BOSTON (CBS) — We’re nine weeks deep into the 2014 NFL season, and the New England Patriots are sitting pretty at 7-2.
There was some concern after a 2-2 start, but most of that has gone away with a convincing five-game win streak. The Patriots hit their bye week as the top team in the AFC, and are in a great position to land a first round bye when the postseason rolls around.READ MORE: 'DCR Wants To Turn This Into A Lawn': Group Fights Plan To Relocate Herter Community Garden
There is still plenty of work to be done over the final eight weeks of the season, but for now we’ll take a look at the top plays through the first nine weeks:
1. Rob Gronkowski’s One-Handed Catch vs. Denver
Gronk is healthy, and that is bad news for the rest of the NFL. Watching the catch, it’s almost not fair (but you won’t hear us complaining).
2. Danny Amendola’s Insane Touchdown Catch vs. Jets
Amendola has come under a lot of scrutiny since signing with New England, but if it wasn’t for him the Patriots may not have beat the lowly Jets in Week 7.
The Patriots held a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter, and were looking to add to it with the Jets putting up a pretty good fight. After a couple of big plays to Julian Edelman and Gronkowski had them set up deep in New York territory, a pair of penalties had them facing a third-and-goal at the New York 19 yard line.
Brady took the snap, and then scrambled a bit to buy some extra time. He went over the middle to Amendola, who after improvising on his route, had to make a spinning grab to come down with the touchdown. You really have to see it to do it justice.
Rex Ryan said Amendola ran “the greatest route in the history of the game” on the catch. He may never live up to his contract, but Amendola won over a lot of fans with that grab.
3. Rob Ninkovich Picks Off Peyton Manning
The Patriots are getting loads of praise for throwing a lot of different defensive looks at Peyton Manning in Week 9, and the best example is Ninkovich dropping back into coverage early in the second quarter . Manning had no idea Nink was going to be over the middle (though he wouldn’t admit it after the loss) and hit him square in the numbers for the defensive lineman’s fifth career interception.
The turnover really changed the momentum of the game. The Patriots had just squandered a red zone opportunity and had to settle for their second field goal of the night to make it 7-6 Denver. Ninkovich’s pick set them up at the Denver 35, and a few plays later Brady found Edelman in the end zone and the offense was on their way.
4. Chandler Jones’ Blocked Field Goal vs. Vikings
The man is a beast, plain and simple. Not only did he get his giant mitt up to block Blair Walsh’s attempt, but he took it 58-yards to the house for a touchdown to give New England a 24-7 lead at halftime.
5. Julian Edelman’s Punt Return vs. Denver
After suffering a case of the dropsies in the two games prior, Edelman got back on the right track against the Broncos. Edelman broke an 84-yard punt return against Denver to put the Patriots up 20-7 in the second quarter.
Tom Brady loves Edelman, and sprinted the length of the field to celebrate with his receiver after the return (admitting that he was a little winded after). Edelman went on to win AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the return, which was his franchise-leading fourth return for a touchdown as a member of the Patriots.
6. Shane Vereen’s 49-yard Touchdown Catch vs. Jets
The Patriots needed a fast start against the Jets, and just three plays into the game Brady hooked up with Vereen on a deep touchdown strike. The ball was a wee bit overthrown, but Vereen made a gorgeous diving catch to haul in the score.
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The Patriots had just lost Stevan Ridley four days before, so it was important for Vereen to contribute (he had two touchdowns in the game). After that first score, Vereen did Ridley’s touchdown celebration.
7. Devin McCourty’s 60-yard INT vs. Vikings
The Patriots picked off Matt Cassel four times in their Week 2 win, and while three of them were all on Cassel, this was an incredible play by McCourty. His return set up a one-yard touchdown run by Ridley to make it 7-7, and the Patriots never looked back in the 30-7 win.
8. Brandon LaFell 56-yard Touchdown vs. Bills
Leading up to New England’s Week 6 tilt with the Bills, newcomer Brandon LaFell had just one impressive game with the Patriots: A six-catch, 119-yard, touchdown showing in their blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football.
Lafell showed signs that he was forming some chemistry with Brady, but he really broke out in their win over Buffalo. He finished with just four catches, but two of them went for touchdowns, including his 56-yard beauty late in the fourth quarter that put the game away for good.
Judged would have loved his form jumping into the end zone too.
9.Tom Brady’s Run vs. Cincinnati
Heading into their Week 5 tilt against the Bengals, there was a whole lot of talk about the decline of Tom Brady. The Patriots were destined to lose the game and drop to 2-3 on the season, and there was even some trade talk (albeit for the offseason) when it came to No. 12.
For those who said such things, thank you. Brady had a fire in his belly against the Bengals, and while he only threw two touchdowns in the 43-17 win, he was one determined quarterback to set the record straight following New England’s Monday night embarassment in Kansas City.
While this may just be a simple play — a six-yard run on first down just a few plays into the game — it had a message. The Patriots hadn’t scored on an opening drive yet at that point in the season, and Brady was determined to change that. When no one was open down field, he took off. When he got back up, he was fired up, his teammates were fired up, Gillette Stadium was fired up, and a few plays later Ridley was in the end zone.
No, it didn’t make many highlights reels, but Brady’s short run sent a message to the Bengals and everyone else who had doubted the Patriots: We’re not going down without a fight.
10. Vince Wilforks’ INT vs. Oakland
The Patriots barely got by the Raiders (yep, the Raiders) in Week 3, but an interception by their big nose tackle sealed it in the final minute.
We knew the big man had great hands, but this was no easy pick after it pin-balled off a few of Vince’s teammates. Bonus points for not killing Ninkovich on his way to the ground.
BONUS: Tribute To Devon Still And His Daughter
If this touching tribute during the Bengals game didn’t get to you, take a lap. No, take 10,000.
Did we miss anything? Let us know your favorite plays through the first nine weeks in the comments section!MORE NEWS: 'I Lost My Son To The Streets': Father Brings Busload Of Donations To Mass And Cass
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