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Game Recap: New England storms past Raiders

The clock came dangerously close to striking midnight on the Cinderella Patriots Saturday night, but this relentless gang absolutely refused to accept it. Facing elimination and the blinding snow, the Patriots somehow found a way to fight back from a 10-point, fourth quarter deficit to overcome the Raiders, 16-13, in overtime at frozen Foxboro Stadium.

The end seemed near as New England struggled to sustain any offense and the Raiders took advantage of favorable field position to put enough points on the board to be in command through three quarters with a 13-3 lead. Even after Tom Brady, who had been miserable to that point (12-for-24 for 174 yards with an interception through three quarters), caught fire and led the team on its first touchdown drive, the task appeared to be too big to overcome.

Leading 13-10 with 7:42 to play, Oakland's offense took the field for the first of two possessions that could have ended the game. Charlie Garner picked up a pair of first downs on the ground during the first one before the Raiders punted, and then scooted 7 yards on the first play of the second to set up a second-and-three from Oakland's 42.

But the Patriots defense limited him to 2 yards on that play and then stuffed Zack Crockett on third-and-one and the Patriots got a final chance to tie the game. That opportunity was almost lost before it began when Troy Brown fumbled the punt return only to have teammate Larry Izzo recover it (the second time he bailed out Brown on special teams fumbles).

That turned out to be the second biggest break the team would get on the final drive. A 7-yard pass to Kevin Faulk followed by a Brady scramble gave the Patriots a first down at Oakland's 42. Brady then dropped back to pass and Charles Woodson, blitzing from his cornerback position, sacked him knocking the ball to come loose. Linebacker Greg Biekert recovered at the Raiders 48 and appeared to end the game.

But because the play came in the last two minutes, it was automatically reviewed. Referee Walt Coleman ruled that Brady's arm was coming forward and thus overturned his call and said the play was an incomplete pass.

"I thought the ball came out before his arm was going forward so that's why I ruled a fumble [originally]," Coleman said. "Then when I got over to the replay monitor and looked it was obvious that his arm was coming forward, he was trying to tuck the ball away and they just knocked it out of his hand. His hand was coming forward which makes it an incomplete pass."

There was barely a Patriots player, including Brady, who agreed with Coleman's ruling with a straight face. With the lone exception of Head Coach Bill Belichick, who barely knows any other expression than the serious one he answered questions on the subject with, most snickered and smiled when pressed to offer opinions.

"He hit me. I wasn't sure," Brady said with a wry smile. "If he hit me, I was going to throw it; how do you like that?"

"I'll tell you what, it doesn't really matter what I or anyone else thinks," laughed center Damien Woody said. "Maybe we got a break. They made the call and we kept the ball and went down and scored. We took advantage of our break and won the game."

The New England Patriots take on the Oakland Raiders at snowy Foxboro Stadium on Saturday, January 19, 2002.

Obviously, the game's key play got a much different reaction in the Oakland locker room.

"It was a [terrible] call," Woodson said. "He brought the ball down, and before he could bring it back up I hit him and the ball came loose. It was disappointing for the team that the players played as hard as they did and it came down to that."

The Patriots may have caught a break with the call, but they made several plays with the game on the line to steal the win. First, Brady hit David Patten for 13 yards to the Raiders 29 with 1:47 to go, and when the drive stalled, Adam Vinatieri trotted on the field for a 45-yard field goal in a driving snowstorm.

"You can't get any tougher than that kick," Belichick said. "In four inches of snow and the conditions and the pressure of the play, but we didn't have any choice. It was our only shot and we had to take it. We had a lot of confidence in him and he came through."

Vinatieri drilled a low liner that just worked its way over the crossbar with 27 seconds remaining. Considering the circumstances, it was easily the most impressive kick of his career.

"I kind of line-drived it, but when I looked up I knew it was going to be straight enough," Vinatieri said. "I have to give credit to my holder and snapper. They make my job a lot easier. Once they overturned the call, the team just picked it up and said, 'Let's win this thing right now.'"

In a curious move, Raiders coach Jon Gruden opted to have his quarterback, Rich Gannon, kneel on the ball despite decent field position at the 35 with two timeouts and 22 seconds left after the ensuing kick. That decision proved costly when Brady & Co. made sure the Raiders never got the ball again.

Brady, who at this point was a completely different quarterback than the one who played the bulk of the game, went 8-for-8 in the extra session and moved the team into position for the win. He finished 32-for-52 for 312 yards and ran for the team's only touchdown.

J.R. Redmond and Jermaine Wiggins (team-high 10 catches) were the recipients of the first five passes and suddenly the gloom and despair that hovered over the stadium just moments earlier was one of impending celebration.

Brady, who was an amazing 26-for-39 for 238 yards in the second half and overtime, needed to complete one more monster pass to notch the win. Faced with a difficult decision on fourth-and-four from the Oakland 28, Belichick called a timeout to discuss his options.

"We were making the decision whether to go for it on fourth down or try the kick, which would have been a 46-yarder," Belichick said. "Had he missed it then obviously they would have gotten the ball at the spot of the kick. So we felt we had a shot to pick it up and not lose field position. We felt the percentages were a bit higher to try to pick it up on fourth down."

Brady made the decision look good when he hit David Patten (eight receptions, 107 yards), who was on his knees, for 6 yards and the first down. Five plays later, Vinatieri came on under similar pressure but with a much easier kick — a 23-yarder from dead center, which he nailed to send the Patriots to the AFC Championship.

Several Raiders officials chased and screamed at the referees as the crew made its way to the locker room. Backup safety Marquez Pope even went up the runway to offer a piece of his mind as Oakland clearly felt it had been robbed by Coleman's decision.

The winning team's faces predictably told a different story. Brady and Antowain Smith jumped up and down like teenagers on their way off the field. Damon Huard had a look of utter disbelief as he smiled and shook his head moments after the game ended.

Perhaps the call was fitting coming 25-plus years after Ben Dreith was a major reason the Raiders defeated New England in a 1976 playoff game in Oakland. Dreith extended the Raiders game-winning drive with a phantom roughing the passer call on Ray Hamilton and the Patriots fell 24-21.

"I'm just so happy for our football team and those guys," Belichick said. "They just keep fighting. They don't know any other way to do it."

The Patriots will have one more fight on their hands in order to qualify for the Super Bowl. It will be a daunting task. New England goes to Pittsburgh, which knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens in dominating style without running back Jerome Bettis.  

Judging on the breaks the Patriots have received this season, Coach Bill Cowher and his troops may want to bring a rabbit's foot or two for luck.


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