anomaly; these two teams have met plenty of times on MNF over the years. But this game was unlike any that had been played before, as blustering, heaving winds of up to 50 miles per hour would be on the docket for the entirety of the game. Pregame warmups included kicks sailing 15 yards wide of the goalposts, punts dying in midair and even blowing backwards, and passes sailing in every direction but into a receiver’s hands. The weather always plays a factor to some degree in football games, but the wind for this game was going to be the factor.
And the factor it was. New England’s first possession of the game: three runs for negative one yard, followed by a 36-yard Jake Bailey punt. Buffalo answered with three plays for three yards and, going with the wind in the first quarter, a 49-yard punt. The Patriots ran the ball three times again, this time picking up five yards, before a booming Jake Bailey punt netted a whopping 15 yards to set Buffalo up on the New England 40.
The next Buffalo drive netted the first first down of the game, and the Bills were driving to the New England 29 before a botched handoff and fumble gave the Patriots the ball back at the 31. Just a wild, sloppy mess of a game up until this point, and it became very clear that points, and field position, were going to be at a premium.
A Nelson Agholor end-around on the next possession gave the Patriots their longest gain of the day so far — six yards. It was 3rd-and- 5 at the NE 36 yard line with a little over five minutes to play in the first quarter, and Mac Jones had yet to throw a pass.
The next play was kind of a pass, I guess, as Jones tossed it to Damien Harris, who made a strong cut, found an opening, and took off on a 64-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots the lead. Going against the wind still, the Pats didn’t even bother trying for the extra point, so a Brandon Bolden run to the left made it 8-0. New England had scored their first, and only, touchdown of the day.
The Bills, however, were able to answer right back, courtesy of a N’Keal Harry muffed punt that set Buffalo up at the 14-yard line. Gabriel Davis caught Josh Allen’s first pass of the drive, and just like that, the Bills were back in it. Still going with the wind, they were able to convert the PAT.
As the first quarter came to a close, Mac Jones connected with Jonnu Smith on a short pass to the right that almost sailed over Smith’s head, but he was able to reel it in and gain 12 on the play. Mac Jones threw his first pass.
The possession bled into the second quarter, and the Patriots were able to run the ball down to the 23 yard line before the drive stalled and Nick Folk connected on the field goal. 11-7 would be the halftime score as the next four possessions went punt, punt, punt, and punt. Mac Jones entered the locker room 1-for-1 for 12 yards passing.
The second half was more of the same; nobody able to guess where the ball was headed, and New England opting to abandon the pass altogether. The Patriots took a massive gamble on fourth down at the Buffalo 16 -yard line by trotting Nick Folk out to attempt a 34-yarder that 100 percent they would have not gone for had it not been 4th-and-15, courtesy of the Bills just throwing everybody on the line and stuffing Rhamondre Stevenson in the backfield. But Folk came through, and New England was up 14-10.
As the fourth quarter wound down and Buffalo was stuck going against the wind for the rest of the game, they were able to get all the way down to the New England 6-yard line. An absolutely monster Matthew Judon sack of Josh Allen knocked Buffalo back nine yards, and an incomplete pass to Dawson Knox gave the Bills a 4th-and-goal at the 15-yard line. Had Allen not gotten sacked, Buffalo likely goes for it here, but it just made sense to try for the field goal. However, the 33-yard attempt sailed wildly to the right (what is it with Buffalo and wide right?) as the wind took it, and all of a sudden the Patriots had the ball back at the 23-yard line with the chance to ice the game.
Unfortunately, New England was unable to generate a single first down; Stevenson was stuffed on first down, and then Mac Jones’ second passing attempt of the day, a short out to Agholor, fell incomplete, stopping the clock. Jones’ next passing attempt, his third and final, went to Brandon Bolden for seven yards, but it wasn’t enough to move the chains. Punting with the wind, Jake Bailey absolutely clobbered the ball 71 yards, all the way into the Bills end zone, with just under six minutes to play. Buffalo had to go 80 yards in six minutes, into the wind.
To Josh Allen’s credit, he was able to move the ball through the air better than he had all night. A 26-yard completion to Diggs right off the bat set the tone for a drive that went all the way down to the New England 14-yard line with 2:30 left to play. Time wasn’t a factor now; it was just a matter of whether or not the Bills could find the end zone.
