Reflecting on the 8 Defining Moments of the Patriots' Season

James ChristensenContributor IDecember 31, 2013

Reflecting on the 8 Defining Moments of the Patriots' Season

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    It is a Herculean task to distill down nearly 1,000 minutes of game play over a 16-game season into the eight defining moments of the New England Patriots' season without casting deserving candidates aside.

    Savvy blocks. Amazing catches. Clutch kicks. Deft moves. Monster hits. Gutsy calls. This season had them all.

    Relive some of the classic moments from the regular season as you get ready for the NFL playoffs.

     

    Note: Moments were chosen based on both the impact to the season as a whole as well as the cultural significance surrounding isolated plays.

Unicorns and Show Ponies

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    Scott Zolak, color commentator for 98.5 "The Sports Hub," had one of the best calls of Patriots history as Kenbrell Thompkins and Tom Brady completed one of the more improbable comebacks seen at Gillette Stadium.

    Brady hit Thompkins in the corner for a 17-yard touchdown with only five seconds remaining on the clock, giving the Patriots a 30-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

    While the mythical creatures and equines that Zolak talked about might not have made an appearance, the comeback was nearly as rare. After the game, coach Bill Belichick summed it up perfectly. "Sorry if you had to rewrite some of those stories there at the end," Belichick stated. "What a football game. I feel like that took about five years off my life."

Wes Welker's Overtime Gaffe

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    While Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have done a great job in helping New England forget about Wes Welker, Welker thrust himself back into Patriots fans' consciousness with a miscue in extra time.

    After a furious second-half comeback—they were down 24-0 at half—the Patriots forced the Denver Broncos into an overtime period. Lining up to punt with under four minutes remaining, it seemed like Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense would have the last chance with the ball.

    Fortunately for New England, Ryan Allen's punt proved to be too hard to handle.

    Welker—via CSNNE.com—took blame for what was actually defensive back Tony Carter's fumble.

    I just felt like there was a lot of traffic, it was a high ball, [I] basically didn’t want to get into a situation where somebody’s running into me or anything else, and ended up with a situation that I didn’t want to happen in the first place. I gotta do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way, and making sure it doesn’t hit them. I gotta get to him earlier and tell him, and get those guys out of the way if I’m not going to make the catch. I was a little bit in between and you can’t be that way.

    Safety Nate Ebner jumped on the ball for the Patriots, leading to Stephen Gostkowski's winning kick.

Stephen Gostkowski Makes a Perfect Kick

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    Recovering an onside kick is never an easy task. Pulling it off and actually winning the game is even harder—especially if you are the New England Patriots. Paul Kenyon from the Providence Journal explained just how rare it is:

    How often have the Patriots successfully pulled off an onside kick? The last time they recovered one was Jan. 1, 1995, in a playoff game at Cleveland, when the Browns were coached by Bill Belichick. But the Pats lost that game.

    The only time in franchise history they have recovered an onside kick and won the game was in 1964 against the Jets at Fenway Park. And that one was done in the first half.

    Gostkowski's perfectly executed dribbler set up a Danny Amendola touchdown that put the Patriots up for good. Cleveland Browns kicker Billy Cundiff had a chance to win it late, but his field-goal attempt came up just short, preserving a 27-26 victory for New England.

Danny Amendola Perseveres

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    Nearly forgotten after the Patriots' spate of crazy endings, Danny Amendola's work in the Week 1 23-21 victory over the Buffalo Bills was nothing short of amazing. He finished with 10 catches for 104 yards—good numbers to be sure—but statistics can't tell the whole story.

    Nick Underhill from MassLive.com related this important tidbit about the performance:

    Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Amendola's performance, outside of the fact that seven of his catches came on third down, was that he was playing through a groin injury that temporarily knocked him out in the second quarter.

    Count Brady among those impressed by his receiver's ability to play through the pain.

    "(He) gave everything he's got, so that's all you can ask," Brady said. "Who knew what to expect when he came out there in the second half? I thought he was going to be out for the rest of the game. He showed a lot of toughness, mental and physical, and made really the plays of the game for us..."

    In a season filled with injuries, Amendola's quick recovery helped set the tone for toughness on this team.

LeGarrette Blount Runs Through Defenders

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    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

    Blount was an afterthought. Not even a lock to make the roster. What he proved to be was a hammer that was purchased at a hefty discount—a seventh-round pick and Jeff Demps.

    Bill Belichick had nothing but praise for Blount following his record-setting 334 total yards against the Buffalo Bills:

    He’s contributed for us all year. I think definitely an assist on this one has to go to our assistant pro personnel director – [Aqib] Talib – who I talked to before we traded for LeGarrette and everything he said about him was absolutely right. He’s a good football player who loves to play, works hard and is a team player; great guy for the team in the locker room. He’s been all those things.

    It is tough to select just one moment of Blount's amazing last couple of weeks. Multiple times in Week 17, Blount should have been stopped after a minimal gain. Instead, he lowered his pads, kept his legs churning and battered linebackers and defensive linemen backward for chunks of yardage.

    That said, Blount showed that he isn't just a power back. His cutbacks—in poor weather nonetheless—left Buffalo defenders grasping at air. Two-hundred-fifty-pound men just aren't supposed to move like that.

Vince Wilfork's Injury

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    The fun moments are over.

    When Vince Wilfork tore his Achilles tendon against the Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots fans expected the defense to suffer. The depths of despair in defending the run, however, would be exposed over the coming weeks. 

    Gregg Rosenthal from NFL.com summed up Wilfork's injury well:

    There is no replacing Vince Wilfork. There's no player quite like him in the NFL, much less on New England's roster. You can't just find 350-pound run stoppers "on the street" who take up multiple blockers.

    Wilfork's loss to a torn Achilles, as reported by NFL Media's Albert Breer, is especially damaging because the Patriots don't have a true backup on their roster. They are thinner at the position than any time since Wilfork was drafted in 2004.

    The Patriots tried Joe Vellano, traded for Isaac Sopoaga and finally found a decent replacement for Wilfork in Sealver Siliga. While Siliga is certainly no Wilfork, he has been able to put a finger in the dike and prevent a flood of easy rushing yards for opposing offenses.

Losing Rob Gronkowski

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    Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

    Rob Gronkowski just can't catch a break. Actually, he seems to catch all the breaks. Back, arm, knee... Gronkowski has caught them all. 

    Just when New England Patriots fans thought they had the best tight end in the NFL back for a playoff run, T.J. Ward—Cleveland Browns safety—obliterated Gronkowski's knee with his helmet.

    The Patriots won two of their last three games—losing to the Miami Dolphins—and finished with the No. 2 seed in the AFC. However, the lasting impact of Gronkowski's injury will be felt throughout the playoffs.

Adventures in Refereeing

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    The New England Patriots may have benefited from some pass interference flags at different points this year, but two games were decided in the opponent's favor by highly questionable calls.

    Patriots fans will have a difficult time forgetting the feeling of despair replacing elation as NFL referee Clete Blakeman picked up an interference flag thrown after Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was caught with his hands all over Rob Gronkowski.

    They still have a tough time stomaching the agony of watching New York Jets kicker Nick Folk's field-goal try go wide, followed by Chris Jones receiving an obscure—but correctly applied—penalty for pushing a teammate.

    The losses to the Panthers and Jets were the difference between the No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

    Many teams would have crumbled after such tough defeats. Instead, the Patriots thrived. Toughness in the face of adversity might be the defining trait of this 2013 Patriots team.