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Home history all recent
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There was a time, of course, when home playoff games were as infrequent around these parts as 60 degree winter days. Perhaps one might come along, but it would certainly be unexpected.
Between the team’s founding in 1960 and 1995 – a span of 36 years – the Patriots hosted exactly one playoff game – a 31-14 loss to the Houston Oilers in 1978. A few weeks later, the region was buried in snow thanks to a historic blizzard. Insult to injury. Even for the fans that grew up during that era, it might be hard to imagine such a drought today.
The Patriots did, however, go on to win three home playoff games over the 1996 and 1997 seasons before a short-lived, but predictable decline based on the team’s history.
The recent climb upward to the lofty perch that has seen them host playoff games every season since 2009 has been remarkable relative to both franchise and league history. Since hosting the Oakland Raiders in the Snow Bowl on Jan. 19, 2002, the Patriots are 15-3 in home playoff games as they prepare to host another on Jan. 14, 2016.
So when Houston, Oakland or Miami visit Gillette Stadium a week from Saturday, it will be the eighth consecutive season in which New England has been home for at least one playoff game. They’ve also won a playoff game in five straight seasons dating back to a 2010 Divisional Round home loss to the Jets.
Of course, one should just harken back to the first three-and-a-half decades of Patriots history to develop an appreciation for what can only be described as the team’s Golden Era. The Patriots are the team of the current century with 14 AFC East titles, six conference championships and four Super Bowl wins since 2001.
With that in mind, let’s look back at the 18 home playoff game played in the 21st century:
The Snow Bowl - The last game at Foxboro Stadium may have been its most memorable. Heavy snow, Tuck Rule controversy, the greatest field goal kick in NFL history and a dramatic overtime, 16-13, win to start an eventual Super Bowl run. This game had it all, and it’s fitting that it is the game that started the Patriots dynasty.
Frozen in time - The coldest game in franchise history was on Jan. 10, 2004 when the Patriots hosted the Tennessee Titans. The game-time kickoff temperature was 4 degrees with a minus-12 wind chill, which prompted Titans tight end Frank Wycheck to volunteer, “I can’t feel my hands or feet. I’m freaking out.” The Patriots broke a 14-14 tie on an Adam Vinatieri field goal and then held on to a 17-14 victory when Drew Bennett couldn’t hang on to a fourth-down desperation pass by Steve McNair.
Legal contact - The high-flying Colts hadn’t punted in two playoff games when they visited Gillette for the 2003 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2004. A little snow greeted the dome-dwellers, and the Patriots physical style sent the Colts prancing home saddled with a 24-14 loss that prompted a Colts-driven offseason “point of emphasis” on defenders contacting receivers.
Emphasize this - The Colts were back in snowy Foxborough for a 2004 Divisional Playoff game looking to avenge the AFC Championship loss from the previous season. Despite the “point of emphasis” enforced as a result of the Colts influence on the competition committee, the Patriots clamped down on Indy. Ty Law intercepted Peyton Manning three times in a 20-3 win, prompting Tedy Bruschi to ask rhetorically, “What rule are they gonna change next year?”
Big Mac sack attack - New England led the Jaguars only 7-3 at halftime, but the Pats defense wasn’t about to let the Jaguars roar. Willie McGinest’s NFL playoff single-game record 4 ½ sacks paced a dominant defensive performance, and tight end Ben Watson’s mammoth effort breaking tackles on a 63-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown essentially iced the game in an eventual 28-3 win. The Jags were 1-for-12 on third down.
Fourth-and-gone - After a November home loss to the Jets, New England knew to expect a fight in the playoff rematch at Gillette, and a fight it was. It was a one-score game midway through the fourth quarter when New England pulled away for a would-be blowout win that was hardly that. Leading 23-16, the Patriots scored on a 7-yard Tom Brady-to-Kevin Faulk pass before Asante Samuel’s 36-yard interception return ended the Jets season.
Jags to Rags - Tom Brady was nearly perfect as the Patriots once again sent Jacksonville packing for the offseason. Brady completed 26-of-28 passes (NFL playoff record 92.8%) with three touchdown passes as New England distanced itself in the second half. Rodney Harrison’s interception with 4:17 left sealed a 31-20 win.
