COMMENTARY | The 2013 season hasn't been short on drama for the New England Patriots. In fact, no matter the foe, it seems like each game has come down to a single dramatic play. It wasn't easy to narrow things down, but with 2013 coming to a close, these are the top five moments of the year for the Pats.
#5 Return of the Gronk
It was short-lived, and came in a loss, but the return of star tight end Rob Gronkowski was a sight for sore eyes in New England. Forearm and back surgeries kept Gronk out of the lineup until late October, when he finally hit the field against the New York Jets.
There was no easing in to things for Gronkowski either. Tom Brady greeted his teammate with 17 targets, translating to a team-high of eight receptions and 114 yards.
Gronkowski would quickly return to his dominant self, before a serious knee injury would once again put him on the shelf in late December.
#4 Houston still has a problem
The Houston Texans hadn't won a game in more than two months when they hosted the Patriots on December 1st. But after jumping out to a 10-0 lead, they appeared to be well on their way to ending that dubious streak. That is, however, until Brady and Stephen Gostkowski took over in the second half.
Brady led the Patriots to 27 points after halftime, and Gostkowski knocked through two 53-yard field goals to lift New England to its ninth win of the season.
Brady continued his late-season surge, completing 29 of his 41 passes, for 371 yards and two touchdowns.
#3 What can the Browns do for you?
In Week 14, the Patriots trailed 26-14 with 1:02 remaining in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns. When the game-clock hit 31 seconds, New England miraculously led 27-26.
But even with Brady performing some of his patented fourth-quarter magic, the Patriots needed some serious help from Cleveland to make it happen. Brady hit Julian Edelman for a touchdown with 61 seconds remaining, but an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Browns allowed Gostkowski to set up on the 50-yard line for an onside kick attempt. When Kyle Arrington pounced on the kick, for the Patriots' first successful onside recovery since 1995 (also against the Browns), Brady had only 40 yards to march his offense for the game-winning score.
A questionable pass interference call put New England on the 1-yard line, which set up Brady's winner to Danny Amendola.
With a last gasp effort, the Browns moved the ball all the way to the 40. But with time running out, Billy Cundiff missed a 58-yard field goal, sending New England fans home with the victory.
#2 Manning left out in the cold
The game was over. After the first half, the Denver Broncos held a 24-0 lead in Foxborough, to the absolute shock of the New England faithful.
Two quarters (and a little extra) later, the Patriots were celebrating one of the most remarkable comebacks in NFL history.
Brady led scoring drives on his first five possessions of the second half, and Peyton Manning struggled to find receivers in the severe cold and wind. However, Manning's late touchdown to Demaryius Thomas tied the game at 31, and the game went to overtime.
That's when Bill Belichick surprised even his own team. After winning the coin toss, Belichick chose to take the wind, handing the ball to Manning when a touchdown would win the game.
Belichick's gamble paid off when Ryan Allen's sky-high punt confused former Patriots star Wes Welker, and before he could call off his blockers, the ball hit Bronco Tony Carter. New England recovered, and kicked the improbable game-winner. It was the largest blown lead in Denver Broncos' history.
#1 Patriots prayers are answered vs. Saints
For Saints fans, Tom Brady giveth, and Tom Brady taketh away.
After throwing what seemed to be a game-ending interception with just over two minutes to go on October 13th, Brady got a reprieve when the New England defense stopped the Saints, and got him the ball back for one more try.
Half of the stadium was empty as Brady took the snap with 70 yards to go, and no timeouts. Eight plays later, with just five seconds on the clock, Brady lofted a perfect ball to Kenbrell Thompkins in the corner of the endzone. Thompkins outfought a Saints defender to come down with the most shocking game-winner in recent Patriots history.
Evan Fitzgerald grew up near Boston, and has covered the NFL for nearly a decade. He can now be seen covering college sports for the Big 10 Network. Follow him on Twitter @evanwfitzgerald.
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