20 years ago on Jan. 19, The Tuck Rule Game happened

Twenty years ago on Jan. 19 in snowy Foxborough, the Tuck Rule became part of NFL lore

Oh, how things might have changed if the play was ruled a fumble and not an incomplete pass on Jan. 19, 2002.

Yes, we have hit the 20-year anniversary of the famous — infamous — Tuck Rule game.

The Oakland Raiders were playing the New England Patriots, whose quarterback was Tom Brady. The weather was miserable, snow and freezing cold temperatures

In the fourth quarter, Raiders’ cornerback Charles Woodson tackled Brady, who initially appeared to fumble the ball that was eventually recovered by Raiders’ linebacker Greg Biekert.

If it was a fumble, it would have almost certainly sealed the game for Oakland, which led 13-10 at that point.

However, officials reviewed the play, and eventually determined that even though Brady had seemingly halted his passing motion and was attempting to “tuck” the ball back into his body, it was an incomplete pass and not a fumble under the then-effective NFL rules.

“Uh…,” Brady said. “You know, he hit me. I wasn’t sure. Yeah, I was throwing the ball. How do you like that? Damn right. Damn right.”

As a result, the original call was overturned, and the ball was given back to the Patriots, who subsequently moved the ball into field goal range.

Adam Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal with 1:11 left to tie the game and in overtime added a 23-yarder to give New England the victory.

“It was obvious,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “I thought it was a fumble, but the officials thought otherwise.

“You can never count on anything in the NFL. Say what you want, (Brady) made some great plays when he had to.”

The Patriots would defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers next, continue to the Super Bowl, where they would stun the St. Louis Rams for Brady’s first ring.

And we all know what has happened since …

 

Redemption for Brandon Bolden as the New England Patriots get on the scoreboard

New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden was flagged for a penalty on a fake punt. He redeemed himself on this rushing touchdown.

Bill Belichick is known for having some favorite players.

One of them is reserve running back Brandon Bolden, who sees time both on offense and on special teams for the New England Patriots. Following the trade of Sony Michel earlier this season, and with a focus on the running game around rookie quarterback Mac Jones, Bolden has taken on more of a role with the Patriots offense this season. He entered play on Week 18 with 37 carries for 180 yards on the ground, along with 39 receptions for 385 yards and a touchdown.

As noted, he also plays a role on special teams, and it was there where the veteran found himself in a little bit of controversy early against the Miami Dolphins. With Miami facing a fourth down, the Dolphins decided to fake the punt, and Bolden found himself face-to-face with the scrambling punter.

That’s when this happened:

Bolden was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and instead of the Patriots taking over in Miami territory, the Dolphins kept possession. Both Bolden and his head coach were incredulous, but the call was allowed to stand. Miami would tack on a field goal at the end of the extended possession to take a 17-point lead.

Bolden, however, would get a little redemption on the Patriots’ ensuing drive:

While Bolden typically is used as a receiver and on draw plays, here the Patriots run him behind fullback Jakob Johnson. Miami fits this run really well from a defensive standpoint, and Bolden is forced to make a cut behind the line of scrimmage. But he picks up the first down by evading the initial defender, and then cuts to the left side of the field behind blocks from Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers, and races into the end zone for his first rushing touchdown of the season.

And perhaps some well-deserved redemption from the earlier penalty.

Kristian Wilkerson with a pair of receiving touchdowns for New England

Reserve wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson of the New England Patriots has a pair of touchdown in his first extended regular season action.

Entering their bye week, the New England Patriots were the talk of the football world. Winners of seven-straight games, Bill Belichick’s men were sitting atop the AFC standings with a 9-4 record, and were atop the AFC East after surviving against the Buffalo Bills on a windy Monday night back in Week 13.

Things have taken a bit of a turn since then.

