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On This Date in Sports January 19, 2002: Go Tuck Yourself

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New England Patriots rally to stun the Oakland Raiders 16-13 in overtime in a Divisional Playoff Game played in the snow at Foxboro Stadium. The Patriots would tie and win the game on a pair of field goals by Adam Vinatieri. The Raiders appeared to have the game won when Charles Woodson stripped Tom Brady late in the fourth quarter, but the play was overturned due to the obscure Tuck Rule.

The New England Patriots were the surprise team in the NFL, posting an 11-5 record under second-year coach Bill Belichick. Starting the season 0-2, the Patriots appeared to be in for a long season when quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a severe chest injury the second game of the season against the New York Jets after the NFL’s second week was postponed due to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. With Bledsoe sidelined, New England called upon backup Tom Brady, who was the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. In his first start against the Indianapolis Colts, Tom Brady led the Patriots to a 44-13 win, beginning a magical ride. The Patriots defied all the experts who did not think Brady could win in the NFL as they finished the season strong, winning their last six games to post a record of 11-5, beating out the Miami Dolphins by a tiebreaker to win the AFC East and secure the second seed in the AFC.

Despite hosting the Patriots in a steady snowstorm, many experts still expected the Oakland Raiders to win the game. The Raiders had played in the AFC Championship Game in 2000 under coach John Gruden and were the preseason favorite to go to the Super Bowl. Despite losing their last three regular-season games, the Raiders finished with a solid 10-6 record, winning the AFC West. In the Wild Card round, the Raiders playing the New York Jets for the second straight week, won 38-24 to advance to the Divisional Round.

Appearing as a magical Winter Wonderland, the game was played in a steady falling snow on a Saturday Night. The snow affected both offenses, as neither team scored in the first quarter. The Raiders broke through early in the second after a special teams’ blunder set them up from the 50. The only first half score would see Rich Gannon hit James Jett on a 13-yard touchdown pass to give Oakland a 7-0 lead. The Patriots began the second half with a long drive that resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. However, the Raiders got a pair of field goals by Sebastian Janikowski to build a 13-3 lead heading into the final 15 minutes. Tom Brady facing desperation finally got New England into the end zone with a perfect 67-yard drive, which he capped himself with a six-yard sneak up the middle. The Patriots' next drive stalled, and after using all three timeouts, they got the ball back on their own 46 after a 27-yard punt return by Troy Brown. After crossing midfield with 1:50 left, Brady was sacked by his college teammate Charles Woodson, as Greg Biekert of Oakland covered the fumble. The Raiders celebrated, thinking the game was won. However, a turnover in the last two minutes was under review. Despite attempting to tuck the ball after a pump fake and not throw it, the so-called Tuck Rule stated that such play would be called an incomplete pass, giving the Patriots new life.  The stunned Raiders could not believe their ears, as they had to get out of celebration mode and back in the game. Brady would take the Patriots down to the 29-yard line setting up Vinatieri for a 46-yard field goal in heavy snow, which was dead center perfect, tying the score 13-13 with 32 seconds left. The Raiders chose to go to overtime and did not attempt a play after getting the ball back. The Patriots won the coin toss for overtime and never let go of the ball as Tom Brady on an eight-minute drive to set up Adam Vinatieri to win the game 16-13 with a 23-yard field goal. The Patriots would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-17 to advance to Super Bowl XXXVI, beating the St. Louis Rams 20-17.

The Tuck Rule Game would be the final game played at Foxboro Stadium. A stadium that was the worst in the NFL, looking more like a glorified high school stadium in a small town midway between Providence and Boston, after a decade bouncing around without a permanent home. Across the parking lot, the Patriots were building a grand new stadium that was state of the art, a palace-like they never had before. Gillette Stadium would open the following fall; while the Patriots missed the playoffs in 2002, they would soon begin a dynasty winning the Super Bowl three times in four years. The Tuck Rule would be repealed by the NFL in 2013. 

While the Patriots dynasty began that snowy day, the Oakland Raiders empire crumbled. After losing the Tuck Rule Game, the Raiders traded coach John Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The following season Gruden’s Buccaneers embarrassed the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Raiders have since moved to Las Vegas and played in two playoff games, while the Patriots have played in nine Super Bowls, winning six. Tom Brady, meanwhile, won a seventh Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is now the undisputed GOAT, as he seeks an eighth Super Bowl ring in this year's postseason.