Reliving Patriots' Snow Bowl game, start to Tom Brady's playoff career

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Reliving Brady's best moments in New England: The 'Snow Bowl' game originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Let's face it: Tom Brady didn't become the greatest quarterback of all time without a little bit of luck.

The 44-year-old QB will return to New England on Sunday for the first time since leaving the Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March 2020. Brady made countless memories and mounted countless incredible comebacks at Gillette Stadium, but one of the best moments of his career came in the final game at the old Foxboro Stadium.

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As Brady prepares for his homecoming, we're reliving his best moments at the place he called home for two decades. First up: the contest known famously as the "Snow Bowl" game -- and infamously as the "Tuck Rule" game.

The date

Jan. 19, 2002

The matchup and result

AFC Divisional Round: Patriots 13, Oakland Raiders 10 (OT)

The backstory

When Mo Lewis leveled Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 of the 2001 season, the Patriots seemed destined for a second straight losing season. But the 24-year-old Brady kept the team afloat and helped New England win six straight to close the regular season, setting up a home playoff game in the AFC Divisional Round against a tough Oakland Raiders team.

The game

Led by Pro Bowler Rich Gannon and a stout Jon Gruden defense, the Raiders took a 7-0 lead into halftime and led 13-3 late in the third quarter amid heavy snowfall on the natural grass field.

Enter Brady, who lumbered for a six-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to cut Oakland's lead to 13-10.

But with 1:48 remaining, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson drilled Brady in the backfield, forcing a fumble which Oakland recovered. Game over, right? Not quite.

Citing the "Tuck Rule," the officials ruled the play an incomplete pass, allowing New England's drive to continue. Brady maneuvered the offense to Oakland's 28-yard line, where Adam Vinatieri drilled a 45-yard line drive in a snowstorm (arguably the best kick in Patriots history) with 32 seconds remaining to force overtime.

You know the rest: Brady marched New England down the field in OT on a steady diet of passes to J.R. Redmond and Jermaine Wiggins, setting up Vinatieri's game-winning field goal from 23 yards out that propelled the Patriots to the next round.

The aftermath

Sure, Brady got a little lucky on the fumble that never was. But the Snow Bowl was Brady's first real display of his mastery late in games, and a message to the rest of the league that the Patriots might have something in their fiery young QB.

In case anyone didn't get the message, Brady delivered it loud and clear a few weeks later. After the Patriots knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in the AFC Championship Game (with help from Drew Bledsoe), Brady led a game-winning drive to stun the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Foxboro Stadium was demolished after the 2001 season, but the Patriots made sure it got a proper send-off -- while Brady showed us an early glimpse of the clutch performer he would become.