In rather un-Belichick fashion, the Patriots lost two-straight games coming out of their bye week, dropping a road game tot he Indianapolis Colts before the Christmas holiday, and then losing to the Bills at home the day after Christmas. The pair of losses saw the Patriots fall out of first place in the division, and now face the prospects of fighting to stay in the playoffs altogether.

Thankfully for them, a late Christmas gift was delivered on Sunday.

A visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Patriots are rolling at home this Sunday, currently holding a 34-3 lead over the visitors early in the second half. A surprise star for New England? Reserve wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson. With Nelson Agholor still sidelined after suffering a concussion against the Colts, and N’Keal Harry scratched from the list of actives, Wilkerson saw his first extended action of the regular season.

And has two touchdown receptions to show for it.

After notching his first career reception in the first quarter, Wilkerson got on the score sheet on this play from late in the second:

New England has used some sprint and boot concepts recently with Mac Jones, and on this play Wilkerson runs a delayed crossing route working from left-to-right. Jones’ primary read is the running back releasing to the flat, but with that route covered the quarterback has to get to a secondary read, which is Wilkerson coming across the field. Jones puts the throw in a good spot and the receiver completes the play for a touchdown.

His second touchdown came early in the second half, on a fake screen play with Wilkerson releasing vertically:

The design works to spring Wilkerson free on the deep route, and Jones takes advantage for the touchdown.

With this game getting out of hand, fans at Gillette Stadium are likely keeping an eye on the out-of-town scoreboard, where the Miami Dolphins are struggling against the Tennessee Titans and the Bills are in a close game with the Atlanta Falcons. A Patriots’ win coupled with a Dolphins loss clinches a playoff berth for New England, but if the Bills somehow lose to Atlanta, the Patriots could be back atop the division with one game to go.

Patriots QB Mac Jones says he was too focused to grant interview with Peyton Manning

New England Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones explained why he turned down an interview with Peyton Manning ahead of the popular ManningCast for Week 13.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones made history on Monday night in the 14-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Not only did the rookie from Alabama play a complete game throwing just three passes, but he also is the only quarterback to date to turn down an interview with Peyton Manning ahead of the popular ManningCast alternate commentary of ESPN Monday Night Football.

Jones told his side of the story on “Merloni & Fauria” on WEEI 93.7 in Boston Tuesday.

“I texted him or whatever,” Jones said. “I am not going to get into any details, but I think we were just focused on the game. The Patriots do a great job of just helping me stay focused on what I need to stay focused on. I was like that in college, too.”

Peyton isn’t the only Manning in Jones’ cell phone. According to the first round pick, Archie Manning, Peyton’s dad, was a resource for him as he was working through the draft process.

“They’re great people,” Jones said. “I’ve been in contact with them throughout the whole process, even Archie, too. He’s a great resource to me.”

Peyton and Archie aren’t the only famous people in Jones’ contacts list, but the 23-year-old wasn’t forthcoming about who else might be in his phone.

“I think if I ever get a chance to get advice from people who have done really well in the NFL or just successful people, I just try to pick their brain and stuff like that. Just being in a situation growing up watching a lot of great players and getting a chance to meet them or talk to them, I always use that to my advantage.”

The Patriots are 9-4 and possess the No. 1 seed in the AFC. With the Patriots’ on a Week 14 bye, Jones intends to stay low key and relax at home in New England.

Bill Belichick’s Monday night game plan further proves, reveals his rare genius

The Patriots’ run-heavy approach against the Bills wasn’t just a one-game gimmick — it was another illustration of Bill Belichick’s situational genius.

In 1950, the NFL welcomed three teams — the Baltimore Colts, San Francisco 49ers, and Cleveland Browns from the All America Football Conference — to its environs. The Browns, led by Paul Brown, had been the AAFC’s dominant franchise, winning all four league championships, so the NFL decided to pit Brown’s team against the Philadelphia Eagles, the league’s two-time defending NFL champs.

