If you heard what Ray Lewis said last week, the future Hall of Famer thinks about Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. No, he does not hate them like most of America seems to, but he firmly believes we would have no idea who Brady is if not for the ill-fated “Tuck Rule” game in the 2001 playoffs.
Indeed, that improbable victory over the Oakland Raiders sparked a run of success rarely seen in the National Football League, and there’s no telling what would have happened had the Pats endured a one-and-done in Brady’s first year at the helm. Instead, they went on to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. But is it fair to keep harping on that game and that one silly rule? No, it’s not, so I’ve compiled a list of the most “Patriot” games of their early-21st-century uprising that epitomizes what they are and continued to build the confidence that has made that unflappable. You may notice that the Indianapolis Colts appear quite often on this list.
5. Week 9 – Pursuit of Perfection Continues in “Super Bowl 41.5”
It seemed like perfection was inevitable after this one. New England’s stiffest test en route to 16-0 was the defending champion Colts, and after a first half of the season in which they scored at least 34 points in every game, they got only 10 through three quarters, trailing 20-10 in the very building where they had lost the AFC championship game nine months earlier.
Somehow, someway, the Colts’ offense went silent, and Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk caught touchdown passes while the defense forced a key turnover by Peyton Manning, and the Pats emerged with a 24-20 win. Though they had a few tense moments down the stretch, they passed their biggest challenge with flying colors, remaining flawless until February.
4. Super Bowl XXXVIII – Vinatieri Delivers Again Despite Adversity
Back in Houston, the last place the Patriots trailed in a game in 2003 when Daniel Graham saved the day in late November, New England cemented a dynasty-in-the-making status. Carolina took a 22-21 lead with 6:53 to play, but the lead could have been three had John Fox not attempted a pair of
fourth-quarter two-point conversions, which both failed.
New England drove down the field and Brady hit linebacker Mike Vrabel (yes, I said linebacker) for a 1-yard touchdown, and Kevin Faulk ran the two-point conversion in on a trick play to make it 29-22 (instead of 28-24). Carolina tied it with 1:08 to play, but kicker John Kasay booted the ball out of bounds, allowing Brady to start from the 40 and it took just six plays to go 37 yards to set up Vinatieri from 41 yards out.
Of course, the clutch kicker delivered, but it’s worth mentioning that he’d missed two field goals inside of 40 yards earlier in the contest, including a 36-yarder that was blocked. Despite the Patriots and Panthers playing scoreless
first and third quarters, New England’s offense came alive late in both halves, allowing them to squeeze by Carolina.
3. Week 1, 2004 – Mike Vanderjagt Keeps Win Streak Alive, 27-24
It should be noted that Vanderjagt is the kicker for the Indianapolis Colts in this scenario, not the Patriots. As was the case many times, the Patriots were slightly outplayed by a more physically talented team, yet watched the other team choke themselves out of a win.
Indianapolis outrushed New England, 202-82, but it was a head-scratching scenario at the end that let the Pats prevail in this Thursday night season opener as they dropped the banner from Super Bowl XXXVIII. You had a feeling they were destined for greatness once again as once again a tight regular-season win over Indy gave them a home game when the teams met in the playoffs four months later.
Indianapolis found themselves facing a third-and-eight at the New England 17 with a half-minute to play, but Willie McGinest came in unblocked to down Manning for a 12-yard loss. Vanderjagt, who ironically had missed a game-tying kick in the very last game of 2003, the Pro Bowl, and continually failed in the postseason, pushed his attempt wide right. Needless to say, he picked
a bad time to miss his first field goal in 42 tries. What also cost the Colts was Edgerrin James fumbling at the 1 with his team down three late in the final period.
2. Week 13, 2003 – Patriots’ goal-line stand stymies Colts, 38-34
If there ever was a time to wonder if the Patriots cheated and actually knew what plays the other team was running, point to this game, because there is actually audible evidence of it. Either that, or just further proof that Bill Belichick makes every perfect halftime adjustment and never leaves a stone unturned.
New England jumped out to a 31-10 lead in this battle of 9-2 teams behind the usual suspects: you know, Bethel Johnson, Mike Cloud, Dan Klecko, and
just-signed-off-the-street Dedric Ward. Typical of their 2003 winning ways, it was a new hero emerging at the end after the Colts stormed back to tie the game at 31.
Leading 38-34, the Colts defense stopped the Patriots, but cost themselves prime field position when David Thornton dropped a sure interception in New England territory before the punt. Indianapolis drove down to the 2 and was all but assured of winning the game. Instead, Eugene Wilson came through a
gaping hole to stymie Edgerrin James on first down before behemoth Ted Washington led the surge on second down.
After one of the poorest play calls known to man, a lob to Aaron Morehead (not Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne) which was defended by Tyrone Poole, the Colts were down to their last chance. Yet after their offense had carved up the New England defense in the second half, they couldn’t punch it in from
two yards away as McGinest, who admitted afterward that Peyton Manning “tipped off” the play, came full throttle to hit James in the backfield and preserve a win that would ultimately give the Patriots homefield advantage in the AFC championship game that year.
Just before the Colts ran their final play, a Patriots defender yells “It’s a run right here!” (To which Phil Simms then said, “I’m gonna guess run.”) Whether it was tipped or not, legal or not, the Patriots found a way to pull out a win that looked like it was going to slip away. It was the eighth straight victory for New England, and it preceded seven more, including a 24-14 win over the Colts to reach the Super Bowl.
1. 2001 Divisional Playoffs – Lucky-Tuck Patriots survive Raiders in snow, 16-13
Yes, the game that truly did spark a dynasty, if only because the winner of this game knew it would hardly have to sweat playing Kordell Stewart the following week for the right to go to the Super Bowl. But with renewed confidence after pulling victory from the jaws of defeat, the Patriots were able to muster up enough gumption (or was it just good walk-through footage?)
to upset the heavily-favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Rich Gannon was the established veteran against the California kid making his first career playoff start, and Brady did not throw a touchdown pass in the heavy snow. He did, however, run one in, and kept his team in the game. Yet trailing 13-10 with under two minutes to play, it looked like Brady gave it
away when he was sacked and stripped by his old Michigan teammate,
Charles Woodson. But Greg Biekert’s recovery was overturned by a little-known rule that would become a household term, leading to one of the most improbable kicks in history by Vinatieri, a wobbly line drive through heavy flakes from 45 yards out that squeaked over the crossbar to tie the score.
Once overtime hit, you could feel the Raiders just deflating (pun intended), and Brady utilized a fourth-down completion to an unintended target to drive the Pats inside the 10, where Vinatieri hit a chip shot for the stunning 16-13