But while the controversial yet correctly applied rule — one that overturned a game-clinching fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady late in the fourth quarter — was the pivotal moment in the showdown, it was far from the only big play. In fact, another significant one took place just a short time later.
After the Tuck Rule allowed the Patriots to keep the ball with under two minutes left on the clock, Brady connected with wide receiver David Patten to gain 13 yards and set up New England on the Raiders 29-yard line. Two incomplete throws and a 1-yard Brady scramble later, the home team faced a 4th-and-9 with 32 seconds remaining and down three points.
It was Adam Vinatieri time.
Despite the challenging conditions at the old Foxboro Stadium that day, Vinatieri had made his lone field goal attempt of the day up until that point. That 23-yarder in the third quarter was an easy task compared to the one that lay ahead, though.
In order for the Patriots to tie the game at 13 and keep their already miraculous season alive, the former rookie free agent had to split the uprights from 45 yards away through snow and wind. He did just that:
45 yards. Driving snowstorm. Swirling wind. Zero footing. Season on the line.— Chris Mason (@ByChrisMason) May 26, 2021
“I would say it was by far the greatest kick I have ever seen.” — Bill Belichick
Vinatieri’s career — one that ended on Wednesday when he announced his retirement — had multiple big moments. Whether it was chasing down Hershel Walker on a kickoff return, making game-winning field goals in two Super Bowls, or becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer, the now 48-year-old has an impressive and Hall of Fame-worthy résumé to look back on.
However, the game-tying kick against Oakland stands out due to the sheer degree of difficulty and what it eventually meant for the Patriots.
“I would say it was by far the greatest kick I have ever seen,” New England head coach Bill Belichick said about the field goal back in 2018. “The conditions were very difficult. There were probably three to four inches of snow on the ground. It was a soft snow that kind of didn’t go away. I mean, there was no way to get around it. The magnitude of the kick was significant. It’s got to be the greatest kick of all time, certainly that I’ve seen.”
Also in 2018, Vinatieri had appeared on the Rich Eisen Show to talk about the kick as well. Even with 783 other field goal attempts to choose from, he picked the Tuck Rule kick as the most difficult one he ever had to attempt.
“Just the sheer difficulty. I mean, there’s six inches of snow on the ground, we’re down by three, no time left on the clock — I don’t think you can portray a more crazy situation or a more difficult situation for you,” Vinatieri said. “It’s probably a pretty low-percentage kick. I know everybody asked me when it first happened. ‘Ah, you know, probably 50-50.’ I look back and think back, it’s probably a lot less than that. But I made the one that I needed to.”
Vinatieri’s 45-yarder against the Raiders helped the Patriots stay alive in the game. They later won the overtime coin toss, marched down the field and decided the contest on another kick — this one from a comparatively easy 23 yards out.
Two weeks later, Vinatieri did it again to win the team its first ever Super Bowl and complete an upset against the highly-favored St. Louis Rams. While that field goal had to travel a longer distance — 48 yards — and happened on the biggest stage in the sport with a championship on the line, the conditions were far more favorable for the kicker playing in New Orleans’ Superdome.
All of that would not have been possible without the best kick the league has ever seen.
That field goal gave Vinatieri an opportunity to even attempt the one in the Super Bowl, and helped him build a legacy as the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history.
“Maybe some of [the other moments] never happen,” Vinatieri said three years ago. “I know that Super Bowl, we don’t have an opportunity to play in that if we don’t win that game. I think that one’s probably the one that I’m most proud of because it’s probably the most difficult kick I ever had.”