Patriots 16, Raiders 13, OT

Sunday, January 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) _ The New England Patriots plowed into the AFC championship game with a big push from the referee.

On a night when a snowstorm limited visibility, referee Walt Coleman stared into the replay screen and overturned an apparent fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who then led them to a 16-13 overtime win over the Oakland Raiders on Saturday night.

``I wasn't sure. Yeah, I was throwing the ball,'' Brady said with a smile. ``How do you like that?''

The Patriots retained the ball with 1:43 left in regulation, and Adam Vinatieri lined a tying 45-yard field goal through the snowflakes and the uprights with 27 seconds remaining.

He had a much easier task in overtime, connecting from 23 yards at 8:29 of the extra session as the Raiders never got the ball. They insisted they should have had it when Charles Woodson blitzed Brady and Greg Biekert fell on the loose ball at the Oakland 42-yard line.

But replay official Rex Stuart ordered a video review, his right in the last two minutes of a half or a game, and Coleman ruled Brady's arm was going forward when he was hit, making the play an incompletion.

``He pumped the ball, brought it back down. Maybe he wanted to bring it back up. Ball came out, game over,'' Woodson said. ``It kind of took the air out of a lot of guys. We knew the game was over. We were celebrating.''

Prematurely, as it turned out.

``When I got over to the replay monitor and looked at it, it was obvious that his arm was coming forward,'' Coleman said. ``He was trying to tuck the ball and they just knocked it out of his hand.''

In overtime, Brady completed all eight of his passes for 45 yards, Antowain Smith ran five times for 16 yards to the 5 and Vinatieri gave the Patriots their seventh straight win and a berth in the conference title game against the winner of Sunday's game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

``I kind of line-drived it,'' Vinatieri said of his tying kick, ``but when I looked up I knew it was going to be straight enough. I had to wait to see if it would be long enough. It was time to be happy after that.''

The Raiders were anything but that after the game they felt they should have won.

``I feel like we had one taken away from us,'' Oakland's Jerry Rice said.

The conditions took away players' footing and may have contributed to Brady's success on the final drive on which he completed quick, short passes before the Raiders could reach the receiver. Jermaine Wiggins, who had 14 receptions all season, had three of his 10 catches on that drive. The key play was Brady's 6-yard pass to David Patten on fourth-and-4 at the Oakland 28.

.``We don't quit,'' Wiggins said. ``We never quit.''

And the snow-covered fans who stuck around to the end were rewarded as flash cameras flickered throughout Foxboro Stadium as Vinatieri made his winning kick.

The Patriots, who finished in the AFC East cellar at 5-11 last season and started 0-2 this season, are 12-3 since Brady succeeded an injured Drew Bledsoe in the third game.

``We've played in bad weather. We've played at night. We've been in a lot of situations and it made us stronger,'' said Brady, who completed 32 of 52 passes for 312 yards. ``There's four inches of snow out there. You just do whatever you got to do to win.''

Oakland's Rich Gannon, the AFC's top-rated passer, was 17-for-31 for 159 yards.

The game may have been the last at Foxboro Stadium, built for $6.7 million and opened for the 1971 season. The Patriots will play next season at CMGi Field, being built on adjacent property for $325 million.

If Pittsburgh wins Sunday, the Steelers will be home the following weekend. If Baltimore wins, the Patriots will have one more home game.

During breaks in play, workmen wielding leaf blowers cleared snow at 5-yard intervals starting with the goal line.

``I thought both teams handled'' the conditions, Oakland coach Jon Gruden said. ``We had never been in something like that before.''

It was reminiscent of the ``Snowplow Game,'' one of the oddest moments in the stadium's 31-year history. On Dec. 12, 1982, work-release convict Mark Henderson used a snowplow to clear a spot for John Smith to kick the winning field goal in New England's 3-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

The victory came 25 years after another official's call went against the Patriots in a playoff game at Oakland.

The Raiders won that one 24-21 on Dec. 18, 1976, after referee Ben Dreith called a roughing-the-passer penalty against Pats nose tackle Ray Hamilton as Ken Stabler's pass on third-and-18 fell incomplete. The Patriots argued the call, but five plays later Stabler ran 1 yard for the winning touchdown on the final drive.

Vinatieri, who kicked three field goals, was the hero on the final drive Saturday after sending the game into overtime

The South Dakota native said the conditions were among the toughest he's kicked in. The gametime temperature was 25 degrees. There was almost no wind, but about 3 inches of snow coated the end zone by the end of the game.

The Raiders led 7-0 at halftime on Gannon's 13-yard pass to James Jett, who caught two passes all season. Vinatieri kicked a 23-yard field goal with 6:21 gone in the third quarter, but Sebastian Janikowski's kicks of 38 and 45 yards put Oakland ahead 13-3 going into the fourth.

With the Patriots playing their second game in 28 days, Brady finally found his stride early in the fourth quarter, completing nine consecutive passes in a drive that ended with his 6-yard scoring run _ the first TD of his NFL career _ that made it 13-10 with 7:52 left.

Notes: The Patriots are 4-0 when it snows at Foxboro Stadium. ... Bill Belichick, who led New England from worst to first in the AFC East in his two years as head coach, finished second to Dick Jauron in The Associated Press coach of the year balloting announced Saturday. ... Both teams struggled on the ground, with Oakland rushing for 77 yards and New England for 68.