It was supposed to be an upbraiding for the new kids, but it was the exact opposite. Brown directed Otto Graham, his Hall of Fame quarterback, to exploit holes in the middle of Philly’s defense, and Graham put up a stat line that wouldn’t be out of place for a quarterback in 2021 — 21 completions in 38 attempts for 346 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. The Browns won their NFL opener, 35-10.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xOgmjbfF4s&t=120s

Eagles head coach Earle “Greasy” Neale made some noise before the December 3 rematch about the Browns leaning more on finesse than power, comparing them to a basketball team. This was a major miscalculation on Neale’s part. In that 13-7 Browns victory, Paul Brown’s team ran the ball 41 times, gaining just 68 yards, but still winning on a 30-yard pick-six by Warren Lahr, and two field goals by Hall-of-Famer Lou “The Toe” Groza.

The Browns did not technically throw a single pass, though two attempts were called back due to penalties. Brown told his players that they were specifically not to throw a pass as long as the game was tied, or the Browns had the lead. A rainy day and a muddy field advanced the wisdom of Brown’s strategy, but one gets the sense that Brown was going there no matter what the weather was.

In your face, Greasy.

The Browns won the 1950 NFL championship, 30-28, against the legendary “point-a-minute” Los Angeles Rams, and Brown’s approach was exactly what it should have been: Lean on your quarterback. Graham out-dueled Bob Waterfield, completing 22 of 33 passes for 298 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception.

Paul Brown was one of football’s greatest coaches and thinkers, and one of the primary reasons why is that he understood that not only is there more than one way to win a game, but that your ultimate success should be based on adjusting your approach for situation and opponent. There are not types or archetypes to which a franchise must adhere; there is only the next game, and the specific plan for winning that game.

Bill Belichick has always been a keen observer of Brown’s approach, and he’s always been a week-to-week adjuster, which is where Belichick’s game plan against the Bills on Monday night comes in.

In monsoon conditions, the Patriots threw the ball just three times — the fewest by any team since the 1974 Bills beat the Jets, 16-12,  in a similar Buffalo weather disaster. Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson attempted two passes in that game, completing none, and having two interceptions called back by penalty. New England ran the ball against these Bills 46 times for 222 yards and a touchdown. They ran the ball when it didn’t work early on. They ran the ball when the schemed kicked in, and things got really dicey for Buffalo’s defense. They ran the ball no matter what, because that’s how Belichick saw a specific path to victory.

Could it have backfired? Sure. Did it? Nope. Here’s why.

Peyton Manning shares how he was denied an interview with Patriots QB Mac Jones

Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning told a humorous story about how he was denied an interview with New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones.

Peyton Manning comes through when it matters, except when it comes to interviewing every quarterback ahead of the Monday Night Football Manningcast on ESPN 2.

The two-time Super Bowl champion shared notes from talking with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the Manningcast. When Eli Manning pressed Peyton on whether he spoke with New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones, Peyton revealed how he came up empty.

“I tried to talk to Mac Jones and he was very respectful. He said, ‘Peyton, I want to do it, but can you call our PR director, Stacey [James]. He kind of has to oversee all things.’ I said no problem. I called Stacey, he was very professional, and I said, ‘I’m talking to Coach [Bill] Belichick, can I talk to Mac Jones?’ And I got to tell you: I appreciate how they’re handling Mac Jones. They are trying to protect him and give him as few off-the-field distractions as possible. Let him concentrate on playing football. So, yes, I did denied. It was the first quarterback I haven’t talked to, but I appreciate it.”

According to Peyton, the approach the Patriots are taking with Jones is reminiscent of how the Indianapolis Colts handled him in 1998, his rookie season after being selected No. 1 overall in the draft.

“[General manager] Bill Polian, as a rookie, with me with the Colts did the same. He didn’t let the marketing department talk to me, the community relations department talk to me. He said, ‘Hey, it’s all football this first season. Don’t bother him.’ I think the Patriots are taking the same approach to Mac Jones. It’s paying off. It’s working.”

