PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady prepares to pass against the Oakland Raiders during their snowy AFC Divisional playoff game in Foxboro, Mass. Saturday night, Jan. 19, 2002. Brady pased for 312 yards and ran for a touchdown in the Patriots' 16-13 overtime victory. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Patriots-Raiders more than just a Tuck
By Rick Popolizio
The Tuck Game
It all started in blizzard-like conditions on January 19, 2002 in the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots were playing their last game at Foxboro Stadium. The snow handicapped both offenses from scoring in the first quarter, but Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon found wide receiver James Jett in the endzone for the first points of the game. Down 13-3 heading into the fourth quarter, Tom Brady led his team on a sixty-seven yard drive in ten plays before finishing it off with a touchdown run of his own. The Patriot defense came up with a big third down stop on the ensuing drive, providing Brady with one last chance to tie the game.
|New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) loses the ball after being brought down by Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson, right, while Greg Biekert (54) moves to recover the ball in the fourth quarter of their AFC Division Playoff game in Foxboro, Mass. Saturday night, Jan. 19, 2002. The play was appealed, and the Patriots retained possession. The Patriots went on to win, 16-13, in overtime. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)|
A Charles Woodson sack and forced fumble on Brady appeared to end the game, but the call was overturned. Referee Walt Coleman ruled that Brady's arm was moving forward, and the play was called an incomplete pass, giving the Patriots new life. It was at this point that Brady proved himself to be a big time quarterback, and the New England Patriots made an important step toward becoming the team of the twenty-first century. Brady and the Pats marched down the field, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a forty-five yard field goal as time ran down in regulation. The ball sailed through the uprights sending the game into overtime.
In the extra session, New England won the coin toss and methodically marched down the field, putting Vinatieri in position for another crucial field goal attempt. From twenty three yards out, after the Patriots players cleared the snow off his spot, Vinatieri was again successful, completing one of the most controversial comebacks in NFL history in what has become known as the Tuck Game. Much to the chagrin of Oakland fans, many who still believe referee Walt Coleman didn't get the tuck call right, the Raiders were sent home from the playoffs early, while the Patriots went on to defeat Pittsburgh in the ACF Championship and then upset heavily favored St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Eager to make another run in the 2002 season after the devastating Divisional Playoff game loss to the Patriots in 2001, the Raiders reached the Super Bowl the next year, but lost to Tampa Bay. On the road to reaching the Super Bowl, the Raiders defeated the Patriots 27-20 on November 17 in the first rematch since the Tuck Game. The loss proved to be a costly one for New England. The Patriots finished the year with a 9-7 record, tying them with four other teams for the wildcard spot. However, Miami owned the tiebreaker, and the Patriots failed to reach the postseason.
For the Raiders and their fans, it was sweet revenge for the tuck call, but it wouldn't be long before the Patriots bounced back from their mediocre season in 2002 and went on to win two more Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004, while the Raiders franchise sunk. After reaching the Divisional Playoffs in 2001 and the Super Bowl in the 2002, the Silver and Black missed the playoffs the next two years. The Raiders finished 4-12 in 2003, the worst mark by a Raiders team since 1962. The poor season led to the hiring of coach Norv Turner for the 2004 season, but the Raiders suffered another lackluster year, improving from 2003 by only one win at 5-11.
|Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis speaks during a news conference announcing the hiring of the Raiders new coach Norv Turner, Monday, Jan. 26, 2004, at Raider headquarters in Alameda, Calif. Turner takes over a team that went from the Super Bowl to 4-12 in just a year. Turner coached the Washington Redskins from 1994-2000, and has been the Miami Dolphins' offensive coordinator the past two seasons. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)|
History of the Matchup
When the captains meet for the coin to toss to kick off the 2005 season on Thursday, September 8 at Gillette Stadium, it will mark the 28th time the Raiders and Patriots have met since 1960, when the expansion Oakland Raiders first played the then Boston Patriots as part of the American Football League. It was in that year, on October 16, 1960, when Raiders running back Jack Larscheid had the fifth longest run in Raiders' history. It was an eighty-seven yard scamper that helped the early Raiders beat the Patriots for the first time. Since, the Raiders have defeated the Pats thirteen other times for an all time record of 14-12-1 against New England.
