FOXBORO, MA — New England will be heading back to their first AFC Championship game since 1997 after kicker Adam Vinatieri hit a 23-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Patriots to a 16-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders Saturday night.
With the field covered with snow and plenty more falling from the sky, the Patriots battled the Raiders to the end and caught a break that simply adds one more chapter to what has been a storybook season for them.
Down 13-10 with 1:43 left in the game they got some help by a controversial call on a play in which quarterback Tom Brady appeared to fumble when Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson hit him as he appeared to be pump-faking on a pass play. Oakland linebacker Greg Biekert recovered the apparent fumble, but the officials reviewed the play and ruled that Brady’s arm was going forward and it instead was ruled an incomplete pass.
Due to an NFL rule that states that “if a defensive player contacts the passer or the ball after forward movement begins and the ball leaves the passer’s hand, a forward pass is ruled.” Fortunately the call went Brady’s way, and after the game he certainly wasn’t complaining.
“Yeah, I was throwing the ball,” laughed Brady during his press conference after the game. “I looked to the left, I was going to throw it, and he hit me as I was throwing. How do you like that?”
Fans have to like it a lot. Five plays after that call Vinatieri kicked the ball 45-yards through the uprights knotting the score 13-13 and sending the Foxboro faithful into a frenzy.
The Raiders got the ball with :22 left in the game, but they knelt down and ran out the clock ending regulation and sending the game into overtime.
The Patriots won the coin toss and received the kickoff, and Brady marched them 61-yards on 15-plays in which he was 9-for-9 for 47-yards. The drive set up Vinatieri’s 23-yard game winner, and New England will now await the winner of Sunday’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to see who they’ll face in the AFC Championship game.
Oakland took the lead early in the game after Je’Rod Cherry was called for “fair catch interference”, giving the Raiders the ball at midfield after the 15-yard penalty. Eight-plays later Gannon found James Jett for a 12-yard touchdown, and the Raiders lead 7-0.
New England went into the locker room at half time and had to make adjustments after they went 0-for-6 on third down in the first half and failed to sustain a drive. Brady struggled completing 6-of-13 including an interception, but came out in the second half and began to move the football.
They opened the third quarter with a 12-play, 62-yard drive that resulted in a 23-yard Vinatieri field goal to cut the Raider lead to 7-3, but Oakland answered on their ensuing possession with a 38-yard field goal by kicker Sebastian Janikowski and the lead was back to a touchdown for the Raiders.
The Patriots went 3-and-out on their next possession, and the Raiders extended their lead to 13-3 after Gannon marched them 24-yards on 7-plays and put Janikowski in position to connect from 45-yards out, and things began to look pretty bleak for New England.
But with 12:29 remaining in the game, Brady single-handedly got them back into it. He connected on 9 straight passes, and capped the drive off with a 6-yard touchdown run which was the first touchdown run by a quarterback in the postseason in the history of the team. The Patriots now found themselves within striking distance down 13-10 with 7:52 remaining in the game.
With 2:06 left in the game New England began their final drive which was kept alive with the previously mentioned reversed call by the officials, and with :32 left in the game and the ball on the Oakland 28-yard line, Vinatieri connected on a difficult 45-yard kick which saved New England’s season and sent the game into overtime.
Depending on what happens on Sunday with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, it’s possible that fans will make one more trip to Foxboro Stadium in the event the Ravens upset the Steelers. If Saturday’s game against Oakland ends up being the final game there, it ended in a way that fans certainly won’t be forgetting any time soon.