Blown out - There was no sugar-coating this first home playoff loss at Gillette Stadium. Ray Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first offensive play, and the Ravens led 24-0 at the end of the first quarter thanks, in large part, to three Tom Brady turnovers. Brady ended with three interceptions and lost a fumble in the worst playoff performance of his career.
Jettisoned - Just 41 days after embarrassing the Jets in a 45-3 win at Gillette, the Patriots saw the season end with a crushing defeat at the hands of their division rival. New York’s defense simply smothered New England. The Patriots trailed, 7-3, when a fake punt went awry and set New York up at New England’s 37 with 1:06 left in the half. Four plays later, it was 14-3 Jets. The Pats inched close at 14-11, but New York scored 14 of the next 17 points and moved on to the AFC title game with a 28-21 win.
T-boned - This one was never a game. The Broncos, fresh off an upset of the Steelers, were out of it by halftime. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow was a paltry 9-for-26 for 136 yards and was staring at a 35-7 halftime deficit. Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes in a 45-10 blowout.
Myra-culous - This was a down-to-the-wire, dramatic finish that ended with Billy Cundiff’s game-tying, chip-shot, 32-yard field goal attempt hooking way wide left to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl. During a season in which the Pats wore Myra Kraft’s MHK initials on their jersey, there may have been a supernatural influence on that kick. Two plays earlier, Pats cornerback Sterling Moore jarred loose a would-be game-winning touchdown catch by Lee Evans to help force the field goal try. Tom Brady’s goal-line dive into the end zone with 3:31 to go proved to be the difference.
Houston … no problem - The Patriots pulled away from the upset-minded Texans in the third quarter on Stevan Ridley and Brandon Lloyd touchdowns to turn a tight 17-13 lead into a commanding 31-13 edge. Tom Brady hit Shane Vereen for a 33-yard score to open the fourth and this one was all but over as the Patriots rolled to a 41-28 Divisional Playoff win.
Nevermore - The Ravens did it again. Joe Flacco threw three second-half touchdown passes to turn a 13-7 Patriots advantage into a 28-13 Ravens win. Baltimore took advantage of a Stevan Ridley fumble and then thwarted any comeback hopes by intercepting Tom Brady twice in the fourth quarter.
No Luck in Foxborough - The passing of the torch? No. The Colts visited Gillette for a 2013 playoff game with their young quarterback Andrew Luck garnering plenty of attention. But the Patriots intercepted him four times and dominated offensively on the ground to slam the Colts, 43-22. LeGarrette Blount had 166 yards and four touchdowns while Stevan Ridley added two more rushing TDs. The six rushing touchdowns were the most in a playoff game since the Chicago Bears ran for seven in 1940.
Comeback City - It was another wild playoff matchup between the Ravens and Patriots in Foxborough. New England used some trickery to overcome two separate 14-point deficits to squeak out a 35-31 win that effectively ended with a Duron Harmon interception in the end zone. Julian Edelman threw for a touchdown on a double-pass play and the Pats used some old-school formations to confuse the Ravens defense. New England trailed, 14-0, and rallied to tie. The Pats then trailed, 28-14, before rallying to tie a second time. The door cracked open, though, when the Ravens settled for a fourth-quarter field goal to take a three-point lead. The Pats then scored the win on a Tom Brady-to-Brandon LaFell 23-yard touchdown pass. The defense made the 35-31 lead stand.
Unlucky - The Patriots dominated Andrew Luck and the Colts in a playoff game at Gillette for the second straight season. Luck was 12-for-23 for 126 yards and two interceptions as the Patriots cruised to a 45-7 win and a trip to Super Bowl XLIX. It was 17-7 at halftime, but New England opened the second half with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to left tackle Nate Solder to break it open. LeGarrette Blount once again dominated on the ground, rushing for 148 yards and three touchdowns.
KC barbecue - The Patriots seized control thanks to its ability to score touchdowns early while holding the Chiefs to field goals. Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as New England took a 21-6 lead. Kansas scored late in the third, but two fourth quarter field goals made it 27-13 before a KC touchdown with 1:13 left. Rob Gronkowski recovered an onside kick to end it. Read