FOXBORO, MASSACHUSETTS - Over 25 years later, the New England Patriots finally got the make-up call. Known as the Tuck Rule.
After a controversial call helped force overtime, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 23-yard field goal 8:29 into the extra session as the Patriots escaped with a 16-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders in an AFC divisional playoff game in a driving snowstorm.
Trailing 13-3 entering the fourth quarter and with field conditions not conducive to a comeback, the Patriots were able to rally behind quarterback Tom Brady while receiving a little help from the officials along the way.
Tom Brady ran six yards for a touchdown with 10:23 left, bringing the Patriots within a field goal. But it was what happened later in the quarter that helped keep the Patriots' surprising season alive.
Driving his team into position for the tying score, Tom Brady was drilled on a blitz by former college teammate Charles Woodson and fumbled. Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert recovered at his own 48 with 1:47 remaining, seemingly sealing the game for Oakland.
But NFL officials in the press box requested a replay and the call was overturned after referee Walt Coleman ruled Tom Brady's arm was moving forward. Television replays showed Tom Brady bringing the ball in without moving his arm forward.
"That's (crap). I feel like it was a (crap) call," a disgusted Woodson said. "I feel like it should have been overturned. The guy, he pumped the ball, brought it back down. Maybe he was wanting to bring it back up to throw it again. But I hit him before he had a chance to do that. The ball came out, game over.
"It's unbelievable to look at it that many times and still come up with the wrong call. It's disappointing to this team for guys to go out there and play as hard as they played and have it come down to an official to overturn the game like that."
Tom Brady had a smile on his face when he recounted the play.
"Yeah, I was throwing the ball, I was throwing it," he said. "I was going to throw it and he hit me as I was going to throw it. How do you like that?"
Not surprisingly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick thought the ruling was correct.
"I thought his arm was going forward, but that play was out of our hands because it was under two minutes, so it was strictly under replay," he said.
New England wide receiver Troy Brown said there was no doubt Tom Brady threw an incompletion.
"When we saw the replay, our guys were walking back on the field because his arm was going forward," Brown said. "We felt like we got another chance to win the game and use up another one of our nine lives, and it made it pay off well."
But Oakland coach Jon Gruden had a different view of the play.
"It was obvious. I thought it was a fumble, but the officials felt otherwise," he said.
"It cost some guys on this team some of their dreams, and that's it," Raiders linebacker William Thomas added. "The game was over. Bottom line, the game was over."
Sparked by that call, the Patriots moved into field goal range, where having to deal with a snow-covered field, Vinatieri drilled a 45-yarder with the wind with 27 seconds to go, sending the game to overtime.
"It was a situation where I felt like I made pretty decent contact and I kind of line drived it a little bit more," Vinatieri said. "I obviously would have liked to get a little bit more elevation on it, but once I knew it cleared the line and I looked up, I knew it was going to be straight enough. Then I just had to hope that it was going to be long enough. I kind of waited and held my breath for a couple of seconds until it went over the bar, and then it was time to celebrate."
Perhaps still reeling from the controversial call, the Raiders lost the coin toss in overtime and New England moved methodically downfield for the winning score.
Moving into the wind in the extra session, the Patriots were forced to go on 4th-and-4 from the Oakland 28 and Tom Brady hit David Patten with a six-yard pass to keep the chains moving.
After Antowain Smith carried on five straight plays and Tom Brady ran for a short gain, Vinatieri came on and split the uprights to send the freezing Foxboro Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
The call late in the fourth quarter brought back memories of a divisional playoff in December 1976 between the same teams.
In that contest, Patriots defensvive tackle Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton was called for a questionable late hit in the fourth quarter that kept alive an Oakland drive before quarterback Ken Stabler scored on a one-yard keeper to give Oakland a 21-17 victory.
Making his first postseason game, Tom Brady passed for 312 yards for the Patriots (12-5), who will meet the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens or Pittburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game. If Baltimore wins, the Patriots would host that game.
It was a bittersweet ending for the Raiders (11-7), who were trying to reach the AFC championship game for the second straight season.
Rich Gannon completed 17-of-31 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown for Oakland, which has lost its last five playoff road games since winning at San Diego in the AFC championship game in January 1981.
With the Raiders dropping into zone coverage, Tom Brady struggled mightily to get anything going in the first half and was just 6-of-13 for 74 yards.
Gannon was an efficient 10-of-14 for 87 yards in the opening half, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to speedster James Jett early in the second quarter that gave Oakland a 7-0 lead.
But both teams struggled in a half that featured as many punts (11) as first downs (11). They also were a combined 1-for-13 on third downs.
In the second half, things opened up, especially for New England, which abandoned its running game and relied on the inexperienced Tom Brady, who attempted three passes in his career coming into this season.
Tom Brady showed his poise in the second half, going 26-of-39 for 238 yards.
On their first drive of the third quarter, the Patriots moved 62 yards in 12 plays, with Tom Brady making key throws along the way. He went 4-of-7 for 62 yards on the march.
But after New England reached the Oakland 5, the drive stalled and Vinatieri kicked a 23-yard field goal with 8:39 left in the period, bringing the Patriots within 7-3.
Behind Gannon, a 14-year veteran, the Raiders responded by going 43 yards in 10 plays. Gannon had 10-yard completions to Jett and Jerry Rice on the drive.
After reaching the New England 20, Oakland was unable to convert on 3rd-and-4 and Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 38-yard field goal, giving the Raiders a 10-3 lead with 4:14 left in the third quarter.
Gannon moved the Raiders into position to extend the lead later in the quarter, finding Rice for 22 yards to the New England 29.
Janikowski, a native of Poland who kicked collegiately at Florida State, had no problems with the conditions and hammered a 45-yard field goal to make it 13-3 with less than two minutes left in the period.
Behind the precision passing of Tom Brady, however, the Patriots got back into it on their second possession of the fourth quarter.
Tom Brady flawlessly engineered a 10-play, 67-yard drive. He completed 9-of-9 passes for 61 yards and capped the march with a six-yard run up the middle, pulling New England within 13-10 with 10:23 remaining.
If Pittsburgh wins Sunday, the Patriots could say they had a memorable final game at Foxboro Stadium. Next season, they move into CMGI Field, located adjacent to the current home.
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