By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When the decade of the 2000s ended, it kind of looked like the Patriots’ run of dominance might be concluding too. Sure, Bill Belichick was still roaming the sidelines, and Tom Brady was still under center. But entering the 2010 season, the team hadn’t won a playoff game in the previous two seasons, losing its previous two postseason contests in spectacular fashion. With the quarterback entering his — gulp — mid-30s, perhaps the days of glory were indeed a thing of the past.
As we know full well now, such doubts have proven to have been preposterous.
Incredibly, Brady, Belichick and the Patriots have experienced a magnificent renaissance, one that changed the franchise from mere three-time Super Bowl champions into six-time Super Bowl champions, tied for the most of any franchise ever in the history of the league.
That this transformation took place is quite the feat in and of itself. That it appears capable of concluding with another championship is downright unfair.
We cannot know right now whether or not this season will end with another Lombardi, but with the new year and new decade approaching fast, it’s worth taking a moment to flash back to all of the most memorable moments from 2010-2019. The list could probably have 50 entries, but for the sake of Patriots pragmatism, let’s keep it to a top 10 list.
Honorable Mention: The Big Boy Kick Return
Was it the most impactful play in Patriots history? Well, no. But when it comes to memorable moments, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a better one than offensive lineman Dan Connolly’s scintillating 71-yard kick return vs. Green Bay on Sunday Night Football in 2010.
QUE MOMENTO MARAVILHOSO! 😍🤣⠀
Há exatos 9 anos, o OL dos @Patriots, Dan Connolly, de 138 Kg, retornou incríveis 70 JARDAS e foi derrubado na porta da end zone… 😱 #NFLBrasil #NFL100 pic.twitter.com/J4chIGnwJ2
— NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) December 19, 2019
It was a fun moment, and it was pretty important, too. Tom Brady threw a touchdown a few plays later, and the Patriots would end up winning by just four points.
Honorable Mention: Super Bowl-Sealing Pick
In some football markets, a single Super Bowl win is the most memorable moment of the decade. In some cases, it is the most memorable moment in a quarter-century. Sometimes it’s the only great moment in 50-plus years (looking at you, New York Jets). Things are different, though, in New England, so sometimes even a Super Bowl win struggles to climb atop a list like this.
Still, this list would be faulty if it didn’t include an All-Pro play from an All-Pro cornerback in the biggest moment of the year, when Stephon Gilmore perfectly read the Rams’ play and stepped in front of a Jared Goff pass intended for Brandin Cooks.
Jared Goff intercepted by Stephon Gilmore pic.twitter.com/vIHBrxeXdM
— No Context NFL (@NoContxtNFL) February 4, 2019
The interception gave the football to the Patriots with 4:17 left in a game which the Patriots led 10-3. Sony Michel then ran for 41 yards, Rex Burkhead broke a 26-yard run, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal to put the game out of reach for L.A. with 1:16 left.
That end-of-game sequence all started with Gilmore breaking up a pass in the end zone on a different pass intended for Cooks, followed by the pick on the next play.
10. Two-Man Game
The Patriots did not win the Super Bowl in 2015. They didn’t even reach the Super Bowl in 2015. For all intents and purposes, it was a disappointing end to the season.
Yet in a last-gasp effort to keep the season alive, with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola battling injuries, with no running game whatsoever, with Jamie Collins getting burned twice for touchdowns by retiring-after-the-season Owen Daniels , and with James White struggling to contribute with five catches on 16 targets, Tom Brady looked to the only man who could climb out of an eight-point hole in the final minutes of the game.
It almost worked. It didn’t work, technically. But the show put on by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski was one for the ages, as the GOATs of their respective positions showed exactly how dominant they could be.
Gronkowski, who looked battered and exhausted, ran behind two defenders on a fourth-and-10. Brady, who absorbed 17 hits and four sacks on the day, lofted a picture-perfect pass up the right seam, dropping it directly into the giant mitts of No. 87, who hauled it in and hung on despite immediately getting hit.
Gronkowski could hardly get up, but he did. A handful of plays later, on a fourth-and-goal, Brady found Gronkowski in the end zone for a touchdown. It cut Denver’s lead to two and temporarily gave New England some hope. On the two-point conversion, though, Brady didn’t hit an open Gronkowski, instead forcing a pass to Edelman that was intercepted.
That ended the season in crushing fashion for the Patriots, and the Broncos went on to win Super Bowl 50. That was one of the lower points of the decade, but seeing Brady and Gronkowski put forth that kind of fourth quarter performance was nevertheless special.
