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Patriots Give It a Rave Review

AFC: Raiders snowed under in overtime, 16-13, after controversial call leads to tying field goal in regulation.


FOXBORO, Mass. — Nobody would have given the New England Patriots a snowball's chance in August to play for the AFC championship this season.

Their chances seemed just as slim with less than two minutes left in regulation Saturday, when the Raiders started to celebrate after linebacker Greg Biekert pounced on the ball in four inches of snow, recovering New England quarterback Tom Brady's apparent fumble with Oakland leading by three.

Leave it to instant replay and a New England kicker from South Dakota State to turn the Raiders' Super Bowl hopes into slush with a 16-13 overtime loss.

After Brady's fumble was reversed--officials ruled his arm was moving forward in a throwing motion, making it an incomplete pass--the Patriots kept their drive alive and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal with 27 seconds left to force overtime.

Vinatieri was a hero again in sudden death, this time with a chip shot, a 23-yarder that beat the Raiders on the first possession of overtime and sent the Patriots to the AFC title game against the winner of today's Pittsburgh-Baltimore game.

It was a crushing blow for the Raiders, who led by 10 points in the fourth quarter--and never trailed until the moment they lost.

In silver-and-black lore, it will go down as one more item for the conspiracy theorists.

"People try to say what goes on between the league and Al Davis doesn't affect what goes on on the field," receiver Tim Brown said, discussing the call.

"We've played two teams in a row that didn't have any penalties. [Actually, New England had one and Oakland had four.] I watched them jump offsides not two but three times before they kicked the field goal. We let it come down to the officials, and in this game you can't do that."

On a day when the snow began falling several hours before the game and continued throughout, lying four inches deep except where snow blowers cleared the yard lines during stoppages, no one would have expected kickers to thrive.

But the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski kicked field goals of 38 and 45 yards, and Vinatieri kicked the game-tying and game-winning field goals.

In a moment that brought to mind the "Snowplow Game" of 1982 against Miami, Vinatieri and holder Ken Walter spent the timeout called by Oakland before his game-winning kick clearing an area of the snow--but only with the aid of their cleats.

"I'm not sure that quote-unquote icing the kicker works," Vinatieri said. "In a game like this, having a little extra time to clear the field is not a bad thing."

His kick sent the crowd of 60,020--amazingly there were only 272 no-shows--into delirious celebration.

Raider Coach Jon Gruden, who wore a sun visor whose brim became laden with snow, disagreed with the reversal on the fumble, but not vociferously.

"It was obvious I thought it was a fumble, but the officials thought otherwise," he said.

Referee Walt Coleman told a pool reporter why he reversed his call after the replay was signaled from upstairs, the rule in the final two minutes.

"Obviously, what I saw on the field, I thought the ball came out before his arm was going forward so that's why I ruled a fumble.

"Then when I got over to the replay monitor and looked at it, it was obvious that his arm was coming forward. He was trying to tuck the ball and they just knocked it out of his hand. His hand was coming forward, which makes it an incomplete pass."

Coleman said Brady would have had to either get the ball all the way down or lose it before his arm started moving forward for it to be a fumble.

Charles Woodson, the Raider who hit Brady, was firm.

"It was clearly a fumble," he said. "They got a second chance, and they made the most of it."

For New England fans with long memories, it was payback for the 1976 playoff game against the Raiders when referee Ben Dreith made a questionable roughing-the-passer call against New England that led to Oakland's winning score.

This time, credit went to Brady for two fine drives, and a resurgent second half.

Six for 13 for 74 yards in the first half, he and the Patriots abandoned their cautious running attack in the second half.

Brady directed a drive for a field goal on the opening possession of the third quarter, going to the air.

He finished 32 for 52 for 312 yards with one interception.

The Raiders' Rich Gannon was 17 for 31 for 159 yards, throwing a touchdown pass to James Jett in the first half on a drive that began at the 50 because of a punt coverage penalty against the Patriots.

In the second half, the Patriots went repeatedly to David Patten, who finished with 107 yards in eight catches.

Brady scored on a six-yard keeper to cut the lead to 13-10 with 7:52 left in the fourth.

As time ran down after Brady's fumble was reversed, the Patriots still faced second and 10 from the Oakland 42 with 1:47 left.

Brady hit Patten for 13 yards, and after two incompletions, carried the ball one yard to the 28, setting up Vinatieri's tying kick.

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