The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tom Brady admits it ‘might have been a fumble’ in the tuck-rule game

Totally a fumble. (Elise Amendola/AP)
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I know it was a fumble. You know it was a fumble. Anyone with functioning eyesight knows it was a fumble. And now Tom Brady, the fumbler himself, seems to be coming around to the fact that his tuck-rule-abetted “incomplete pass” against the Raiders in the AFC divisional playoffs in 2002 was, yes, a fumble.

“The ‘Tuck Rule Game,’ against the Raiders … it might have been a fumble,” Brady said Thursday in a quick clip posted to his Twitter feed.

Brady tried to walk things back a few minutes later:

A recap is probably in order. In January 2002, the Patriots hosted the Raiders in a snowy divisional round playoff game. With less than two minutes remaining and the Patriots down three, Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson came untouched around the end to wreck Brady, knocking the ball loose. It was recovered by Oakland linebacker Greg Biekert, and the Raiders appeared headed to the AFC championship game for the second straight season.

But after reviewing the play, referee Walt Coleman declared it an incomplete pass because of NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2, which had been enacted only three years earlier and had rarely, if ever, been applied.

The Post’s Mark Maske explained the rule in a 2005 story:

In Coleman’s eyes, Brady had not yet completed tucking the ball back against his body, so he was still in his throwing motion and the play was incomplete. You be the judge:

You know the rest. The Patriots kept the ball and forced overtime on Adam Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal with 27 seconds left, then won the game on another field goal in the extra period. They beat the Steelers and then the Rams to win their first Super Bowl, then won five more with Brady at quarterback before he left for Tampa Bay, where he has since won another.

And it all started when Brady’s complete and utter fumble was ruled incomplete.

“I’m probably the backup QB going into 2002,” Brady said in “Tuck Rule,” an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that was released earlier this year. “I’m not the starter if we lose that game.”

Despite the fact that nearly everyone on Earth thought it was hogwash, the tuck rule itself somehow lasted another 11 years before it was stricken from the NFL rule book in 2013. Now, it’s a fumble when a quarterback loses the ball after finishing his throwing motion and bringing the ball back down; in other words, it doesn’t matter if he’s still trying to tuck the ball into his body once he completes his throwing motion. It’s an incompletion if the quarterback loses the ball with his arm in the throwing motion.

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