9. The Forgotten Comeback
While the loss in Super Bowl LII to Philadelphia was a painful one, it likely would have been more painful for the Patriots to have missed out on their Super Bowl trip with a home loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
That loss seemed like a very real possibility in the fourth quarter of the 2017 AFC Championship Game, when Dion Lewis fumbled while the Jaguars were leading 20-10. Myles Jack was ruled down on the fumble recovery, which prevented the Jags from scoring a surefire defensive touchdown. But still, the Jaguars took over with a 10-point lead and 13:37 left in the game. That’s when the Patriots woke up.
The defense forced a three-and-out. Tom Brady’s next drive: 5-for-7 for 93 yards, capped with a tremendous touchdown catch-and-run by Danny Amendola.
The defense forced another Jaguars punt but the Patriots’ offense couldn’t capitalize, punting from near midfield with 6:00 left. The Patriots’ defense came up with another big stop, and Amendola returned Jacksonville’s punt 20 yards to set up the Patriots for either the winning or tying score. Amendola made sure it was the former, making a spinning, toe-tapping touchdown catch along the back line of the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Apropos of absolutely nothing … this was an insane catch to give the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl, once upon a time. Gollllly. pic.twitter.com/JeJQURxTSg
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) December 23, 2019
The Jaguars had one last chance, but Stephon Gilmore made sure that the Jags’ Super Bowl hopes would die that day in Foxboro.
8. One Night In October
Boston sports fans have no doubt had it good — really good — for a very long time. Generations of sports fans are lucky to be able to bear witness to one legendary career playing out before their eyes. Only the luckiest folks get to see two all-time postseason legends sharing a city for 14 years.
But Boston sports fans had Tom Brady. And they also had David Ortiz. On one night in October of 2013, they had them both, at their best, for the whole country to see.
The date was Oct. 13, 2013. The Patriots were hosting the undefeated Saints in a late-afternoon game at Gillette, and the home team appeared to have been in some trouble in the fourth quarter, when the Saints scored 10 straight points to take a four-point lead.
That’s when Brady turned into Brady, completing four of six passes for 53 yards in less than a minute. Brady spiked the ball, and with 10 seconds left, he only had one or two shots at the end zone. On the next snap: Perfection.
Anyone remember this game? Where Tom Brady hit the legendary hof WR kembrell thompkins for the game winning td? What a fantastic ending. pic.twitter.com/iKDXxOC2Iq
— Joseph Vincent (@BoredFilm) October 12, 2019
Gillette was sent into a state of pandemonium, as Brady and the Pats had done it again.
A few hours later, with the Red Sox facing the possibility of falling behind 2-0 in the ALCS, David Ortiz blasted a series-changing and season-changing grand slam over the bullpen wall in right field at Fenway Park.
In a decade that saw Boston win six championships and reach four more championship games or series, this one night was a perfect picture of just how good Boston sports fans have had it.
7. How The Bleep Did You Catch That?!
If you were to compile an All-Decade Team for the Patriots, it wouldn’t take much time to determine the top two spots. One would of course be the quarterback, and Rob Gronkowski would be a slam dunk at No. 2.
The all-world tight end put together a Hall of Fame career in the span of just nine seasons, an indication of just how dominant he was, both as a pass catcher and a run blocker.
And while his diving catch to set up the winning score in Super Bowl LIII or his touchdown catch vs. Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX may have been more important catches from Gronk’s career, there are two individual catches that show what type of freakish athleticism Gronkowski possessed.
The first was, by Tom Brady’s estimation, the best catch he’s ever seen.
After that one-handed catch, Bill Belichick threw a challenge flag, trying to get his tight end a touchdown. Review showed he was down short of the goal line, but fear not: Brady immediately went back to Gronkowski for a touchdown. The tight end had certainly earned it.
The other Gronk catch to make this list was less ballyhooed, but it was also arguably more impressive. In came on Christmas Eve in 2017, when he made a spin-o-rama toe-tapping catch by the pylon for a touchdown against the Bills.
There just haven’t been too many 6-foot-6, 265-pound people who could make plays like that. Gronkowski made them on a ridiculously consistent basis for the better part of a decade.
6. Tom Brady Revenge Tour, 2016-????
We don’t have enough time or space to get into all the ways which Tom Brady was railroaded by Roger Goodell and the NFL during the farcical saga known as DeflateGate. The simplest explanation, though, may just be this: A year after “catching” the Patriots deflating footballs, the NFL instituted a new policy requiring referees to record PSI numbers before games, at halftime, and after games. That data was to be collected, recorded, and sent to the league. But the NFL never released that data, presumably because it showed that science was indeed something real.
