The Patriots closed the book on another successful regular season that saw them go 14-2, win the division, and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill season in Foxborough. For the first time in eight years, a quarterback — two, in fact — other than Tom Brady started a game while Brady served a suspension. A player viewed as a key defensive piece was traded away. Brady set the NFL’s record for quarterback wins. LeGarrette Blount and Rob Gronkowski set franchise records. Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett combined to set the record for fewest interceptions in a season. And the defense went from being questioned to leading the league in scoring (by a lot).
So with that, here are 10 individual plays that stood out to us throughout the course of the Patriots’ season:
■ Blount’s leap over Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell in Week 2. The Patriots were up 31-17 at the start of the fourth quarter when Blount went upstairs to keep his 26-yard run alive. In hindsight, this set the tone for Blount’s career year.
■ Brissett’s 27-yard touchdown run against the Texans in Week 3. The rookie quarterback showed some gusto when he scrambled for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. He earned a lot of respect within the organization for his play and his toughness.
■ Brady’s 4-yard run on third-and-4 in the third quarter against the Browns in Week 5. When he stood up, he gave an emphatic and elongated first-down signal. The drive eventually sputtered, but it was Brady’s first scramble of the season after a four-week suspension and his first outward display of emotion since rejoining his team.
■ Gronkowski’s 53-yard touchdown catch against the Bills in Week 8. It was his 69th career touchdown reception, in front of his hometown crowd no less, and set the franchise record for most career touchdown catches.
■ Malcolm Butler’s forced fumble and recovery against the Jets in Week 12. This turned out to be the first of 14 turnovers the Patriots defense forced over the final six games of the regular season. Butler stripped Ronny Anderson after a 25-yard reception in the second quarter when the Patriots were trailing the Jets, 10-3. The turnover led to a touchdown and a tie score at halftime.
■ Shea McClellin’s leap to block a field-goal attempt against the Ravens in Week 14. The Patriots led, 2-0, in the first quarter. But McClellin cleanly jumped over the line to get a hand on the ball and keep the Ravens off the scoreboard in the first period.
■ Chris Hogan’s 79-yard touchdown against the Ravens in Week 14. The Ravens had just scored to cut the Patriots’ lead to 23-20. Hogan found himself open in the middle of the field with about 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. And this one-play touchdown drive was a gut punch to Baltimore and all but sealed New England’s win.
■ Blount’s touchdown against the Broncos in Week 15. It was his 15th of the season, setting a franchise record for most rushing touchdowns in a season. It also proved to be a difference maker in the low-scoring affair as the Patriots escaped Mile High Stadium with an important victory.
■ Devin McCourty’s hit on Demaryius Thomas against the Broncos in Week 15. It was fourth-and-2 with about 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were up, 16-3. Thomas had a sure 17-yard catch at the New England 13-yard line. But McCourty delivered a hit from behind that dislodged the ball, essentially ending the Broncos’ shot at a comeback.
■ Michael Floyd’s block against the Dolphins in Week 17. New England had a 20-14 lead in the third quarter when Brady found Julian Edelman on a slant for a moderate gain at their own 30-yard line. Edelman’s feet quickly carried him to midfield before Floyd laid out Tony Lippett at the 50, clearing the way for the rest of Edelman’s journey to the end zone.
Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter at @rachelgbowers.