On 1st-and-10, Devin Singletary was only able to pick up one yard, followed by an incompletion intended for Diggs. An absolutely massive false start penalty on Knox pushed the Bills from 3rd-and-9 to 3rd-and-14, and as the two-minute warning hit, Allen was unable to connect with Knox in the end zone after one of the most impressive scrambles you’ll ever see from a quarterback. Josh Allen is the real deal.
With an empty shotgun set, Allen took the snap as Devin McCourty came in off the edge on a safety blitz. Off his back foot and forced to throw a little early, Allen rifled one down the middle towards Davis, who actually had a step on his man, but Myles Bryant was coming across the field and knocked the ball down to put the game away. Patriots 14, Bills 10, in one of the craziest games you’ll ever see.
Mac Jones finished the night 2-for-3 for 19 yards. New England rushed for 222 yards on the ground. Both teams combines for just 485 total yards of offense. It was all over every news outlet in the country the next day, even the mainstream ones. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and it’s very likely that nobody ever will again.
As I mentioned, I thought long and hard about making this my Number Two Moment, bumping the Jones pick up to Number One. And if you disagree with my rankings here, you have a fair case to make. But I put this here in the No. 1 spot for a few reasons.
One, this game wasn’t just the most memorable Patriots moment of 2021; it was also one of the most memorable non-playoff football games, for any team, of all time. It was an historic night, and the kind of game that will be talked about for decades to come. Stats from this game will be featured on pub trivia nights from here until eternity. Random sports conversations will forever feature some version of, “Hey, you remember that Pats-Bills game like 10 years ago where what’s his name only threw like three passes and the wind was blowing 50 miles an hour?”
Sports are amazing for so many reasons, and contests like this once again hammer home why we tune in each and every week. I don’t know if this is the kind of game I’d want to watch all the time, but in the era of high flying offenses and over/unders in the 50s, to see the Patriots turn the clock back to the 1920s and go all Red Grange on the Bills was nothing short of remarkable. It’s the one game that will most stand out to me from Mac Jones rookie year — even though he was only slightly less of a spectator for it than we were.
Two, I’d argue that this Bills game represented the absolute peak of the 2021 season for the Patriots. They had just taken out the division rival that was all but a lock to usurp them as the class of the AFC East, and they had done it in primetime on the road. It was their seventh straight win, and it took them into the bye week at 9-4 and sitting at the top of the entire AFC. Pats fans everywhere felt as good about this win, this game, and this team as they have felt all year, and we all couldn’t help but wonder if maybe we were witnessing some of that Patriots magic we’ve all grown used to over the past two decades.
I mean, the Pats weren’t going to win the Super Bowl this year.. .but if they can win like that, on the road, there’s no team in the league that can feel safe when going up against them. New England rode the victory into the bye week with all the momentum and confidence in the world. We rode that high for two full weeks and came back from that bye ready to take on the rest of the league.
Of course, we all know what happened coming out of that bye; New England lost three of their last four, were relegated to a Wild Card spot, and got their butts handed to them by the very same team in the very same stadium. The Bills were a better team than the Patriots in 2021 and there’s no way around it. They’re likely a better team than the Patriots in 2022 as well, and for the foreseeable future the division is theirs to lose.
But on that fateful Monday night, with the world and the wind in a frenzy, the Patriots did something remarkable that we’re going to be talking about and remembering for as long as we’re Patriots fans. This game is up there with the Snow Plow Game against Miami, the “Show Ponies Where’s the Beef Game” against the Saints, the 24-point comeback against the Broncos, and the Mo Lewis Bledsoe Game against the Jets in terms of just all-time regular season Patriots wizardry. It was easily the best time of 2021 to be a Patriots fan, and the craziest regular season game I can remember. So I’m putting it here at No. 1 and I feel OK about it.
Check out full highlights here.
And with that, we once again close the books on yet another Top 20 Countdown. It’s always such a joy to share this list with you all every season, and I’m forever grateful to you all for reading. You may not have agreed with my choices, or my rankings, but I appreciate you coming along for the ride nonetheless. Writing about this team is one of the things I enjoy doing the most, and I’m always blown away that there are people out there willing to click on whatever nonsense I’ve decided to post this time.
For the record, with the conclusion of this countdown I am now riding my longest streak as a Pats Pulpit writer breaking down a season that didn’t end with New England in at least the AFC Championship. So hopefully we’ll be remedying that very soon.
Now let’s get back to some football. Buckle up.
And Go Patriots.