We have seen Tom Brady drive this team down the field in a little over a minute with no time outs to shock the Saints. We have seen this team erase a 24-0 halftime deficit to defeat Peyton Manning and the Broncos in overtime. Last week, we saw back-to-back 53-yard field goals to seal a victory over the Texans. Yet out of all the mind-blowing, mesmerizing, and miraculous victories that we've been treated with this season, none was as improbable as this afternoon's.
70 seconds to overcome a 4-point deficit against New Orleans? Ha! 30 minutes to erase a 24-point hole? That's a piece of cake! Today, the Patriots had 2:39 and were trailing by twelve. Not only did Tom Brady need to drive them the length of the field (which he did), but then they needed to recover an onside kick (something this team hadn't done since 1995, until today), and then follow that up with yet another game-winning touchdown drive (now commonplace for Brady). And even then, after they had mounted an insane comback, the defense managed to let the Browns drive into fringe field goal range, with Jason Campell spiking the ball with only one second left on the clock. Our dear friend Billy Cundiff's kick appeared for all the world to be good from the angle we were given on TV and I thought our team's resilience was all for naught, but then the ball fell right in front of the crossbar to seal the deal for the Patriots!
I thought this team was dead against the Saints. I thought they were dead against the Broncos. With 2:39 left in the game, I KNEW they were dead. I had somewhere to be and the game was dragging on ridiculously late for a non-overtime affair. I wanted to turn off the TV and just end the misery, and normally I would have. But after everything this team has done this season, I simply couldn't walk away with even the slightest sliver of hope still remaining. Tom Brady orchestrating back-to-back touchdown drives after a horrendous offensive day, coupled with an onside kick recover was just about as implausible of an outcome as you could get. But still, knowing this team, until the Browns were kneeling the ball, I was going to have to stick it out.
Boy, am I glad I did.
Stephen Gostkowski (K): Is any kicker having anywhere close to as good of a season as the Ghost? He's 28 for 30, with four made field goalst of 50+ yards. He's put up 118 points, and then this onside kick today was just the icing on the cake. Best. Kicker. In. The. League.
Shane Vereen (RB): If his importance to this team wasn't already known, than his third quarter drive where he racked up 72 yards on three plays to bring the Patriots within eight left no doubt.
Julian Edelman (WR): With Gronkowski sidelined, Brady turned to his go-to receiver, who helped seal the victory for New England by snagging the first of the two final touchdowns.
Josh Boyce (WR): Boyce made his presence known today, with no bigger play than the pass-interference call at the end of the game to set up the Pats' final TD.
Offensive line: Overall, it was a poor day for the O-line. The offensive line has got to do a better job than they have of late. Brady has been sacked the 6th most in the league. It's game like this where the line breaks down, that the Patriots often lose. Today, they escaped by the skin of their teeth, but with the margin for error growing slimmer with each injury, the offensive line must step up if this team has even a prayer of making it to the Super Bowl.
Aqib Talib (DB): Just like with Steve Smith in Carolina, Talib found himself on the losing end of his battle with Josh Gordon. He's successfully shut down Julie Jones, A.J. Green, and Jimmy Graham, but today was not his finest day against the hottest player in the league.