By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The season is over, which is most certainly disappointing news for many folks in New England. Though the Patriots were worthy of reaching the NFL’s ultimate game and came about as close as a team can possibly get without punching a Super Bowl ticket, that ultimately won’t mean much in terms of how the 2015 season will be remembered in Patriots lore. It will, largely, be remembered as a year that ended sooner than anyone would have liked.

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Yet, as always, the long grind that was the 2015 season had its fair share of highs for the Patriots, and so before they get lost to the cloudiness of history, let’s take one last look at the best plays and moments from this past season.

10. The Banner Unveiling

Fireworks go off as the New England Patriots reveal their Super Bowl XLIX championship banner. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Fireworks go off as the New England Patriots reveal their Super Bowl XLIX championship banner. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The reason they take the field every fall is to try to win a championship, and so whenever that goal is accomplished, it’s worth soaking it in a little bit.

The Patriots did exactly that on Sept. 10 in a ceremony that captured the moment but didn’t go over the top. Ty Law, Troy Brown and Willie McGinest each carried a Lombardi Trophy out to midfield, before Robert Kraft carried the latest addition to the collection to join his former players. The fireworks were shot, the banner was unveiled, and that was that.

Considering this came just a week after Tom Brady beat the commissioner in a federal courtroom, it was certainly a high place from which to start the season for the team and the fans.

Of course, a 28-21 win over the visiting Steelers ensured that feeling would last through the night.

9. Gronk Continues To Build Playoff Legend

Rob Gronkowski celebrates his second touchdown against the Chiefs. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski celebrates his second touchdown against the Chiefs. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Patriots made their divisional round win over the Kansas City Chiefs look fairly easy, and that was thanks in large part to the work of No. 87.

Rob Gronkowski turned in a ho-hum seven-catch, 82-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Chiefs, including a score on the opening drive of the game.

Later, when matched up one-on-one with Eric Berry, Gronkowski left the All-Pro safety grasping at air following a quick stutter-step while breaking free up the sideline for the touchdown.

With that performance, Gronkowski set a new record for most postseason touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history, and he needed just five games to do it.

8. Jamie Collins’ Blocked PAT; Colts’ Failed Fake Punt

Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

One thing that became clearer and clearer as the year progressed: Jamie Collins is a freak athlete.

This much was clear from various videos and photos from Collins’ past, but he put it on display on national TV when the Patriots visited the Colts in October.

Following a Colts touchdown which would have gotten the Colts within six points of the Patriots with 86 seconds left in the game, Collins caught the Colts by surprise with a leap that would impress Spider-Man.

That wasn’t the only noteworthy special teams play on the night though.

It was a long season, but nothing induced more laughter than that play.

7. Third-And-17 To Edelman

The Patriots’ home game against the Jets was a fascinating experiment conducted by the Patriots, who tested the hypothesis that Tom Brady can almost single-handedly beat another NFL team. Though Brady obviously had help from his receivers, the theory was proven to be true.

Brady threw 54 passes in that Week 7 matchup, and he handed the ball off just five times. Total.

The plan worked out in the end, but it was dicey in the fourth quarter, when the Patriots trailed by four and faced a third-and-17 at their own 27-yard line.

Julian Edelman managed to find a soft spot in the zone defense, Brady stepped up to just barely avoid the strip-sack attempt from Calvin Pace, and the two connected for a 27-yard gain to move the chains.

The Patriots ended up scoring a touchdown to take a lead, which they’d keep through the final whistle.

6. Rex Ryan Learns Dion Lewis’ Name

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

“I mean they’re decent backs in their own right. But I don’t think we’re gonna focus on that kid. I can’t even tell you that kid’s name.”
–Rex Ryan, when asked about Dion Lewis, on Sept. 14, 2015


Rex had been asked about Dion Lewis, who was coming off a 69-yard rushing, 51-yard receiving performance in his debut with the Patriots. His response indicated he couldn’t be bothered to even learn the name of the fifth-year player who had battled injuries through the early part of his career.

Suffice it to say, by the end of the Patriots’ 40-32 win at the home of the much-hyped Buffalo Bills, Ryan head learned Lewis’ name.

The undersized back went full Kevin Faulk on that much-ballyhooed Buffalo defense, picking up 98 receiving yards on six receptions as well as rushing for 40 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

And it was that touchdown run, in particular, that likely was not quickly forgotten in Buffalo. If Rex didn’t know the kid’s name, surely Ronald Darby did, as Lewis barreled right through the chest of Bills cornerback to fall forward across the goal line.

Ryan was extra salty after the game when asked if he regretted his comments about Lewis.

“That’s the reason we lost,” he said sarcsatically. “Go ahead. I still don’t know his name. Next time run the ball. Next.”

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(Without Lewis in their next matchup, the Patriots fan for a competent 85 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in another victory over the Bills.)

5. Chandler Jones Taketh Away

The NFL Draft Combine can sometimes go a bit overboard with the overwhelming number of measurables for young players. Indeed, 40-yard dashes, vertical leaps and three-cone drills don’t always translate directly to success in the middle of a football game.

And at times, hearing about a draft pick’s “wingspan” can seem a bit comical. But this season, Chandler Jones showed exactly why every single bit of his 35.5-inch arms matter.

