The NFL Draft is in the books, we have a whole new slew of rookies to welcome to the team, and as always around this time of year, plenty of reason for optimism for what the 2023 rookie class will bring to the upcoming season. In the aftermath and calm before the mini-camp storm, let’s keep on keeping on with our countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2022.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots trade N’Keal Harry.
19. A game-sealing Mac Jones interception is coupled with a gruesome ankle injury against the Ravens.
18. Rookies step up big in relief duty against the Arizona Cardinals.
17. Hunter Henry catches/doesn’t catch a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.
16. Nelson Agholor harnesses his inner Randy Moss with an insane 44 yard TD grab against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
15. Devin McCourty registers his 200th start against the Buffalo Bills.
14. A blocked punt leads to the first touchdown of the day as the Patriots blow out the Indianapolis Colts.
13. Tyquan Thornton emerges with a two touchdown day against the Cleveland Browns
In the spirit of rookies, particularly rookie cornerbacks, I’d like to welcome a newcomer to this list today, making his debut at No. 12. It for sure won’t be the last time.
12. A Marcus Jones pick-six puts the Patriots on the board against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Christmas Eve 2022 saw the 10-4 Cincinnati Bengals, riding a six game winning streak and hoping to chase down the No. 1 Seed in the AFC Playoffs, traveled to Gillette Stadium to take on a New England Patriots team that had dropped three of their last four and were coming off a particularly brutal loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. At 7-7, the season wasn’t over for New England, but it was for sure on life support.
For two-and-a-half quarters, this game went exactly as anyone who has been watching the 2022 Patriots would expect. The Pats had four first half possessions, punted on all of them, and never ran more than five consecutive plays. The Bengals, however, scored on four of their five first half possessions to take a 22-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. And when New England picked up right where they left off, punting on their first possession of the third quarter, we all waited around for the dagger that would be 29-0 and playing out the clock on the game, and the season, from there.
However, the defense finally stiffened up, forcing the very first Bengals punt of the game - which New England immediately squandered with a three and out that netted a whopping four yards, forcing a punt at their own 16 to set Cincy up with great field position.
Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon combined to get the Bengals down to the New England 32 before a holding call on 3rd-and-1 negated a conversion and sent the Bengals back to the 42, facing 3rd-and-11. A clear passing down, the Patriots put four DBs in Quarters across the line to gain as the rest of the defense crowded the line, showing blitz. Burrow called out his cadence, made his adjustments, and took the snap.
As Kyle Dugger came up the middle completely unblocked, Burrow made a quick release to the right towards Chase, who Burrow thought would be performing a quick button hook as the outlet receiver. Chase, however, didn’t get that particular memo, as he went for a double move in hopes of catching rookie Marcus Jones flat-footed. Jones didn’t bite, however, and sat right where Burrow’s pass was headed for an easy pick and not a whole lot between him and the end zone but green and a wall of blue jerseys. A sprint and a beautiful cut back to the inside later, Jones was in the end zone for a 69-yard pick six. New England was finally on the board.
The team, the fans, and the coaches were all galvanized by this play, as the Patriots would score on their next two drives to bring the score to 22-18, with the chance to win it late. Unfortunately, a Rhamondre Stevenson fumble on the five yard line with less than a minute to go stalled what was an amazing comeback attempt, and the Bengals hung on to win, all but eliminating New England’s playoff hopes.
There are a few reasons that I put this play on my countdown. One, most obviously, it’s a pick-six, which is always an electric moment, and this play completely swung the momentum of the game to the point where the Patriots almost stole one from one of the league’s best teams.
Two, this play, and this whole game really, once again represents the entirety of the New England season in a nutshell. When they played well and weren’t shooting themselves in the foot, the 2022 Patriots could hang with any team in the league. New England was all-time bad in the first half, but the defense started producing, the offense started producing, and the Special Teams began winning the field position battle.
And three, it’s a nice way to honor one of the few consistent bright spots from last year in Marcus Jones, who always seemed to be in for a highlight play or two a game. Jones was a gem in the 2022 draft, and here’s hoping there are a few more in this latest rookie class. I’d rank this moment higher if it didn’t come in yet another boneheaded loss that more or less cost New England the season — but since it did, I’m ranking it here at No. 12.
Check out the pick six here.
If you feel like watching New England literally fumble their season away, you can watch full game highlights here.