Controversy between the Patriots and Raiders began in the 1976 AFC Divisional Playoff game, when the Raiders defeated the Patriots 21-14 after a much debated call on a roughing the passer penalty on Patriots' defensive lineman Ray "Sugar Bear" Hamilton. Oakland went on to win the Super Bowl in 1976 over the Minnesota Vikings. For the New England Patriots and their fans, the tuck call was a bittersweet moment of revenge for the blown call in 1976.
|New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley lies motionless on the field night of Aug.13, 1978 at Oakland Coliseum, after colliding with Raiders' Jack Tatum in second quarter. Stingley was taken to a Castro Valley, Calif. hospital with serious neck injuries. (AP Photo)|
In 1978 again controversy arose in the battle between these two teams. On what many continue to call a cheap shot against a helpless receiver, Oakland's defensive back Jack Tatum collided with Patriot's receiver Darryl Stingley sending the pass catcher to the ground in a horrific scene. Stingley lie motionless on the ground as trainers and doctors rushed to his aid. It turns out that Stingley was paralyzed by that hit, remaining wheelchair bound to this day.
Preparing for a New Season
The first kick off on opening day will also begin a year of new expectations for both the Patriots and the Raiders. For many Patriots fans, near perfection will be expected. Since winning the Super bowl in 2001, the Patriots have added big name players like Corey Dillon last year, and linebacker Chad Brown this off-season. The Patriots have also proven that they can be successful without big name players. Last year, New England lost Ty Law for the second half of the season and playoffs, only to win the Super Bowl with a young, depleted secondary. Wide receiver Troy Brown was often forced into defensive duties.
In the 2005 NFL draft, the Patriots selected offensive lineman Logan Mankins out of Fresno State. This came as a surprise to those who expected the Patriots to shore up their defensive backfield, which was undermanned at times last year. Middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi will be missing from the Patriots defense in the 2005 season. Bruschi, who has been instrumental in the Patriots success on defense with his aggressive play, has been recovering since being hospitalized on February 16, 2005 after experiencing a mild stroke three days after playing in the Pro Bowl. He expects to play for New England in the 2006 season.
Although recent success and well chosen off-season acquisitions will ensure that the Patriots remain this year's favorite, Bill Belichick will have to handle the loss of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Crennel has since taken over as the Cleveland Browns head coach, while Weis moved down to the college ranks as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Weis picked up his first college victory over Pittsburgh in Saturday's season opener.
Replacing Crennel is Eric Mangini, who has been the defensive back's coach for the Patriots for the past four seasons. Under Mangini, Patriots defensive backs have earned five Pro Bowl selections. Belichick, who will be calling the offensive plays this year for the Pats, has always found a way to overcome obstacles, but dealing with the loss of two creative minds in Crennel and Weis could prove to be one of his toughest challenges.
While the Patriots are looking to three-peat, the Oakland Raiders are coming into the 2005 season from the opposite direction. Oakland suffered a dismal 5-11 season in 2004, but now a revamped receiving core featuring Jerry Porter and perhaps the noisiest off-season acquisition in Randy Moss could result in the rebirth of a struggling team. In exchange for Moss, the Raiders dealt young middle linebacker Napoleon Harris to the Minnesota Vikings. The last big name to come into Oakland was Warren Sapp, who hasn't panned out to be the same player the Raiders faced in Super bowl XXXVII.
Randy Moss also hopes Oakland is the right place for his rebirth. It will be a new beginning for Moss, who has been plagued by off the field troubles throughout his seven year tenure in Minnesota. Moss will also be another controversial figure on a Raiders roster that already includes unruly kicker Sebastian Janikowski and the boisterous Warren Sapp. Seven seasons of great numbers, but no titles have left Moss desperate to win. According to interviews from a May 16 Sports Illustrated article on Moss, the lanky superstar worked hard this off-season with hopes of bringing a title to Oakland, while proving to the thirty-one other teams who showed no interest in him that they were terribly mistaken. So far, Moss reportedly has not been a disturbance to the Raiders. If anything, Moss has shown some maturity.
|Oakland Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss is photographed at training camp in Napa, Calif., Friday, Aug. 5, 2005. From the start of training camp, it became clear what a huge difference Randy Moss makes to the Oakland Raiders. With Moss as the face of the offense and franchise man Woodson back to help the defense save face, the Raiders hope their latest offseason overhaul will be different from the last two. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)|
"He's a veteran player that sets a real good example for our young players," said head coach Norv Turner. "He's been a great plus for our young receives. He's helped them grow and kin fog take thing to another level in terms of their participation."
