New England's 16-13 overtime win against the Oakland Raiders will go down as one of the great playoff games of all time. With several inches of snow covering the field, it was an experience Patriots Pro Bowl wide receiver Troy Brown will never forget.
"It was like playing old school football again," Brown told NFL.com. "I was thinking back to the 'frozen tundra' and the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl. It was fun being out there playing. We just found a way to pull out the game. It wasn't the prettiest game you've ever seen because of the weather, but it was still fun to get out there and play around in the snow. You felt like a big kid again."
Down 13-3 with 12:29 left in the game, QB Tom Brady completed nine straight passes and ran the ball in from six yards out to cut New England's deficit to 13-10. Even before that drive, Brown never doubted that his team could come back.
"We felt that we could still win this game," Brown said. "We knew we could move the ball against them. We just had to execute the plays and pick up some of the blitzes they were bringing, block them up front and give us time to throw it. That's what we did. Tom (Brady) started hitting guys late in the game. David (Patten) had a tremendous game as did Jermaine Wiggins. That's what you have to have. People stepping up during this time of year."
With 2:19 left in the game, Brown returned Shane Lechler's punt 27 yards. Raiders linebacker Travian Smith forced him to fumble on the play, but Larry Izzo recovered the ball and New England was in business at their own 46-yard-line. A seven-yard pass to Kevin Faulk and a five-yard run by Brady set the stage for what will always be remembered as the "tuck" play.
"I didn't see the whole play," Brown said, "so I didn't know what really happened until I saw the replay. I thought it was pretty much over for us. Then when I saw the replay and his arm was going forward, they had to overturn it. That's the rule and his arm was going forward."
After going to the sidelines, Brady and the Patriots offense returned to the field and Patten's 13-yard reception set up Adam Vinatieri's 45-yard game-tying field goal with 32 seconds remaining in regulation.
"It was a huge drive for us, and a huge kick," Brown said. "Adam came through for us again in the clutch."
The Patriots won the coin toss in overtime and drove from their own 34-yard line to the Raiders' five-yard line before Vinatieri's 23-yard field goal vaulted them into the AFC Championship Game.
Last year, Brown had his best season as a pro but it didn't mean much. This year, he set a club-record with 101 receptions and led the league with a 14.2 yard punt return average.
"It's been a great season," Brown said. "I don't really dwell on individual statistics or accomplishments, but if you have a good season and you're winning, it's much better. You get to enjoy it. Last year I had a career year but it wasn't fun because we were going home after the last game. We were 5-11, so you can't be having fun. You're not doing enough when you are 5-11. This season has been great so far, but we've still got some work to do."
The Patriots are just one game away from returning to New Orleans, where they dropped a 35-21 decision to the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. Brown didn't play in that game because of an injury, but he knows it's not going to be easy for his team to get back there.
"The Steelers are definitely a tough football team," Brown said. "Their defense is just outstanding and they have a whole bunch of great young players. A lot of those guys should have made the Pro Bowl. Their linebacking group is just tremendous. They definitely know how to stop the run and get after the quarterback. Their secondary is also playing great. They have good corners and they could have taken their whole defense to the Pro Bowl if it was possible."
Brown is also a fan of their offense.
"Kordell (Stewart) is playing a whole lot better this year," Brown said. "He's got some weapons and he's throwing the ball well. They'll get Jerome (Bettis) back and they got some other guys who run hard. Hines Ward is a tough guy who reminds me of myself. He's probably a little stronger and hits harder than me but he's a tough guy who can go over the middle. We have our work cut out for us."