NFL Milestone Games. The most significant game of each decade – the 2000’s.

NFL Milestone Games. The most significant game of each decade – the 2000’s.
Reading Time: 13 minutes.

Selecting the ‘Milestone Games’ gives us an opportunity to look back over the 100 year history of the NFL and select the most meaningful match-up of each decade.

We started with the Galloping Ghost in the 1920’s, and the first playoff game in the 1930’s. Then onto the popularization of the T-formation in the 1940’s. The ‘greatest game ever played’ in the 1950’s, one of the great upsets in Superbowl III from the 1960’s. A franchise founding game for the Steelers with the immaculate reception in the 1970’s. We took a look at another franchise founding game in the 1980’s, this time for the 49ers with ‘The Catch’. Latterly we saw a brutal but brilliant NFC Championship game from the 1990’s.

We will be moving all the way to the 2010’s and will explore the games that made the NFL what it is today. Now we are into the 2000’s. An era that saw the NFL become even more dominant in the US sporting landscape.

With that in mind we will look at a game that changed who was at the top of the pile in the NFL. This was a game that set the table for the most consistently dominant team of the twenty-first century. The New England Patriots were a coming force and this win opened the door for them to be that force.

This is all very subjective of course, and you may well disagree. If you do, let us know in the comments below, or contact us at Ninety-Nine Yards.

Some Key Games in the 2000’s

As with every decade, the 2000’s offered a variety of memorable games. Games were played out on the gridiron up and down the land. And in international venues as the NFL extended its global reach. Oh, and a new force was rising to prominence in New England that would come to dominate the new era.

Monday Night Miracle

Strap yourself in for this idea if you’re a recent convert to the NFL. In October 2000 the 5-0 Jets hosted the 5-0 Dolphins on Monday night football with control of the AFC East at stake.

The Fins were 17-0 up after a quarter. Led by 23-7 at the half and 30-7 after three quarters. This was in the bag. Except it wasn’t. The Jets mounted an astonishing fourth quarter comeback to pull the score to 30-30.

Miami responded with 46 yard TD pass but the Jets came back again, tied it up with less than 30 seconds to go and hit a winning Field Goal (40-37) in overtime.

Just to complete how Bizarro the NFL in 2000 would seem to the recent fan, the Jets finished 10-6 that season and the Dolphins won the Division with and 11-5 record. Oh, and the Patriots finished at 5-11! Since then of course the Pats have had 19 consecutive winning seasons.

The Music City Miracle

2000 was clearly the year of the Miracle! This one came in the playoffs as the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans squared off. It was a back and forth affair throughout regulation.

In the fourth quarter, the Titans were ahead 15-13 with 1:48 left. But the Bills drove down the field and took a 16-15 lead with only 16 seconds left on the clock.

Titans special-teams coordinator Alan Lowry sent in the play  “Home Run Throwback”.

The Bills kicked off, and Titan Lorenzo Neal caught the ball. Neal handed the ball off to tight end Frank Wycheck, who started toward his right, and then threw a lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson, who then ran down the sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown. 

Dyson wasn’t really supposed to get the ball. He was in for the play because wide receiver Derrick Mason had suffered a concussion and safety Anthony Dorsett Jr. had cramped up.

Officials reviewed the play, to see if Wycheck made an illegal forward pass. The video was inconclusive. Because of this the ruling of a lateral was upheld.

So the Titans won 22-16, and the Music City Miracle was born.

One Yard Shy

2000 saw another close and memorable game when Super Bowl XXXIV rolled around. The 13-3 Rams and their high powered, high scoring ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ faced off against the balanced 13-3 Titans who had arrived via the Music City Miracle.

The Rams were winning a defensive contest 16-0 in the third when the Titans came to life. Tennessee responded by scoring 16 consecutive points to tie the game with 2:12 left in regulation.

The following drive saw the Rams explosive O finally open up with a 73 yard TD pass to re-take the lead.

The Titans then drove to the St. Louis 10-yard line with six seconds remaining. On the final play of the game, Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson one yard short of the goal line to prevent a potential touchdown.

For Titans fans this play will forever be known as ‘One yard short’. Had they scored an XP could have tied it or a 2 point conversion potentially won it. For Rams fans the play is known simply as ‘The tackle’.

Fourth and 26

January the 11th 2004 saw a tightly contested NFC Divisional game. The 10-6 Packers had travelled to the 12-4 Eagles and jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead.

