Jan. 19, 2002, featured one of the most controversial moments in NFL history. Yesterday makes 12 years since the “Tuck Rule” game happened. It was the 2001-2002 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders.
The scene was as if Gillette Stadium was a snow globe that day, with big chunks of snowflakes coming down in Foxsborough.
It seemed like an impossible task for the team from the Bay Area to go into New England to come away with a win. However, with less than two minutes to go in the 4th quarter, the Raiders were so close to making that a reality.
Raiders cornerback Eric Allen was posting up near the Patriots sideline and he said he heard Tom Brady call out a “3 by 1” slants route. The Raiders decided to run a corner blitz which gave Brady’s college teammate, Charles Woodson, a clear shot at the quarterback.
Then it happened:
Greg Biekert recovered the football for the Raiders and at that point the game was over. The play was going to be under review and everyone still thought it was a fumble. Then came the tuck rule, something that no one, and I mean no one, had any clue even existed.
NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.
This was indeed a rule in the playbook at the time and Walt Coleman thought they saw enough to overturn the call. The more I watch that play, the more convinced I am that it’s a fumble.
It’s a play that any NFL fan can look at and say that it was a fumble based on prior experience of watching games.
Instead, Adam Vinatieri would go on to kick the game-tying and then game-winning field goal to advance to the AFC Championship game.
Vinatieri deserves credit for kicking two 40+ yard field goals in those conditions, but Raiders fans will tell you that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
The worst part about it is, the tuck rule only lasted ten more years in the NFL. It was voted out in 2013 which means the Raiders were really the only team to face the wrath of the tuck rule.
What If (Raiders)?
If the rule wasn’t implemented, then it would have been the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. When you look at the matchup, the Steelers were arguably the best team in the NFL during the regular season.
They were the best in the NFL in total offense and defense. The only weaknesses they might have had on their team would be their secondary.
Kordell Stewart arguably had the best season of his career and his dual threat abilities showed that running quarterbacks could get it done.
However, if the Patriots were able to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh then there’s no reason the Raiders couldn’t get it done either.
The talent at the skill positions in this game is off the charts for both these teams. The Steelers had six Pro Bowl players and the Raiders have five.
Kordell Stewart had hall-of-famer Jerome Bettis at running back, future hall-of-famer Hines Ward and a young Plaxico Burress.
The Raiders had AFC Pro Bowl starter Rich Gannon, Charlie Garner at running back, and two of the greatest receivers who ever lived, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice.
This would have been a game for the ages on offense but the defensive advantage goes to the Steelers by a small margin.
Both head coaches are famous for their tough, intimidating style, along with their angry faces. Jon Gurden and Bill Cowher might be a push when it comes to the coaching matchup.
I’m a fan of Kordell Stewart but his inability to come up big in the playoffs is what hurt the Steelers. There’s a good chance he would make at least one mistake in this game.
You could not afford to do that against Rich Gannon, who was arguably the best quarterback in the league when you look at the numbers.
Tim Brown and Jerry Rice would cause so many problems for the Steelers secondary, especially with former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau not around that season.
I would like the Raiders to go into Pittsburgh and advance to the Super Bowl.
That would have the makings of the highest scoring Super Bowl ever. The St. Louis Rams, aka the greatest show on turf, vs. the Oakland Raiders and their high-flying offense.
It’d be interesting to see how the Raiders did in the Super Bowl that year. If they won, then Jon Gruden might not have left and then beaten his former team in next year’s Super Bowl.
If the Tuck Rule did go in their favor, then they might not been as motivated to get back there next year.
There’s plenty of different scenarios but the bottom line is, the Raiders were probably robbed of a chance to get the Super Bowl in 2002.
On top of that, the Raiders organization has never been the same since. After they lost to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl the year after, they haven’t made the playoffs or even had a winning record since.
What If (Patriots)?
If the Patriots ended up going home then things might have been completely different for the franchise. You could make a case that the Tuck Rule was the catalyst for the Patriots putting together their “dynasty”.
The Patriots would have never won that first Super Bowl and they might not have been as successful after that, and even if they did end up winning back-to-back championships, it would never be called a dynasty.
It would certainly change Tom Brady’s legacy as the greatest quarterback of all-time. After Tom Brady and the Patriots won last year’s Super Bowl it was his fourth title.
Brady owns almost every single postseason record there is and four championships ties him with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana.
However, failing to win that Super Bowl in 2001-2002 would have left him with three titles. I’m not the biggest fan of judging who the greatest of all-time is based on titles but with four of them, Brady would have the stats and the championships to back up how great he’s been.
The Tuck Rule partially had a hand in what led to the Patriots gaining enough momentum to win the Super Bowl. That playoff run became the birth of one of most dominant franchises that the league has seen in it’s history.