Nevertheless, after fighting it to every level short of the Supreme Court, Tom Brady reluctantly agreed to serve his four-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
This turned out to be very, very bad news for the rest of the NFL.
Brady returned from that suspension playing some of the best football of his entire life.
He threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in his first game back, a 33-13 stomping of the Browns in Cleveland. He threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns in his first home game following the suspension, a 35-17 whooping of the Bengals.
By the end of the season, Brady had himself 3,554 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions, setting a new record for TD-to-INT ratio in a single season. He would have had the MVP if not for Matt Ryan having a four-game head start on him to start the season.
Not getting the MVP was no big deal for Brady, though, as he was happy to take home his fourth Super Bowl MVP and fifth Lombardi at the end of that season. He went ahead and captured the NFL MVP Award the following season. He didn’t win the Super Bowl that year, but it wasn’t his fault, as he set a Super Bowl record with 505 passing yards in New England’s loss to the Eagles. And then he went out and won the Super Bowl the following year.
He’s still going.
The NFL’s intentions with that DeflateGate suspension were never genuine. Whatever the goal might have been, it backfired quite severely. The greatest quarterback in history was given a fresh chip on his 39-year-old shoulders, propelling to heights that few could have imagined he’d reach as he entered his 40s.
5. We’re On To Cincinnati
Through four weeks of the 2014 season, the Patriots were in trouble. They were 2-2, having just been embarrassed in Kansas City on a Monday night, to the tune of a 41-14 beatdown. News started to leak out that the team was going to make the switch at quarterback from Tom Brady to young gun Jimmy Garoppolo “sooner than later.” With the undefeated Bengals next up on the schedule, the Patriots were staring down the barrel of falling under .500 in October for the first time since 2002.
But then, with the eyes of the football world focused squarely on the Patriots, it all kind of changed with four words: “We’re on to Cincinnati.”
During a press conference between the Chiefs and Bengals game, Bill Belichick cared not to dwell on the past, or worry about the struggles, or speculate on the status of his starting quarterback.
After starting the year 2-2, the Patriots went 10-2 the rest of the way. They’d win the Super Bowl that year, reach the AFC title game the following year, win the Super Bowl the year after that, lose the Super Bowl the year after that, and then win another Super Bowl the year after that.
Literally nobody in the universe would have foreseen that type of run following Week 4 in Kansas City, when, let’s face it, it became clear that “they’re not good anymore!” Belichick wasn’t worried about any of that though. He was, simply, on to Cincinnati.
4. “You’re Too F—— Old!”
Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl in February 2002. An entire generation of current Patriots fans hadn’t even walked across the stage at their kindergarten graduations at that point. So for Tom Brady to still be slinging the pigskin in 2018, at the age of 41, was kind of an incredible feat on its own.
It also led to hundreds (thousands? millions?) of pundits to declare Brady to be too slow, too weak, too washed up, too noodle-armed, and too OLD to still compete for Super Bowls.
And then came the 2018 AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.
On a frigid night in January, on the road in one of the loudest stadiums in the world, the Patriots trailed 21-17 midway through the fourth quarter. Brady went 4-for-5 for 31 yards on the next drive, and Sony Michel ran in a 10-yard touchdown to regain the lead.
The Chiefs responded with another touchdown to take yet another four-point lead. Brady then went 3-for-5 for 56 yards, and Rex Burkhead ran in for a 4-yard touchdown to get the three-point lead back.
The Chiefs then marched down the field quickly and kicked a field goal to force overtime. In that overtime, Brady made sure that Patrick Mahomes never got to touch the football. Brady completed just four of his eight passes, but he converted three separate third-and-10’s, picking up 60 passing yards.
Third-and-10 No. 1:
Third-and-10 No. 2:
Third-and-10 No. 3:
From there, the ground game dominated in the red zone, and the Patriots were on to the Super Bowl.
Though that Super Bowl victory itself made that AFC title game really matter, it was that performance on an ice-cold night in Missouri, with Julian Edelman shouting “You’re too [bleepin’] old!” into Brady’s ear that really served as the defining moment of that championship season.
3. The Greatest Game In Gillette Stadium History
When the 10-6 Ravens visited Foxboro for the divisional round in the 2014 playoffs, it was not supposed to be a problem whatsoever for the 12-4 Patriots. Sure, the two franchises had their exchange of AFC title game victories in 2011 and 2012, but the Ravens fell on some hard times following their Super Bowl victory in 2012. They went 8-8 in 2013, losing a home game to the Patriots by a 41-7 final score. They improved enough to make the playoffs in 2014, but just barely, sneaking in with a Week 17 win.
