Winning the AFC championship: amazing. Winning it with Sterling Moore as the player of the game: priceless.
As New England’s majestic season spills into February, the defense keeps rising to meet the standard of quality set by the offense. This is the hidden virtue of Tom Brady; the disciplined way he carries himself has the young guys on his team playing like legends.
On championship Sunday, a guy named Sterling Moore made one of the five best plays in Patriots history. This isn’t Troy Brown or Ty Law or Adam Vinatieri or Tedy Bruschi we’re talking about here. We're talking about one of the least known members on one of the most ridiculed defenses in modern NFL history.
This is Sterling Moore. He was an undrafted free agent who was signed and waived by the Raiders’ training camp, then picked up for the Patriots' practice squad.
Now, here he is stripping the Ravens' winning touchdown out of Lee Evans’ hands in the AFC championship with 22 seconds left in the game. The world was shocked.
But you know what? Patriot Nation wasn’t shocked. When Moore stripped Lee Evans, we all just shrugged and said, “Yep, that’s what Sterling Moore does.” We expect that from him just as much as we expect BenJarvus Green-Ellis to run the ball without fumbling.
Bill Belichick doesn't put players on the field if he doesn't trust them to make big plays. So when one of our least-famous guys makes a big play, we're not surprised. Of course he made the play; he made the play because he's on the field.
Teams win championships. If there’s one thing Coach Belichick and Robert Kraft have perfected, it’s the art of assembling disciplined rosters where every single player is accountable for doing their job. Brandon Spikes is as responsible for doing his job as Tom Brady is for doing his. When Bruschi talks about “the Patriot way,” that’s what he’s really talking about.
Vince Wilfork’s defensive unit was brutally criticized all season. On television, on the radio, in print, it all spewed the same garbage. The detractors pushed and pushed, and the defense pushed back by sending our team to the Super Bowl. It’s the ultimate middle finger to critics everywhere.
This has finally become a defensive-minded team, the way Coach Belichick always envisioned it. Wilfork, Moore and Spikes are golden gods. James Ihedigbo, Patrick Chung, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Mark Anderson are essential components in our recipe for success. Every man on the roster matters. The ladder has no top and no bottom. Everyone is accountable, and that's why we're winning.
Tom Brady was the first to admit he struggled. He threw an unforced miscue to Rob Gronkowski from the Baltimore 22, which would’ve been a sure-fire touchdown. On 2nd-and-8 from the Baltimore 47, he mistimed a throw to Julian Edelman that got picked. And of course, there’s the now infamous go-for-the-jugular long ball to Matthew Slater, which never had a prayer of succeeding.
But so what? Believe it or not, Larry Bird and Bobby Orr also had some unproductive games. It happens. In these situations, great players expect their teammates to rise and fill the void. On championship Sunday, Brady’s teammates stepped up. Somehow, Coach Belichick and Kraft always manage to find guys who have the ability to step up in dire circumstances and win big games.
Kraft has a knack for collecting football misfits. They’re not misfits in the Al Davis sense of the term, but they’re always unwanted and unloved. The Patriots do not breed media darlings or jersey-selling superstars, they breed football players. Even Brady was originally unwanted by everyone on the planet.
It's no coincidence that all of these unsung heroes keep winding up in New England. Guys from this team don't lead the top stories on sports shows. Most people don't know 95 percent of the names on this roster. If, on the morning of championship Sunday, you had told the world that Moore would win the game for the Patriots, the world would’ve responded: “Who?”
And that's why we love this team. This is an unbelievably resilient group of guys. Just like the Patriots from 2001, this Patriots team is doubted, doubted, doubted, doubted, and now they’re headed to the Super Bowl.
How do we feel about an AFC championship victory? Aww yeah! How do we feel about a 50 percent chance that Brady gets his fourth ring? We feel pretty damn fantastic. How do we feel about our defense winning the most brutal game of the season? We feel pretty damn awesome.
How do we feel about going to the Super Bowl in a season dedicated to Myra Kraft? We feel honored. In the words of Brady: “She’s with us every step of the way."