The Tuck Rule

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On the way to their first Super Bowl win in 2002, the Patriots had to depend on some exquisite play from their favorite son Tom Brady but also a moment of controversy that helped them eliminate the Oakland Raiders in the divisional playoffs. The play in question started with Raider’s cornerback Charles Woodson sacking Tom Brady who dropped the ball.

Initially, it appeared to be a fumble by Brady but after a review by officials resulted in the play being called as an incomplete pass. The Patriots thus earned back possession and from the resulting play made a field goal that evened the scores. They would then win the game in overtime with another field goal. The game was nicknamed the “Tuck Rule Game” in reference to the play that helped win it for the Patriots.

Buildup to the Tuck Rule Game

The season had started badly for the Patriots, with their reliable quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffering an injury. That would be a blessing in disguise as then rookie Tom Brady stepped into the first team to replace him, beginning one of the most illustrious careers in the NFL. With Brady in the side, the Patriots reversed a 0-2 record into an 11-5 record to end the regular season.

The Raiders on the other hand had finished with a 10-6 record and then beat the New York Jets in the wild card round. The Patriots’ Foxboro Stadium, which was hosting the match, was going to be demolished after that match, with the Patriots planning to move into the newly built Gillette Stadium at the end of the season. Before the start of the game, the weather took a turn for the worse, with heavy snowfall replacing a crisp and sunny morning. The stadium was blanketed with a heavy cover of snow but the game had to proceed. The weather lent another name, “The Snow Ball” to the game, but ultimately it would be the events in the game that would define how it is remembered.

The Tuck Rule Game Unfolds

The opening quarter was uneventful, with both sets of players bogged down by the heavy storm. A 13-yard touchdown for the Raiders with just over a minute left was the only thing separating the teams as the first quarter drew to a close. In the second half, the Patriots adjusted their game to take advantage of Brady’s crisp passing. They were immediately rewarded with a 23-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri to narrow the scores to 7-3. The Raiders extended their lead to 13-3 through two field goals from Sebastian Janikowski.

In the fourth quarter, Brady orchestrated completed nine consecutive passes in orchestrating a 67-yard drive, which took 10 plays to complete. The play ended with a 6-yard touchdown from Brady to bring the Patriots to within 3 points of the Raiders. With nearly eight minutes left in the quarter, a Patriots comeback did not seem that unlikely, but their chances diminished as the minutes blew by.

At the 1:50 mark, with no timeouts left for the Patriots, Brady picked possession on a first down and feigned a pass before tucking the ball when he saw no open receivers. At the same time, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson hit him on the right side, leading to Brady losing the ball. The referees, unsure of the right call, ruled it a fumble while they reviewed the video evidence. Referee Walt Coleman reversed the decision as an incomplete forward pass after reviewing the replay, citing the 1999 Tuck Rule.

The ruling handed possession back to the Patriots who worked the ball to within field goal range and Vinatieri hit a 45-yard field goal to tie the game with just 27 seconds left in regular time. In overtime, more impressive play from Brady set up Vitanieri for another field goal, this time from 23 yards out. The Patriots won the game 16-13.

Aftermath of the Tuck Rule Game

The Patriots beat the Pittsburg Steelers 24-17 in the AFC Championship Game to set up a Super Bowl XXXVI meeting with the St. Louis Rams. They beat the Rams 20-17 thanks to another last ditch field goal by Vitanieri, winning them the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history. This would be the beginning of the Patriots’ best era in their history, with Tom Brady being at the center of the immense success they have enjoyed since. The Raiders would proceed to Super Bowl XXXVII the following year, but were beaten by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had former Raiders coach Jon Gruden at the helm.