The 2011 season had its fair share of lows for New England Patriots fans. A barrage of injuries kept the defense from gelling, Tom Brady threw as many picks in a single game as he did all last season and the Pats dropped back-to-back games to fall to 5-3 after a 5-1 start.
But despite these slumps, the 13-3 Pats had plenty of reasons to celebrate. Here's a look at the top 10 highs of New England's 2011 season.
While it's odd to kick off a season highlight countdown with a video of Brady eating dirt, this play stuck out to me as a high point.
Elvis Dumervil beats Brian Waters to blindside Brady, doling arguably the hardest hit our beloved quarterback took all season. Most quarterbacks in that situation would have just laid there for a while, rolling around in sack-induced despair. But not Brady—he pops up like he wants more.
We know from his fourth-quarter game-winning drives that Brady is mentally tough, but this play is a great reminder of the kind of physical toughness the Patriots possess. When asked about the sack, Brady commented, "I learned pretty early playing quarterback that when you get hit, you should always be the first one up, faster than the guy who hit you."
Brady's grit will serve New England well in the playoffs.
Chad Ochocinco's first and only touchdown as a Patriot is the ninth best moment of a season that proved to be a love/hate exercise for New England fans and the wideout.
Ochocinco's performances fueled emotional extremes from Patriot Nation. When the football was secured in his hands, Foxborough would erupt as if the receiver had just hauled in a Super Bowl-winning touchdown.
But fans disparaged Ochocinco equally whenever he flubbed a play, constantly questioning his worth to the team.
The receiver's season was marked by ups and downs on and off the field. His season low came when he arguably lost the Pats' Week 3 game against Buffalo by dropping a surefire touchdown pass.
But his teammates remained optimistic about his ability to be successful with Tom Brady often commenting that he's trying to put the ball in the hands of number 85.
It was this exact kind of chatter, drama and controversy surrounding the wide receiver all season that made this touchdown so special.
Kyle Arrington was an unlikely candidate to wrap up 2011 with a leading interception statistic, but he left the field on Sunday with a season total of seven picks—the most by any individual in the NFL this season.
The replacement for Darius Butler had a solid defensive season in 2010, but he was at risk for getting cut in 2011. Arrington was ranking from fourth to sixth on the depth chart at cornerback this July, and there was talk that the Patriots would only retain five corners.
But Arrington used his 2011 roster spot in the Patriots' shredded secondary to make a case for a Pro Bowl appearance—and though he failed to achieve it, he deserved consideration.
Tom Brady was the Tim Tebow of Week 6, struggling all day but turning it around to win the game on a miraculous fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
The Pats were down three to the Cowboys with just about two minutes left on the clock, and it was hard to have confidence in a New England offense that lacked rhythm against Rob Ryan's notorious D.
Headed into the drive, Brady was 19-of-32 for 211 yards and a single touchdown—meaning he had more interceptions than TDs up to that point.
But number 12 went 8-of-9 for 78 yards on the final drive, topping it off with an 8-yard TD pass to Aaron Hernandez.
Brady eclipsed Dan Marino's single-season passing record to end the year with 5,235 yards—the second-most in NFL history.
In the Patriots' second meeting with the New York Jets, Andre Carter dominated The Sanchize, setting a franchise record with 4.5 sacks in the game. Two of those sacks came on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter.
Carter was one of the few Patriots able to pressure opposing quarterbacks this year. Despite his season-ending injury, he still finished the 2011 season with the team's most sacks, tying with Mark Anderson at 10.
New England's defense will miss Carter in the playoffs.
In his eighth NFL season, Vince Wilfork snagged his first career interception against the San Diego Chargers.
If a 323-pound nose tackle runs with the football, it's worthy of an instant season highlight—and a few replays in slow motion.
But the defensive Pro Bowler did not stop there. Two weeks later, he hopped up to bring down another pick against Oakland; and in Week 14 he fell onto a fumble in the end zone to gain his first career touchdown.
Wilfork has played an integral role on a struggling Pats' D and will be a leader heading into the playoffs.
With 22 seconds left on the clock against the Washington Redskins, Jerod Mayo stole a pick, to extinguish a red zone offense that likely would have put seven on the board to tie the game.
New England's defense looked so sluggish that day, they likely would have been unable to swing a key stop against Rex Grossman and company had the game gone into overtime.
Mayo's second career interception proved potent in the Pats' postseason. Had they not picked up the win in Washington, New England would have gone 12-4, potentially allowing Baltimore to seize the No. 1 seed and edge the Pats out of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Wes Welker's 2010 season with the Patriots was somewhat of a hiccup on his résumé, but he broke out in the 2011 season opener with a 99-yard reception for a touchdown that emphatically showed he was back.
In that single game, he gained almost 20 percent of the yards he had recorded in the season prior. Welker went on to conclude the 2011 season with the second-most receiving yards in the NFL.
Despite Brady's other reliable options, Welker will be a powerhouse for New England in the postseason.
After Julian Edelman created drama on Halloween in a Boston nightclub, I said it was time for the Patriots to reconsider the punt returner. I have never been more wrong.
Edelman finished the season with four receptions, 13 tackles and a punt return for a touchdown.
Essentially, Troy Brown is back on the Patriots' roster wearing number 11.
Edelman's pure athleticism makes him invaluable to a Patriots team struggling to overcome injury issues—it's easy to trust him playing almost anywhere.
Watch the above video, as the 5-foot-10 receiver-turned-defender pummels Vince Young in Week 12.
The single greatest highlight of the Patriots' 2011 season was watching Rob Gronkowski earn his crown as the NFL's best tight end.
In one of the most memorable plays of the season (featured above), the Pro Bowler dragged two Redskin defenders along for the ride before shaking them off and getting tripped up at Washigton's 11-yard line to set up a touchdown play.
Gronkowski, of course, is the guy who hauled in that touchdown—and it was his 14th on the season; meaning it broke the single-season touchdown record set by Antonio Gates in 2004. Gronkowski went on to close out the 2011 season with 17 total touchdowns.
Opposing defenses should prepare to get "Gronk-ed" in the playoffs by this part-human-part-beast, touchdown-grabbing, defense-deflecting, wrecking ball of a tight end.