Jones, after a bit of a tumultuous week leading up to the Patriots’ playoff opener vs. the Chiefs, was able to get a finger or two on the football just before Knile Davis hit the dirt. The ball popped loose, Dont’a Hightower recovered, and the Patriots immediately turned it into a touchdown, which proved to provide the game-winning points.

Seeing Jones make that play in the playoffs wasn’t surprising, because just a month earlier, he dominated Titans tackle Taylor Lewan with a bull rush before extending his left hand and stripping the ball from Marcus Mariota. The loose ball bounced around a bit before Akiem Hicks belly-flopped on top of it in the end zone for a Patriots touchdown.

4. Malcolm Butler Breaks Up Possible Game-Winning Touchdown

Patriots corner Malcolm Butler breaks up a catch by Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during New England's Week 10 win. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Patriots corner Malcolm Butler breaks up a catch by Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during New England’s Week 10 win. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

It’s ancient history now, but for a long stretch of the season, the idea of the Patriots going 16-0 was not out of the realm of possibility. Yet for several moments in New Jersey in mid-November, those hopes appeared to be extinguished when Odell Beckham caught a touchdown along the left sideline in the end zone that looked to have put the Giants up by five with two minutes to play.

Yet, after a replay review, referee Ed Hochuli announced that Malcolm Butler had actually knocked the ball free from the second-team All Pro receiver.

Thanks to that play, the Giants had to settle for a field goal to take a two-point lead, which gave way to moment No. 3.

3. Gostkowski Boots 54-Yard Game-Winner

Stephen Gostkowski kicks the game-winning field goal against the Giants. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski kicks the game-winning field goal against the Giants. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Though his missed PAT in Denver will likely be how his 2015 season will most be remembered, kicker Stephen Gostkowski put together a remarkable season from start to finish for the Patriots.

And he was never better than in MetLife Stadium, in the final seconds, with his team trailing by two, as he lined up a 54-yard field goal.

From the left hash, Gostkowski approached the kick and sent a ball toward the goal posts that could never be described as “straight” or “true.” But the flight pattern stopped turning left just enough for the ball to sneak inside the left upright, and the ball — as always — had plenty of leg behind it.

The kick was good, and the Patriots remained undefeated through Week 10 of the NFL season.

Late Addition: Amendola’s Catch In Buffalo

This one was overlooked in the original cultivation of this list, but needs to be added.

He not only didn’t see the ball, but he had a defender’s arm in his face and between his own arms while diving to the turf to make the catch to essentially ice the victory.


2. Gronkowski And Brady (Nearly) Save The Day

Rob Gronkowski makes a catch on a fourth-and-10 in Denver. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski makes a catch on a fourth-and-10 in Denver. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The loss in Denver will go down as yet another painful playoff defeat in Patriots history. Surely, all of them are painful to various degrees.

Yet if there’s a silver lining to be found, it is in the Patriots’ refusal to quit, despite an overwhelming surge from Denver’s defense that lasted all afternoon long. Tom Brady withstood a record level of pressure as well as about two-dozen hits, while Rob Gronkowski was dealing with leg cramps and spending some time sucking oxygen through a mask on the sideline while a trainer rolled his leg muscles.

Yet needing a miracle of sorts, Brady and Gronkowski stayed the course, and it came oh so close to changing history.

On fourth-and-10 from midfield, Brady waited for Gronkowski to get downfield. Despite the tight end being double covered, Brady lobbed a perfect pass that would have dropped into a waste basket 36 yards away. Gronkowski made an over-the-shoulder catch, despite two defenders draped all over him, to keep the Patriots alive.

Obviously, though, work remained, and four plays later, the Patriots once again faced a fourth down. Brady looked to — who else? — Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski ended up being open (or at least appearing to be open) on the ensuing two-point conversion, but Brady never looked his way.

Still, despite the outcome, the guts and effort displayed by the Patriots’ two best offensive players shouldn’t be quickly forgotten.

1. Dion Lewis Makes Everybody — EVERYBODY — Miss

Dion Lewis (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Dion Lewis (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The midseason torn knee for Dion Lewis was a major downer for the Patriots, because the 25-year-old was having a truly magnificent year.

He rushed for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and he caught 36 passes for 388 yards and another pair of touchdowns before suffering the injury, but there was no singular play better than the one he authored in Dallas in Week 5.

With the Patriots leading 13-3 early on the first drive of the second half, on a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Brady faked a handoff on an end-around to Julian Edelman before sending an off-the-mark pass to Lewis in the right flat.

Lewis made a one-handed grab while spinning around, with his momentum taking him toward the sideline. At that point, Lewis did some things that words can’t describe. Basically, he looked like Jackie Chan fighting off a series of hapless would-be attackers. You have to see for yourself.

That’s a ferocious juke on safety Barry Church, a duck under the would-be tackle of defensive end Jack Crawford, a burst past the dive of cornerback Corey White, and a dive for the goal line before safety J.J. Wilcox could stop him from scoring.

It was without a doubt the Patriots’ best play of the year, and it should go down as one of the best plays in the entire league. And, considering Lewis is signed through 2017 and should be good to go come next September, it ought to provide some hope for the 2016 Patriots offense.

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.