The Packers were being led by Brett Favre and the Eagles had Donovan McNabb under centre.

After some defensive dominance the Eagles tied it at 14-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter. McNabb was responsible for all of the 72 yards on the game-tying drive, rushing for 37 yards and completing four passes for the rest, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to Pinkston.

Green Bay went ahead once more on a Ryan Longwell Field Goal late in the game. Two incompletions, a sack and a 5 yard false start penalty left the Eagles looking at fourth and twenty six with 1:12 on the clock and no timeouts. Green Bay looked almost certain to win.

McNabb hit Mitchell with a strike for a 28 yard gain as the Packers Cover 2 D broke down on the play. David Akers went on to kick a game tying Field Goal and a winner in overtime. The Eagles won a classic remebered more than anything for this one play.

Wardrobe Malfunction

Super Bowl XXXVIII saw the New England Patritos edge the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in a thriller.

It was an important moment in the development of the franchise on its way to becoming the dominant force it is today. This win proved they were no fluke having won 2 years earlier. They would further that point by having a true Dynasty and winning it all the very next year too.

These moments also helped embelish the legend of Belichik (coach of the year), and Brady – MVP in a Super Bowl for a second time.

With the score tied at 29 New England got the ball on their own 40-yard line. Brady led a game winning drive as Adam Vinatieri kicked a 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds on the clock.

But this game was probably more famous at the time to non NFL fans for an infamous Half-Time Show. As Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake sang a duet of Rock Your Body to some, let’s say, suggestive dance moves, Timberlake pulled off a part of Jackson’s costume as they reached the last line, “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song.”

Jackson was left with a sun shaped nipple shield on view. The network cut away but not in time for people at home to miss what was happening. There were numerous complaints. This incident genetated at least as many headlines as the game.

The Saints March Home

It was Spetmeber 2006 and the New Orelans Saints were finally coming home to the Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

They hosted the Atlanta Falcons for a Monday Night Football match and won 23-3. The game was almost incidental however to the symbolism of the Saints playing for the city and representing the denizens of New Orleans endurance in the face of tragedy.

There was a tremendous atmosphere for this one, and an outpouring of shared emotion you don’t often get at a football game.

London Calling for the NFL

The Miami Dolphins were the host team. The New York Giants were the visitors. Neither was on home soil however. On October the 28th, 2007 the Giants defeated the Dolphins 13–10 in the first regular season NFL game played outside North America.

The game wasn’t that exciting. The rain came down and it got messy. But spirits were high and the experiment was a success. 40,000 tickets sold in an hour and half. Wembley was sold out and rocking by kickoff. You can judge the success of this game by what came after it.

There was a single NFL game in London from 2007-2012. Then in 2013 came 2 regular season games in London. Then from 2014-19 either 2 or 4 games every year. Only the dreaded Covid snapped the run this year.

The upshot is that UK fans have had every team in the NFL except Green Bay play a meaningful game on these shores. And it is all beacuse of this first game in 2007. For the record Giants quarterback Eli Manning only completed 8 of 22 passes for 59 yards, but it was enough on the day.

The game was a clunker in the rain. And it featured a poor Dolphins team who fell to 0-8 with the loss. But, the fans were happy to see a real regular season contest. Plus, the Giants would go on to win the Super Bowl that year over the New England Patriots 17-14 in thriller. Which helped undermine the argument that coming to London would disrupt your season.

Manning & the Colts get past Brady & the Patriots

Brady V Manning. It was the great debate. For Colts and Patriots fans the two talismanic quarterbacks were the focal point of a great rivalry from 2000 to 2015.

But from 2002 -2005 however well the Colts did in the regular season it all came to nothing. They had a 48-16 regular season record. Manning was named NFL MVP three times in a row (2003-5). Yet, they kept stumbling in the playoffs. Twice to Brady and the Patriots.

Over the same period the Pats went 47-17 in the regular season. And were a playoff juggernaut. They won two Super Bowls and Brady may not have been league MVP but was a double Super Bowl MVP (picking one up in 2001 too).

It was like a psychological block for Manning and the Colts. The Super Bowl was on the horizon but Brady and the Patriots were always too good in the playoffs. Until the 2006 season.

Both the Colts and Patriots finished 12-4 and on the 21st of January 2007 they met in Indianapolis for the AFC crown.

