By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Thursday night brought a lot of weird, wild stuff. Golden Tate's 64-yard touchdown established that the Giants could be one fluky play away from tying the Patriots again. So a 21-14 lead with just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter didn't exactly feel safe, especially on a night as strange as this.
Leave it to Jamie Collins, the Patriots' most productive defensive playmaker, to make the play of the night and his biggest one yet.
Collins' resurgent second stint with the Patriots continued in Thursday's 35-14 win, when he took a game of swings and swung it permanently in the Pats' favor with a forced fumble that led to an eye-popping put-'em-away defensive touchdown by Kyle Van Noy. Giants running back Jon Hilliman made a catch and a football move, freeing Collins to wrest the ball loose with a shoulder tackle. With help from Devin McCourty the ball squeaked out of the pile, then an alert Van Noy scooped it and dashed for the end zone, where he dove and tagged the pylon without losing control.
After a short review, the officials determined that Van Noy stayed in bounds and reversed the original call to give him a touchdown. Van Noy had no doubt his foot stayed in.
"I knew it was a touchdown," Van Noy said after the game. "Refs needed the extra look. That’s OK."
Van Noy's touchdown wasn't what you typically see when a Patriot races for pay dirt. Bill Belichick usually coaches them to tuck and protect the ball and get whatever yardage they can, because sticking the ball out at the pylon could result in a split-second fumble and touchback. There was no such turnover by Van Noy, who admitted he had visions of the hoodie as he soared for the pylon.
"I was thinking about Bill, to be honest, because I didn’t wanna lose the football because I would’ve been in some trouble," said Van Noy. "I’m just glad I didn’t."
Van Noy finished the play off, but it wouldn't have been possible without Collins coming up with yet another game-changing moment in a season brimming with them. He's up to 30 tackles, 4.5 sacks, six QB hits, four pass breakups, three interceptions, one touchdown, and now two forced fumbles in what's been an incredible season so far.
"Thats just what he’s been doing," said Van Noy on Collins. "I think a lot of people forgot that in Cleveland, for whatever reason. I think he was hurt one year. But I feel like he was doing the same thing he’s doing here. It’s just more people are watching."
The touchdown was emblematic of the Patriots' combination of talent, depth, and chemistry between all three levels. It also showed up on John Simon's interception, which came off a tip by Stephon Gilmore, who also had a dominant night with an interception and four pass breakups. They don't just have playmakers at all levels, they help each other make plays.
"We’ve been able to be productive on Sundays, but we just have to continue to do so," said Simon. "It’s everyone just playing off each other and playing as one."
The Patriots may have held a seven-point lead at the time of the Van Noy touchdown. But on what had been a harrowing game filled with sudden changes, they certainly could have used one more to go their way. Thanks to the Collins forced fumble, they got to play out the win comfortably.
“We’re definitely happy to have him," Simon said of Collins. "He’s a big playmaker for us and continues to do so."
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].