Let’s face it: we had a good run. 10 years and no longer counting, the New England Patriots are atop the football mountain again. For those like yours truly, this is not a time to sulk. Football had a rough year, and a Patriots win is a fitting capper. But there were good times. Oh, some of the best times, as a matter of fact, and what better time than now to reflect on them and remind ourselves that as harsh as this feels, times weren’t always blue… and red and white. A look now at the five best moments of a decade chock-full of Patriot playoff shortcomings:
5. 2005 AFC Divisional Playoffs – Broncos 27, Patriots 13
This was the first time anyone got to see Tom Brady brought down to a mere mortal in the postseason. Behind Jake Plummer of all people, the Broncos forced five turnovers and mustered just enough offense to end New England’s 10-game postseason winning streak and prevent the Pats from becoming the first team in NFL history to three-peat. The defining moment came when Tom Brady was intercepted in the end zone by Champ Bailey, who huffed and puffed 100 yards before Ben Watson knocked him out at the 1. Bailey appeared to fumble but was ruled to have fumbled at the 1, not through the end zone, setting up a Denver touchdown and essentially icing the win.
4. 2008 season – Patriots miss playoffs with Matt Cassel
No one roots for injury, but there was a sense of relief among Pats-hater Nation when Brady tore his ACL in the first half of the season opener against Kansas City. It was still a nail-biter, because after starting 7-5, the Matt Cassel-led Patriots won their final four games, only missing the postseason on the season’s final day when Miami knocked off the Jets to take the AFC East and Baltimore nabbed the final wild card spot.
3. Super Bowl XLVI – The Manningham Catch
Four years after being denied perfection, the Patriots had a chance for redemption against the Giants in Indianapolis, and looked to be in good shape for their fourth title after going in front 17-9 in the third. But New York rallied to pull within two, then it was deja vu all over again when Mario Manningham hauled in an improbable, incredible sideline pass by Eli Manning. Ahmad Bradshaw reluctantly scored the go-ahead touchdown, but ultimately it was the Giants’ defense that saved the day in the final minute. The nation held its collective breath on the final Hail Mary pass, but it was just out of Rob Gronkowski’s reach.
2. 2006 AFC Championship Game – Colts 38, Patriots 34
This one was sweet for multiple reasons, none bigger than the fact that New England appeared well on its way to a fourth title in six years. The Patriots took a 21-3 lead in the second quarter and were threatening for more when the Colts’ defense woke up, but Indy still trailed by 15 at the break. In the second half, Peyton Manning and Co. came to life, tying the score on three occasions before New England again went ahead 34-31. The Patriots had a chance to put it away, but Bob Sanders broke up a third-down pass to give the Colts the ball back with just over two minutes to play. Manning led a seven-play, 80-yard drive capped by a Joseph Addai 3-yard run, and Marlin Jackson intercepted Brady in the closing seconds to seal the thrilling victory. Over the final 30 minutes, the Colts outscored the Patriots 32-13.
1. Super Bowl XLII – Giants 17, Patriots 14
As the world braced for the first-ever perfect, 19-0 season in NFL history, David Tyree made a heart-stopping catch to keep the Giants final, 12-play, 80-yard touchdown alive (after an earlier 4th-and-1 conversion by Brandon Jacobs). Eli Manning set off what felt like a world-wide celebration by lofting a 13-yard pass to a wide-open Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining to complete the epic upset and make the Patriots the most forgettable 18-1 team ever.