With six Super Bowl rings, there are plenty of unforgettable Patriots playoff moments over the last two decades. Even in the seasons when they came up just short, New England was involved in some of the most memorable plays in NFL history.
But with an embarrassment of playoff success, it's easy to forget about some of the key moments that ultimately helped the team win six championships. Critical stops or conversions that might not have had the flair of an Adam Vinatieri blizzard kick or an impossible Julian Edelman catch, but were every bit as important.
Let's take a look back at one play from every Super Bowl run that shouldn't be forgotten, without which New England wouldn't have made it to the big game to secure another title.
6. 2016 AFC Championship – Pats take two-score lead in first quarter
Situation: NWE 3-0, 1st quarter, 2:55, NWE 3rd-and-6 from PIT16. Result: Brady to Hogan 16-yard touchdown pass
The Patriots march to Super Bowl 51 featured a 18-point win over the Texans then a 19-point win over the Steelers. Of all the playoff runs, this path was the easiest, but ironically required the greatest comeback in history once the Pats got to the Super Bowl.
Facing the Steelers for the first time in the playoffs since the 2004 season, the Patriots jumped out to a lead in the first quarter and the game was never really in doubt. But things could've unfolded a little differently had the Steelers gotten a red zone stop as the Pats faced an early key third down deep in Pittsburgh territory.
Tom Brady found Chris Hogan on three-straight passes on the Patriots third drive of the game, including a third down conversion and two others that combined for 37 yards. He'd find Hogan wide open in the end zone for their fourth connection of this tone-setting drive. Hogan's underrated contributions to two Super Bowl playoff runs would be a recurring theme in his Patriots tenure.
The play itself wasn't flashy or all that exciting, but it showed a team that could win with multiple different weapons as Hogan was instrumental in this Steelers defeat.
5. 2004 AFC Championship – Fourth-down stop sparks Pats pull away
Situation: NWE 3-0, 1st quarter, 7:07, PIT 4th-and-1 from NWE39. Result: Jerome Bettis stopped for no gain, fumble forced by Rosevelt Colvin, recovered by Mike Vrabel.
The Patriots avenged one of their only losses with this domination of the Steelers, but there was an early tone-setting play that shouldn't be lost beyond the highlights of Deion Branch twice trotting into the end zone.
The Patriots held a 3-0 lead as the Steelers were driving in the first quarter, getting to the New England 39 and facing a 4th-and-1 where they decided to be aggressive and go for it with their 250-pound running back, Jerome Bettis.
Keith Traylor and Jarvis Green won the line of scrimmage, and really, the entire Patriots front overwhelmed Pittsburgh's offensive line. Rosevelt Colvin, scraping down from an outside linebacker spot made the official tackle while also forcing the ball out. The recovered fumble by Mike Vrabel only added insult to the fourth-down stop, meaning just a couple yards on the field, but fueling the momentum that was now on the Patriots side.
Jerome Bettis was a huge part of the Steelers identity and to not only stop the powerful running back short when he only needed a yard but also force him to cough up the ball was a game-changing play.
On the very next play, Brady would hit Deion Branch for a 60-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead and the rout was on from there.
4. 2014 AFC Divisional vs. Ravens – Red-zone stop opens door for first Pats lead
Situation: 28-28, 4th quarter, 10:24, BAL 3rd-and-7 from NWE7. Result: Flacco incomplete for Daniels
In one of the most memorable home playoff games, the Patriots were buried in two different 14-point deficits and clawed their way back in twice, tying things up in the third quarter with an Edelman-to-Amendola touchdown pass.
But two possessions later the Ravens would put together an impressive drive that started at the end of the third quarter and would last 16 plays and eat up nearly eight minutes of clock. The drive also featured two third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion for the Ravens as they marched down the field poised to take their third lead of the game. It all came down to a critical third down.