Moss should also help to boost the Raiders rushing attack.
"I think Moss helps everybody," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "I think number one, he helps the running game, more than anything.
Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins is thrilled to add Moss to his arsenal of receives. For Collins, who according to Belichick, is very accurate, has a good arm, good passing strength and can make all the throws, Moss could be missing piece in the Raiders offense. And Collins has been impressed with the way Moss has carried himself since becoming a Raider.
"The guy has come in here and worked hard," said Collins. "He's been willing to learn. He's really trying to learn this offense and become part of what we're doing."
Moss and Collins are also getting along well as teammates. Their positive relationship is very important and will go a long way in keeping the team focused on the task at hand.
"We have good communication between the two of us," said Collins. "He is willing to ask questions and willing to learn, and he has come to me for a lot of that. In just the short time we've been together, we're very much on the same page, and I think it's a function of the communication and his willingness to learn and talk to me about things."
Moss will be facing a Patriots' secondary minus four-time Pro Bowler Ty Law. Law is the second Pro Bowler on defense that Belichick has let go in the last two seasons. Belichick released Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy prior to the 2004 season. Although the multi-faceted Troy Brown, rookie Randall Gay and Asante Samuel proved that they were able to get it done last season for New England, Moss, Porter and Ronald Curry will likely be tough to match up against. The addition of free agent cornerbacks Chad Scott from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Duane Starks from the Arizona Cardinals will provide some veteran leadership for the young Patriots' secondary.
The other major pick up for the Raiders this off-season was former New York Jet LaMont Jordan. The addition of Jordan should boost a running game that ranked last in the NFL in 2004 in yards per game at 80.9.
"Well, I think LaMont has all the skills that you would want in a running back," said Belichick. "He has a good combination of size, power, hands and route running ability. That really makes him a pretty complete back."
Jordan comes to the Raiders averaging 4.9 yards per carry during his first four seasons backing up future Hall of Famer Curtis Martin. Jordan also provides the Raiders with some versatility with his ability to return kickoffs and receive out of the backfield.
The Raiders' first selection and second overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft, offensive tackle Robert Gallery, will look to improve in his second year in the NFL. The 6'7, 325 pound rookie from Iowa started fifteen games last year. On the defensive side, tackle Ted Washington, who was acquired via free agency prior to the start of the 2004 season after winning a Super Bowl with New England in 2003, started all sixteen games for the Raiders last year, while recording 41 tackles, 3 sacks and a forced fumble.
In this year's NFL draft, Oakland selected cornerback Fabian Washington out of Nebraska in the first round to replace Phillip Buchanon. Buchanon was traded to Houston for a pair of second round picks and a third rounder. All of the Raiders' new acquisitions and young players coming into the system will be crucial to the team's success this year.
What to Expect
The AFC West may provide an even greater challenge for Oakland than it has in the past. San Diego is coming off a 12-4 season in 2004 behind the emergence of Drew Brees and Antonio Gates, alongside world class running back LaDanian Tomlinson. Kansas City led the NFL in total offense in 2004 with 418.4 yards per game and still possesses one of the most explosive offenses in the league with Priest Holmes and Trent Green. Denver, a playoff team six of the last nine years and Super Bowl champion in two of those years, should be as consistent as ever.
One thing is certain. The entire football world will be watching the Raiders and the Patriots on September 8. They will be watching Moss and LaMont Jordan. They will question the scheming of the Patriots' new coordinators. They will debate whether or not the Patriots are once again the team to beat in 2005. Some expectations will be fulfilled, while others fall short. And if history has its way, opening day will have an interesting, and perhaps controversial finish.
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