As Tom Brady slid through the thick layer of snow out of bounds, he immediately located Charlie Weis on the sideline. With 1:50 remaining in the fourth quarter of the 2001 AFC divisional playoffs, the Patriots trailed the Raiders by a field goal, and the ball was at the Oakland 42-yard line. Brady, New England's 24-year-old quarterback, needed to ask Weis, the team's offensive coordinator, which play he should run next.
"Trips 72 cut slant E slant," the coach answered, as Brady ran back to the huddle.
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Heading into 2012, Brady has started in 19 career playoff games; the game against the Raiders on Jan. 19, 2002, was his first. Foxboro Stadium, the home of the Patriots for 31 years, hosted 242 regular-season and playoff games; the matchup that night was the final one to be played there, with the team moving into Gillette Stadium for the '02 season.
Of the 146 offensive plays in the three-hour, 32-minute game, the play that Brady called next took seven seconds and resulted in no points or yards. However, it ended up being the game's most important and memorable play.
In the decade since they played on that snowy night, the Patriots' and Raiders' franchises have gone in opposite directions. New England has won three Super Bowls and become the model of NFL success; Oakland has made one playoff appearance while going through six different head coaches. It's unfair to say the results of one game or the interpretation of one rule impacted all that. It's also unfair to say it didn't.
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While Weis was instructing Brady about what play to run, Eric Allen stood near the Patriots' sideline. Unlike the budding quarterback he was facing, the Raiders' right cornerback had been through playoff battles many times before. The 36-year-old veteran had played in the famous Fog Bowl when he was a rookie with the Eagles in 1988. Now, 14 years later, he was facing some more hostile conditions. Not a flake of snow had fallen on Foxborough when the Raiders left their team hotel at 4 p.m. As Allen prepared for the next play to begin, nearly seven hours later, there were almost five inches piled up.
The weather wasn't an issue; stopping Brady was. As he lingered, Allen heard Weis tell the young quarterback what he wanted the play-call to be: a quick slant pass with three receivers lined up to Brady's right and one to his left. Recognizing the call, Allen rushed to his defensive teammates in the middle of the field.
"Look, they said it's going to be three-by-one and the backside guy is going to get the slant," Allen told the rest of his huddle. "So linebacker, whoever is on that back side, be sure you're in that first window so he can't throw the ball in that first window, and corner, you position yourself in the second window.
"When you get in three-receiver sets and the back receiver is wide, you have to run a slant; that's just the ABCs of football," Allen recalled. "So we had a blitz for that. We would have Charles (Woodson) line up inside and come off the edge. It wasn't any kind of defense that was new; many people run it. We just happened to have Charles run it, who's a phenomenal athlete, so he would get there a lot."
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As Brady broke the huddle and approached the line of scrimmage for 1st-and-10, with the snow falling steadily and his team down 13-10, his teammates positioned themselves for the play. Split wide to his right, from closest to furthest, were TE Jermaine Wiggins, WR Troy Brown and WR David Patten; wide to his left was WR Fred Coleman; alongside Brady in the backfield was RB J.R. Redmond.
Scanning the defense to his left, Brady saw Allen matched up with Coleman. Far to his right, he checked on Patten, who was being guarded by Raiders nickel CB Tory James. As he pointed and yelled instructions to Redmond, it appeared the only thing Brady didn't notice from the Raiders was Woodson, his former University of Michigan teammate, who was lined up over Brown — ready to pounce.
"Blitz," exclaimed CBS commentator Phil Simms at the exact second Brady received the shotgun snap.
To read the rest of the article recalling the infamous "tuck rule" playoff game in 2002, purchase a copy of the current issue Pro Football Weekly online at the PFWstore.com. In this issue, you'll also find our report card for the 35 head coaches during the 2011 season; our in-depth previews of the four wild-card games; and our fantasy football and handicapping coverage.