The Patriots and Raiders are two of the most storied franchises in the history of the NFL, with paths that have crossed going back to the days of the AFL. The most controversial and likely the most memorable clash between the teams came in the divisional round of the 2001 AFC playoffs.
Often referred to as the Tuck Rule Game or the Snow Bowl, the Raiders traveled to Foxboro for what would be the last game ever played at Foxboro Stadium. The Patriot’s were the AFC’s 2-seed, after rebounding from an 0-2 start and injury to their starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe to finish 11-5 with backup Tom Brady at the helm. On the other end, Rich Gannon led the Raiders to a 10-6 record and the AFC’s 3-seed. After the game, the Patriots and Raiders franchises went in two drastically different directions.
The controversial play that spawned the game’s nickname came with 1:50 left in the game. The Patriots trailed by 3 and as Brady dropped back to pass he got hit and stripped by Charles Woodson. The ball came out as Brady was he was bringing the ball back towards his body and the refs ruled the play a fumble so that they could review it. They then reversed the call, declaring the play an incomplete pass under the controversial “tuck rule,” which stated that any intentional forward movement of an offensive player’s arm starts a forward pass, even if they lose possession trying to tuck the ball back towards their body. The rule was introduced in 1999 so it was fairly new at the time and the Patriots had actually seen it earlier that season when officials reversed a fumble by Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The Patriots went on to end that drive with a game-tying field goal and eventually won the game 16-13 on an Adam Vinatieri field goal in overtime. Next New England knocked off the Steelers 24-17 and then beat the Rams 20-17 on a last-second Vinatieri field goal for their first Super Bowl title. The rest, as they say, is history. The Patriots have gone on to win four more Super Bowls in their current era of dominance with Brady and Belichick at the helm.
While the Patriots have thrived and been the NFL’s most successful team since that fateful night in Foxboro, the Raiders have been one of the NFL’s worst teams. The Raiders went on to lose head coach Jon Gruden, trading him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that offseason. The Raiders were actually able to make it to the Super Bowl the following year but guess who they lost to when they got there? Gruden and his new team, the Buccaneers.
The Raiders franchise has been a model of instability ever since. They experienced a significant Super Bowl hangover in the 2003 season, as they struggled to a 4-12 record that season. Those struggles continued for years; they didn’t earn another playoff berth until 2016. They’re on their eighth head coach since trading Gruden. The Raiders have botched a number of draft picks since 2002, including the ones they got in return for Jon Gruden in their trade. There’s been a number of misses on expensive and aging veteran free agent signings and big name trades including Randy Moss, Tommy Kelly, and Richard Seymour. They’ve gone through 18 quarterbacks and just recently found their franchise quarterback in Derek Carr (who finally led them back to the playoffs last year). All the while, Belichick and Brady have held steady for New England. One could argue that the Raiders have been as unstable as the Patriots have been stable.
The tuck rule was eliminated in 2013 and we’re left to wonder how things would have went had that call gone differently back on that snowy night in Foxboro. Would it have sparked a Raiders dynasty behind Jon Gruden instead of the one in New England? Would Bledsoe have taken his job back from Brady the following year?
The Raiders once again have hope with young cornerstones in Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack, among others. The Patriots are still rolling with Belichick and Brady. As these historic franchises meet in Mexico City for yet another showdown this Sunday, it’s fascinating to imagine how differently things have gone since the last game that was played in Foxboro Stadium.