Eli asked how that could be accurate when he did so many commercials as a rookie, but Peyton corrected him to state he never shot one commercial as a rookie; it was only after he threw 28 interceptions that he “earned” the distinction to start shooting commercials.

Damien Harris runs 64 yards for TD as Patriots get jump on Bills

Damien Harris with a 64-yard TD run for the New England Patriots

The weather outside is frightful at the New England Patriots’ road game with the Buffalo Bills Monday night.

The only thing way to keep warm would be to run as fast as you can to break a sweat.

That’s what Damien Harris did in a windswept stadium in the first quarter.

After a Buffalo turnover, Harris took a handoff from Mac Jones, ran into the wind, and was gone. The 64-yard run was the longest of Harris’ career.

With the conditions as bad as they are, Bill Belichick wisely decided to go for a 2-point conversion.

Brandon Bolden took a pitch from Jones and found his way into the end zone.

It was 8-0 for the visitors.

20 years ago on Nov. 18, the Patriots suffered final loss of that season … to the Rams

The New England Patriots of 2001 lost for the last time in 2001 on Nov. 18, to the St. Louis Rams, no less

Much is made of how the New York Giants lost to the New England Patriots at the end of the AFC East champ’s perfect season in 2007. The Giants returned to down New England in Super Bowl XLL, blemishing the dream of perfection.

What gets lost is the Patriots had a similar experience en route to their first Super Bowl championship.

On Nov. 18, 2001, New England played the St. Louis Rams. There was nothing extraordinary about that Patriots team with Tom Brady filling in for Drew Bledsoe at QB. They were 5-4 and going up against the defending Super Bowl champs, who were 7-1.

In the Week 10 meeting, Kurt Warner threw for 401 yards and a trio of touchdowns — Brady had 185 passing yards and 1 TD and picks — in St. Louis 24-17 victory.

What happened afterward is what makes that game noteworthy decades later. The Patriots would not lose another game.

They went on a six-game winning streak to end the regular season and downed the Oakland Raiders — Tuck Rule game — and Pittsburgh Steelers to advance to the Super Bowl.

They would then defeat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17, on an Adam Vinatieri field goal.

The MVP was Tom Brady and the rest, as they say, is history. The beginning of the GOAT.

Patriots’ J.C. Jackson haunting Sam Darnold, Panthers

J.C. Jackson is becoming Sam Darnold’s favorite receiver … unfortunately for Carolina

Sam Darnold has Christian McCaffrey back and it is not helping the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback.

Darnold has found one player twice with passes on Sunday. Unfortunately, for the former USC star it is New England Patriots’ defensive back J.C. Jackson.

The first interception became an 88-yard pick-six.

The next one also was in the end zone but this time Jackson plucked the pass to end a Panthers threat.

Jackson is quite adept at pilfering passes as a Patriot.

Former Jets Darnold and Robby Anderson were not enjoying their chemistry in Week 9.

And this was revisited:

Adrian Phillips’ pick six of Justin Herbert gives Patriots the lead

Adrian Phillips with a pair of picks of Justin Herbert in Week 8

Adrian Phillips spent his first six seasons with the Chargers, in San Diego and Los Angeles. He’s been a New England Patriot for the past two seasons.

On Sunday, the DB burned the Bolts, picking off Justin Herbert and taking the ball 26 yards to the end zone for six points.

The pick was the second of the day for Phillips, who has 5 with New England and 10 in his career.

The 2-point conversion from Mac Jones to Jakobi Meyers was good and New England led, 24-17.

The pick came after a failed challenge by Bill Belichick.

The Chargers were deep in their territory and had been called for offensive holding.

The Patriots’ coach challenged, saying the penalty had occurred in the end zone. If he had been correct it would have been safety — two points for the Patriots — and the ball to them.

However, replay did not concur.