January 19, 2002: 16-13 vs. Oakland Raiders
Before the Super Bowls, the MVPs, the hair, the records, the Uggs and the super model wife, there was the Tuck Rule Game.
Tom Brady had led the Patriots to a 11-5 finish that season after Drew Bledsoe went down with a nasty injury in Week 2, earning a first-round bye and a home date with the Oakland Raiders.
New England was trailing the entire game, but Brady had pulled them to within 13-10 with a six-yard touchdown run. After a few possessions with no results on either side, the Patriots got the ball back with just over two minutes left in the game.
What happened next may have defined the NFL for the next decade.
Tom Brady went back to pass only to find himself under pressure. Charles Woodson slammed into the Patriots quarterback, knocking the ball loose in the process. The Raiders recovered the ball, meaning they could have run out the clock and gotten out of the snow.
Unfortunately for them, instant replay kicked in. The play was ruled an incomplete pass thanks to an obscure rule for which the game is now infamously named: the tuck rule.
Brady went on to lead the team to game-tying and game-winning field goals thanks to Mr. Clutch, Adam Vinatieri, and he would go on to win the Super Bowl as an underdog against the high-powered Rams.
But what if the play was not reversed? What if the Raiders had recovered and moved on to the AFC Championship game?
Could Brady have been relegated to backup duty once more? Might he have followed the same path that his future backup, Matt Cassel did, and leave the Patriots for greener pastures? Could the Patriots have simply fallen off instead of stampeding their way to another championship the following season?
We will never know, but without the tuck rule, the Brady-Belichick combination may have been short-lived, and the NFL would have looked a whole lot different over the span of the past decade.