Things went to the usual depressing script for Manning and the Colts to start with. They were down 21-3 in the second quarter.

However, this time it would be different. The Colts mounted an 18 point comeback. Then the largest ever in an NFL conference championship game. Manning and the Colts gained 455 offensive yards, and 32 first downs against the vaunted Pats D.

Even after the comeback Gostkowski kicked a 43-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 34–31 lead with 3:49 left in the game. After an exchange of possesions the Colts got moving. Manning led an 81 yard drive capped by a Joseph Addai rushing TD.

Brady was picked off and finally the Colts, and particularly Manning, had the monkey off their back. They would go on to win Super Bowl XLI 29-17 against the Bears.

The Helmet Catch denies perfection

The ‘Helmet Catch‘ is a defining moment in Super Bowl history. Ranked as one of the great moments in the NFL 100 year history celebrations. It has also been called the greatest play in Super Bowl history.

But this game was about so much more than the catch. This was the game that denied the second shot at the perfect rarity of a perfect season in NFL history.

Going into Super Bowl XLII the Pats seemed unstoppable. They had been in 5 AFC championship games in a 7 year span and were appearing in their 4th Super Bowl in the same time frame. They had walked away with the Lombardi Trophy the last three times.

Added to that was their incredible 2007 season. Tom Brady was league MVP and Offensive player of the year as the offense exploded across the NFL. Belichcick was coach of the year leading an 18-0 juggernaut that averaged an intimidating 37-17 game score over the regular season.

The Pats beat the Gaints in New Jersey in the last week of the season. That was the Patriots’ 19th consecutive regular season victory, breaking their own record set during the 2003–2004 season. When the 18-0 Patriots and 12-6 Ginats met in the Super Bowl it looked like a mismatch.

However the Giants D line upset the Patriots rythm all game long and Brady wasn’t as clinical as usual. That said Brady still went 29 of 48 for 266 yards and a TD with no picks. He also led a potential game winning drive late in the game prior to the ‘Helmet Catch’. Holding New England to 45 yards on the ground was key for the Giants.

The Patriots led 7-3 at the half and were up 14–10 with 2:42 left in the game following an 80 yard TD drive.

35 seconds from NFL perfection

New York went on a 12 play 83 yard scoring drive to re-take the lead 17-14 with 35 seconds on the clock. The Helmet Catch came on 3rd and 5 from the Giants 44.

David Tyree caught a 32 yard pass, clutched against his helmet whilst All-Pro safety Rodney Harrison jumped off against him for the catch.

The catch was amazing. But perhaps more astonishing on the play is the way Eli Manning pulled a Houdini against the New England D line. Manning eluded three potential tacklers and what looked like a certain sack as Green and Seymour both had him by the jersey. Re-watch it. Even though you know he’ll break free it still looks like he’s about to be sacked.

This play and this performance denied the all conquering Patriots the jewel in the crown of a perfect season. Instead of going 19-0 and inevitably being compared to the 1972 Dolphins (doubtless for the better), they found themselves in the company of the 1934 & 1942 Chicago Bears who had gone into the NFL title game as unbeaten favourites only to trip at the last hurdle.

The 2000’s NFL Milestone Game itself

January 19th 2002. New England Patriots 16 Oakland Raiders 13

Foxboro Stadium, Massachusets. Attendance 60,292

This game was ranked the 15th greatest NFL game of all time. And on first inspection it seems to have it all. A playoff contest. A Divisional contest that saw two good teams face off. The 10-6 Raiders traveled to the 11-5 Patriots and their snow bound home field.

This may have been a tight defensive game between two strong teams. But it is most remembered for one controversial play. Was Brady sacked or did he throw an incomplete pass? We’ll get to that later.

Old AFL Rivals

When the AFL was founded in 1960 few foresaw the impact it would have on the football landscape. By 1966 the AFL and NFL were merging into a single entity. The Patriots and Raiders were founder members.

They long held a cross coast rivalry. The Pats were often second best to a Raiders team that appeared in 3 AFL title games, 10 AFC championships and won 3 Super Bowl games prior to this season. New England meanwhile had appeared in 1 AFL title game, 2 AFC championships and been handily beaten in two Super Bowls.

Snow Bowl

For some this will ever be the ‘Tuck Rule Game’. It is also sometimes referred to as the Snow Bowl because it was played in a thick blanket of falling snow at Foxboro Stadium.

