Jon Gruden still thinks it was a fumble.
It’s been nearly two decades since the Raiders coach walked out of a snow-covered Foxboro Stadium on the wrong end of a 16-13 overtime loss to New England during the 2001 playoffs.
The game turned late in the fourth quarter when Tom Brady was hit from behind and lost the ball. Initially ruled a fumble, it was reversed upon review and determined to be an incomplete pass under the obscure “tuck rule.”
The Patriots tied the game, won it on an Adam Vinatieri field goal and rode the momentum to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win.
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Yeah, thanks for bringing that up,” Gruden said this week. “He did fumble that damn ball.”
Now back with the Raiders after stints in Tampa Bay and as a broadcaster, Gruden returns to New England on Sunday in search of his first coaching win against Bill Belichick’s Patriots. In his only other trip to New England in 2005, Gruden’s Buccaneers lost 28-0.
He said opening this season at Carolina and playing New Orleans on Monday night made him feel as if he was in a “time warp” and back in the NFC South as Tampa Bay’s coach.
That nostalgia is even more amplified this week against the Patriots.
“Anytime you step in a stadium like that, it does bring back memories,” Gruden said. “Some of the memories aren’t great, but we’re excited to play.”
So, too, is New England, which is trying to rebound from a 35-30 loss to Seattle.
As two coaches who basically ascended the coaching ranks around the same time, Belichick said his respect for Gruden has remained strong, even during his decade-long coaching hiatus after leaving Tampa Bay in 2008.
“It’s a lot easier to have a relationship with somebody who’s not in direct competition with you,” Belichick said.
He believes Gruden’s time in the broadcast booth has given him a perspective he didn’t have in their previous two meetings.
But Belichick expects they will tuck away most of the pleasantries Sunday.
“When you’re in competition with somebody else, it just changes a little bit during that time period,” Belichick said. “But I’m sure at some point that it will be a different type of relationship.”
WATCH OUT FOR WALLER
Derek Carr’s favorite target this season has been his athletic tight end Darren Waller. The two connected on 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown last week and Waller’s 18 catches are the second most through two weeks in Raiders history.
“He’ll definitely be a problem for us,” Belichick said. “There’s not one thing you can take away from him. He does a lot things, does a lot of things well.”
Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore will likely draw the primary assignment on Waller. It comes a week after the reigning Defensive Player of the Year had a rough outing at Seattle, giving up a 54-yard TD to DK Metcalf. It was the first TD Gilmore has allowed as the primary defender on a play since 2018.
The Patriots secondary didn’t fare better as a unit, allowing five passing touchdowns after giving up just four in all of 2019.
Carr isn’t worried about what New England might employ to neutralize Waller.
“We’re not a selfish team,” he said. “If they want to take something away, then other guys will step up.”
MOVING ON UP
New England quarterback Cam Newton enters Sunday needing just 1 rushing yard to pass Randall Cunningham for the second-most career rushing yards by a quarterback in NFL history. Michael Vick is first with 6,109 yards.
Newton has rushed for multiple touchdowns in each of the first two games this season. The Patriots’ single-season record for consecutive games with two or more rushing TDs is three by Horace Ivory (1978) and Curtis Martin (1995).
OBEY THE RULES
The Raiders have spent most of their existence on the wrong side of the officials, typically being one of the most penalized teams each season. So far this season, that hasn’t been the case. Las Vegas has just three penalties in each of the first two games of the season, with only the Patriots having fewer with five total. The Raiders have also benefited from penalties with their opponents being called for 15 for 194 yards, ranking second most in both categories.
FINISH THE DRIVE
The Raiders were successful moving the ball in 2019, but struggled to score in large part to some poor red zone play. That was a focus of training camp and the results are encouraging through two games. Josh Jacobs ran for three TDs in the red zone in Week 1 and Carr threw three red zone TD passes last week. In all, the Raiders have six touchdowns and two field goals on eight trips inside the 20.