Two years earlier in the 2012 AFC Championship, Joe Flacco had destroyed the Patriots defense throwing to the middle of the field, throwing two fourth-quarter touchdown passes up the seam, so it should've been little surprise that he locked on to tight end Owen Daniels. Despite having a double team on Daniels with Jamie Collins and Patrick Chung the pass was still nearly completed, with Chung getting just enough of his arm in to prevent the Ravens from going ahead by a full touchdown again.
This was the kind of stop the 2012 and 2013 Patriots could not get.
The Patriots would respond with a 10-play drive of their own with Brady throwing a memorable dime to Brandon LaFell to give the Patriots their first and final lead of the game.
3 . 2018 AFC Championship – Third-down conversion helps Pats keep pace
Situation: KC 21-17, 4th quarter, 6:25, NWE 3rd-and-8 from NWE45. Result: Brady complete to Hogan for 11 yards.
It's easy to forget about Chris Hogan's third-and-eight catch from the Patriots own 45 because the 2018 AFC Championship was filled with so many back-and-forth moments, but with a punt here, the Chiefs would've been driving to take a two-score lead when they were in one of their "unstoppable-mode" moments. They had already scored touchdowns on their last two possessions.
It was a remarkable catch by Hogan, running a crossing route and making a one-handed catch that he maintained control of as he tumbled to the ground. The Chiefs would review the play and it would be upheld.
Seven plays later Sony Michel would score to give the Patriots back the lead, 24-21. There was still a long way to go and many more notable plays in this one, but Hogan's one-armed catch to keep a critical scoring drive going is one that should not be forgotten.
2. 2003 AFC Divisional vs. Tennessee Titans – 4th-down conversion sets up game-winning kick
Situation: 14-14, 4th quarter, 5:14, NWE 4th-and-3 from TEN33. Result: Brady complete to Brown for 4 yards.
Perhaps one of the most forgotten early playoff games of the first three championships, this battle against league Co-MVP Steve McNair on a bitter cold night was all tied up late in the fourth quarter at 14.
The Patriots scored two touchdowns in first quarter, but the offense went quiet with four punts and a fumble spanning the second and third quarters. After a terrible 32-yard punt by the Titans, the Patriots took over on Tennesse's 40-yard line but two runs and an incompletion left them facing a fourth-and-three from the 33 and just 5:42 left on the clock.
The Pats offense spread out the Titans defense and Brady found Troy Brown on a quick out that converted for the first down. Four plays later, Adam Vinatieri would kick the game-winning field goal, sending New England to the AFC Championship against the Colts.
Had the fourth-down pass fallen incomplete the Titans would've had the same chance to take the lead and potentially the win. This was a clutch moment for Brady's earliest most reliable receiver.
1. 2001 AFC Divisional vs. Oakland Raiders – Big Sey's stop gives Brady a tying chance
Situation: OAK 13-10, 4th quarter, 2:24, OAK 3rd-and-1 from OAK 44. Result: Crockett stopped for no gain.
With Richard Seymour’s induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, this play might be a bit more on the radar lately, because Seymour was a key piece in the middle of the defense making this historic stop. The Raiders sat one yard away from essentially sealing the game, up 13-10 with 2:24 left in the game.
Seymour made the key play, jumping off the snap and meeting the fullback well in the backfield and with such strength that Zack Crockett ran into him as well. The Patriots defense, led by Bryan Cox and Bobby Hamilton quickly filled behind Seymour and prevented Crockett from picking up any additional yardage from there.
If you're looking for a play that illustrates how good and important Seymour was and why he belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame, this is it.
The Patriots would get the ball back and three plays later the Tuck Rule would be invoked. Five plays after that, Adam Vinatieri would make the greatest kick in NFL history to send the game to overtime where Vinatieri would end it after a grinding 15-play, 61-yard drive that saw third down conversions to Jermaine Wiggins, Troy Brown and by Antowan Smith, along with a fourth-down conversion to Patten.
All those plays were critical championship plays as well, but without the third down stop late in the fourth they never would've gotten the chance.