Which helps to explain the low scoring nature of the game. As the snow continued to fall the first half saw both teams manage just one third down completion between them.

Rich Gannon was efficient without being explosive for the Raiders. Because of the conditions his first half performance going 10 of 14 for 87 yards and 1 TD were a success. Oakland led 7-0 at the break thanks to a 13 yard TD hauled in by James Jett.

Brady was subsequently picked off as the half fizzled out. We need to remember at this point this wasn’t the Brady we would come to know. He was a backup leading the team due to injury to starter Drew Bledsoe when the Pats were 0-2. A sixth round draft pick who was a relatively unknown quantity at this point.

So it was quite extraordinary to see New England come out passing in the second half in the snow behind their little known backup.

Starting to Drive

Where the first half had been piecemeal both teams started to get drives going after hafltime. The Patriots went 62 yards in 12 plays to the Raiders’ 5-yard line before kicking a Field Goal to make it 7-3.

Oakland responded with a 10-play, 43-yard drive capped by a 38-yard field goal of their own. A second field goal, from 45 yards, gave the Raiders a 13–3 lead. It appeared the more experienced Raiders were in control at this point heading into the fourth quarter.

Which is when we saw something of what Brady would become. Because he led the Patriots on a 10-play, 67-yard drive, completing nine consecutive passes for 61 yards before running in a 6-yard touchdown with 7:57 left to make the score 13–10.

The Tuck Rule Play

New England were looking at second and three around midfield. Brady was looking to pass and pumped the ball. Nobody was open. As he seemingly tucked the ball towards his body he was hit by blitzing cornerback Charles Woodson. The ball popped loose and Oakland recoverd the ball.

Officials originally ruled a fumble. But the play was under review. Video replay called the play an incomplete forward pass and Brady and the Pats had a second chance.

Raiders fans have long complained that this play turned the game. Many point to this play as the moment that sparked the Patriots dominance that was to come. But was it the right call?

At this time NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 stated  “When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his 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. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.”

Therein lies the debate. Brady had moved his arm forward when pumping the ball to pass. He was tucking the ball towards his body. But had that motion completed before he lost the ball?

The play was initially ruled a fumble. Because of that instant-replay rules at the time required the referee to see “incontrovertible visual evidence” on the replay that Brady had not “tucked the ball into his body and then lost possession”. That could not be seen.

If you watch the play back it looks like a fumble. But, given the NFL rules at this time it was probably the right call.

After the Call

Now still in the game Brady led the Pats O to a potential game tying Field Goal. Adam Vinatieri did the honours tying the game from 45 yards with just 27 seconds left. In swirling snowy conditions with the season on the line. Here was a kicker that could kick under pressure!

In overtime the Pats won the toss. Against the prevailing wind they went 61 yards in 15 plays. Brady went 8 of 8 passing on the drive. Vinatieri kicked a game winning 23 yard Field Goal to send New England to the AFC Championship game.

Brady had a staggering second half performance in the conditions completing 26 of 39 passes for 238 yards.

Aftermath of the 2000’s NFL Milestone Game

The tuck rule was used a total of 4 times in the 14-year time it was in the NFL rulebook. Twice that year. A fact often forgotten being that the Patriots had been on the receiving end of the self same ruling earlier in the season. Because of that they knew where they stood here.

This would be the single most important time it was used though. It seemed to free up Brady and the Patriots. They would win the Super Bowl that year.

As the Pats fell back to 9-7 in 2002 the core of this Raiders team went 11-5. This time they made it to Super Bowl XXXVII. But they were well beaten by Tampa Bay.

And that could have been that. A single play that defined a fairytale season for New England. Except we know it wasn’t. They would go 28-4 and pick up back to back titles, winning 3 in 4 years. And that was just the beginning. Since the tuck rule game New England have appeared in 13 AFC championship games, and nine Super Bowls winning six of them.

Tom Brady that little know quantity at QB has become a 14 time pro Bowl, 3 time league MVP and 4 time Super Bowl MVP lock for the Hall of Fame.

As for the Raiders? After their Super Bowl appearance they have made one playoff appearance in the last 17 years.

This is our Milestone game of the 2000’s. A game that sent two franchises in differing directions. And a game that opened up the opportunity for the Patriots to launch one of the most consistently dominant eras in league history for one team.

Banner image: wbur.org

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