By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- When a team wins five Super Bowls in a span of 16 years, and when that same team plays in two more Super Bowls during that time, and when that same team reaches the conference championship four times in that period to make it 11 out of 16 years reaching the final four, it is perhaps uncouth for anyone in the region to lament a particular season that came to a premature end.
But man, if ever there was a case for regret over a major missed opportunity, it would be the 2010 Patriots.
And the main culprit for ending that run was none other than a man who is now set to call Foxboro home -- linebacker David Harris.
Though Bart Scott received all the attention for his postgame, on-field comment to Sal Paolantonio, it was Harris who made the game-changing -- and history-altering -- play.
And with Harris now in the news for signing a deal with the Patriots after getting dumped by the Jets in June, it's a fitting time to relive that play and the impact it had on the 2010 divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
Tom Brady spent the 2009 season working in an undermanned offense as he tried to regain his sea legs after missing the 2008 season.
Tom Brady then spent the 2010 season decimating opposing defenses en route to becoming the first-ever unanimous NFL MVP.
Working with Wes Welker and Deion Branch at wideout, rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at tight end, and Danny Woodhead out of the backfield, Brady completed 65.9 percent of his passes for an even 3,900 yards and a preposterous 36 touchdowns to just four interceptions. It was, at the time, an NFL record -- though it has since been beaten ... by Tom Brady.
In Week 13 of the 2010 season, the New York Jets rolled into Gillette as a confident bunch, owners of a 9-2 record. In their Week 2 meeting the Patriots, they doubled them up to the tune of a 28-14 final score.
The Jets likely felt very good about their chances in that Week 13 Monday night matchup.
And then they got shellacked.
The Patriots treated the Jets like rag dolls en route to a thoroughly embarrassing 45-3 final score. Brady threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns with no picks. BenJarvus Green-Ellis efficiently ran for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 18 carries. The Jets had absolutely no answer for their dispatched running back, as Woodhead caught four passes for a career-high 104 yards.
Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson were complete non-factors. Braylon Edwards only caught two of the seven passes thrown his way.
The Patriots proved that night that the Jets weren't worthy of sharing the same field. Or so we all thought.
With the Patriots entering the game as 9.5-point favorites, the game was seen as merely being a formality for the Super Bowl-bound 14-2 Patriots. Yes, Welker would have to sit out a series due to his comedic performance at the expense of Rex Ryan's passion for feet, but that was not supposed to really matter.
But it did.
After forcing the Jets to punt on the opening possession, the Patriots took the field looking to strike early. Brady completed his first pass, a 19-yard gain by Woodhead. It looked like this would be more of the same from those two. Brady would complete three of his first four passes for 35 yards before the Patriots crossed the Jets' 30-yard line for a first-and-10.
With a tight right bunch formation, Brady took a snap from under center, faked a handoff to Green-Ellis, faked an end-around handoff to Brandon Tate, and then lofted a screen pass to an open Green-Ellis. It was a complex play in the sense that it had many moving parts, but the pass itself was quite simple.
Now, to this point, Brady hadn't thrown an interception since Week 6 of the season. He had thrown 339 consecutive passes without throwing an interception. To put that into perspective, Brady threw 474 total passes in the entire 2004 season. He had gone nearly a full season of passing without throwing a pick. The concept of throwing a pick had become foreign to him.
And yet, out of all the passes he had thrown during that time, it was this one that turned into an interception.
Brady simply overshot his target, lofting the pass directly into the chest of a charging David Harris, who had Green-Ellis in his sights and was in position to ensure the play didn't gain any yards. Instead, Harris flipped the whole game upside-down.
Picking off the pass with a full head of steam, Harris took it for 58 yards the other way before Alge Crumpler (of all people) caught him from behind at the New England 12-yard line.
What gets forgotten in the lore of this pick is that the Jets did not turn it into any points. They lost eight yards on two plays before gaining them back on third down before Nick Folk came on and flat-out missed a 30-yard chip shot. For the Patriots, a major bullet appeared to have been dodged.
As it turned out, though, Brady was distinctly un-Brady-like for the rest of the evening.
On the first play following the missed field goal, Brady took a seven-yard sack from Shaun Ellis. He took another Ellis sack -- this one a nine-yard loss -- later on a third down, though he had done enough to drive the Patriots into field-goal range. That should have been a touchdown drive, but Crumpler dropped a sure score in the end zone. Nevertheless, Brady and the Patriots appeared to have righted the ship.
However, holding on to the ball as a result of indecisiveness came to define Brady's performance that night. In all, he took five sacks for 40 lost yards. And from the time after that field-goal drive until the end of the first half, Brady completed just four of eight passes for 23 yards. That included going 0-for-2 on third down while also taking a sack on another third down.
Patrick Chung's failed fake punt certainly complicated things a bit, but the Patriots' offense was undeniably stuck in the mud. Instead of dissecting the defense as he had done all year, Brady was hesitant. Instead of firing darts over the middle, he'd end up cocking his arm but then holding back, seemingly unwilling to risk another interception.
Something was clearly not right, as Brady attempted just three passes in the Patriots' first two drives of the second half.
He would recover in leading a Brady-like touchdown drive late in the third quarter to cut the Jets' lead to three points, but the Patriots lost track of Jerricho Cotchery on the opening play of the fourth quarter, allowing a simple 7-yard pass over the middle to turn into a 58-yard catch-and-run. The Jets were in the end zone three plays later, back in the lead by 10 points.
It was then that the Patriots embarked on the famed "Drive To Nowhere" -- a leisurely paced drive consisting of 14 plays, spanning nearly eight minutes, and resulting in an uneventful turnover on downs.
Brady filled up the stat sheet after that, going 9-for-13 for 85 yards and a touchdown over two scoring drives, but the game had been lost. The Jets flew out of Gillette with one of the biggest wins in their franchise history.
The team that led the league with 32.4 points per game could muster just 14 points (when it actually mattered) against a team that allowed 45 points in that same building just six weeks earlier.
In a sport like football, the reasons for that happening are many. But none were bigger than David Harris' interception.
Harris has done quite a bit on the football field since then, but in terms of making an impact in the history of the Patriots, that interception certainly represents the high-water mark. Now 33 years old and with only a small window left to compete at the NFL level, he'll be looking to make a memorable play or two for the other side.
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