Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 of the NFL rule book, which states that "any intentional forward movement of [the thrower's] arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body."
That is the NFL’s Tuck rule, which was instituted in 1999. The rule was repealed in March of 2013 by a vote of 29-1 with two abstentions. The reason for the repeal was due to this controversial call impacting games at key moments. There is no better example of this happening than during a Divisional Playoff game in Foxboro between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders on January 19th, 2002, which has since come to be known as “The Tuck Rule Game”.
Tom Brady had taken over as the Patriots quarterback, after Drew Bledsoe was knocked out earlier in the season, and was preparing to start his first ever playoff game. The Oakland Raiders had made the long cross-country trip after defeating the New Yorks Jets at home the previous week. The Raiders were coached by Jon Gruden, and had started the season 8-2, but finished 10-6, losing their final three games of the regular season. The Raiders would not only have to deal with the time zone adjustment, but the California team also had to deal winter conditions. It was a blustery New England day, with 28-degree temperatures, wind, and a steady snowfall.
The game began with each time fighting to find their footing, and neither team was able to score in the first quarter. The Raiders had the ball in good field position at the start of the second quarter, and proceeded to drive 50 yards downfield, culminating in a James Jett 13-yard touchdown catch. That would be the only score of the half, with the Raiders leading 7-0.
The Patriots received the second half kickoff, and Tom Brady led a methodical six minute plus drive down to the Raiders five-yard line, but stalled out there. The Patriots would have to settle for an Adam Vinatieri 23-yard field goal, to cut the lead to 7-3. The Raiders dominated the rest of the third quarter scoring, but only mustered two Sebastian Janikowski field goals and a 13-3 lead heading into the final quarter.
It was at this point that Tom Brady gave the first glimpse of the clutch quarterback he would become. The Patriots got possession of the ball at their own 33-yard line, with 12:29 left to play. Brady would complete nine consecutive passes on the drive, which ended with a Brady 6-yard scramble for a touchdown and only 7:57 remaining in the game. The Patriots now trailed 13-10.
The Raiders then put a decent drive together, but stalled out at the Patriots 45-yard line and were forced to punt. Brady and the Pats were unable to do anything on the drive, and were forced to punt back to the Raiders with only 2:41 left to play in the game. Charlie Garner ran for seven yards on the first play, followed by the Patriots first timeout. Garner would carry again for two yards, followed by the Patriots second timeout. On the crucial third and one play the Raiders gave the ball to 240-pound fullback Zack Crockett, who was shut down for no gain by Teddy Bruschi and Ty Law. Oakland would have to punt. This is when the fun began.
Troy Brown returned the punt 27 yards, before he fumbled the ball. Luckily for the Patriots, teammate Larry Izzo recovered the fumble at the Patriots 46-yard line with 2:06 remaining. Brady would then complete a pass to Kevin Faulk for seven yards, followed by a scramble for five yards. New England had first and ten at the Raiders 42-yard line with 1:50 left to play. Tom Brady dropped back to pass, pumped the ball and pulled it back when it was knocked out of his hands by Oakland’s Charles Woodson, and recovered by teammate Greg Biekert. The ruling on the field by head referee Walt Coleman was fumbled and recovered by Oakland, but the game was inside the two-minute warning meaning replays were initiated by the replay official. Replay official Rex Stuart called for a review of the play. The replay showed that Brady started to throw the ball but when he felt Woodson’s pressure he brought the ball back, bringing his throwing arm down and tucking the ball, like he was going to run with or protect the ball.
When Walt Coleman exited the replay booth, he ruled that the pass was incomplete due to the tuck rule. It was at this point that NFL fans became acutely aware of Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 of the NFL rulebook. The Patriots maintained possession of the ball and would finish the drive five plays later with an Adam Vinatieri 45-yard field goal to tie the game 13-13 with only 0:32 left in regulation. The game would go to overtime, and it was clear that the wind had been taken out of the Raiders sails after the tuck call took their fumble recovery away.
New England won the toss, and elected to receive the overtime kickoff. Brady led the Patriots on the first of many big game winning drives. Brady would complete nine consecutive passes during the 15-play, 61-yard drive that lasted 8:25. Brady drove the Patriots all the way to the Raiders 5-yard line, before Adam Vinatieri sealed the game with a 23-yard field goal.
Needless to say, Oakland felt cheated out of this game, and it would even cost Jon Gruden his job with the Raiders. It would go on to become known as “The Tuck Rule Game”, and it will forever remain that way in history, now that the rule has been abolished. The impact of this game became two fold, as it also became the catalyst to Tom Brady becoming Tom Brady. If the Raiders had won that game, it would have been one and done for Tom in his first playoff game. Instead, he would rally that into his first of three Super Bowl victories. The Raiders would make it to the Super Bowl the following season, although they would run into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coached by Jon Gruden, who destroyed his former team 48-21. In the end, the tuck rule was all bad for Oakland, and all good for New England and Tom Brady.