So the Patriots entered this divisional round meeting as 7-point favorites. You’d never have known that once the game started.
The Ravens mounted long touchdown drives on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead. The Patriots worked themselves back into the game, with a Tom Brady rushing touchdown and passing touchdown. But then the Ravens went ahead and took another 14-point lead, going up 28-14 early in the third quarter.
At that point, the Patriots had to dip into their bag of tricks. First, they employed some unique formations to confuse the Ravens defense (and head coach). The first use of the unorthodox formation led to an easy 16-yard completion to Michael Hoomanawanui. The second resulted in an easy 11-yard gain by Julian Edelman. The Ravens had no idea how to adjust, so Brady connected with Hoomanawanui for another easy 14 yards. That one prompted John Harbaugh to have a full-on meltdown on the field, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Brady hit Gronkowski for a touchdown two plays later.
On the Patriots’ next drive, they finally let the college quarterback sling his first career pass. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as he lofted a beauty to Danny Amendola for a 51-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Despite all that work to tie the game, the Patriots still fell behind again, with the Ravens kicking a field goal to take a three-point lead in the fourth quarter. That just set the stage for Tom Brady throwing a touchdown to Brandon LaFell, one of the most perfect passes of his Hall of Fame career:
Duron Harmon picked off a Joe Flacco heave on the Ravens’ last-gasp drive, and so concluded a 35-31 victory for the Patriots, the most electric night in Gillette Stadium’s history.
2. Malcolm Butler
After spending two weeks squarely in the public eye for a nonsensical accusation about the PSI in footballs, Tom Brady delivered a monumental fourth-quarter performance against a historic defense in Super Bowl XLIX, setting up himself and the team for their first Super Bowl win in a decade. For the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, it was a tremendous moment.
But then, in an instant, it appeared to have all been for naught. Thanks to a helmet catch. Again.
This time, it was Jermaine Kearse who used some alien mind control to have a deflected pass bounce off his leg, then his hand, then his hand again, while making a circus catch. The broadcast cut to Brady’s face on the sideline, and the quarterback simply could not believe that another Super Bowl was about to be taken from him on another magic act by a wide receiver. With the unstoppable Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, a game-winning touchdown seemed like a certain inevitability.
Yet on the next play, Dont’a Hightower — playing with a banged-up shoulder — manage to shed a block and get just enough of Lynch to make a tackle at the 1-yard line. Then Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll engaged in a game of chicken, with neither coach willing to take a timeout. The Seahawks broke their huddle with 38 seconds left in the game, needing a yard to win the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson took a shotgun snap with 25 seconds left on the clock and looked to throw a pass to the right side.
Nobody in the world expected a pass in that situation. Nobody in the world except Malcolm Butler.
The Patriots had practiced numerous times for this exact moment, so Brandon Browner held up one receiver at the line of scrimmage as Butler burst to a spot to cut off the quick slant intended for Ricardo Lockette.
In a high-speed collision at the goal line, nobody knew quite what had happened for a split-second, until a handful of Patriots piled on top of Butler in complete ecstasy.
It was an all-time moment to end an all-time Super Bowl. And it kicked off Dynasty 2.0 for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
The evening of Feb. 5, 2017 was setting up to be a very bad one for the Patriots and their fans. They weren’t just going to lose a Super Bowl, but they were going to get blown out in a Super Bowl.
By the Atlanta Falcons.
Yet somehow, some way, even after missing a PAT following their first touchdown of the game in the final minutes of the third quarter, even after a botched onside kick, even after getting stopped in the red zone and settling for a field goal, even after surrendering what looked like the game-sealing completion to Julio Jones, and even after needing not one but two two-point conversions to force overtime … the Patriots managed to come all the way back from that 28-3 deficit.
And in the most insane development of all, they did it with 57 seconds to spare.
Thanks to a strip-sack from Dont’a Hightower, a sack by Trey Flowers, and a hold drawn by Chris Long, the defense held the Falcons at 28. On the other side of the ball, Julian Edelman made a miracle catch, Tom Brady made clutch throw after clutch throw, Martellus Bennett did a worthwhile Rob Gronkowski impression, Danny Amendola was a goal-line machine, and James White became a Super Bowl legend.
By now, “28-3” has become part of the sports world’s lexicon. Its casual usage has stripped some of the wonder from how miraculous that comeback was, so it’s always important in times like these to point out just how otherworldly impossible that resuscitation in Houston actually was.