FOXBOROUGH - They reacted with a mixture of anger and disbelief, with anger eventually winning out.
The Oakland Raiders left snowy Foxboro Stadium last night following their 16-13 overtime loss to the Patriots in an AFC Divisonal playoff convinced of one thing: They had been jobbed.
The flash point for their anger was the so-called incomplete pass thrown by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with 1:50 remaining in regulation and the Patriots trailing, 13-10.
The Raiders contended Brady had fumbled the ball (as had been ruled on the field), they had recovered, and the game was all but over.
Referee Walt Coleman, after looking at instant replay, thought otherwise and reversed the call.
The Patriots parlayed that into a 45-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal with 27 seconds left that sent the game into overtime, and a winning 23-yarder with 8:25 gone in overtime. As a result, New England has a spot in AFC Championship game a week from today.
Not surprisingly, the Raiders were not happy. “The referees have been making calls against us all year,” said strong safety Johnny Harris. “I don’t know why they are against the Raiders. They have old men calling the game. It was 11 against 14 out there. It’s unbelievable.”
Almost to a man, the Raiders felt they had the game won down the stretch. They felt they had control of the momentum.
Then came the call, which left Oakland feeling cheated.
“I thought we had the game,” said wide receiver Jerry Rice. “But we came up short.”
Someone asked Rice if he felt the Raiders had lost the game or had it taken away from them, and Rice paused for an instant.
“I felt we had it taken away from us,” he said. “But that is all I’m going to say. You guys saw what happened. You guys make the call.”
Rice’s reaction was pretty uniform throughout the Raiders locker room as the players prepared to fly back across the country, their season over.
Defensive tackle Rod Coleman looked around the locker room and shook his head. “It hurts,” he said. “We had the game locked up. Everything was going good. We were going to fly home and get ready for the AFC Championship game. Then this happens.”
Even after Brady scored the only Patriots touchdown to make it 13-10, the Raiders still felt they were in control.
They had battled the elements. They had battled the Patriots. They felt they also were battling the officials. And they still had the lead.
“They had no timeouts left and we had the ball,” said offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy. “I’m telling you, it was over.”
But then, of course, it was not over. A fumble turned into an incomplete pass. The Patriots made a couple of first downs, and Vinatieri kicked the ball through the snow and the uprights and the teams went to overtime. Then he kicked another ball through the snow and the uprights at the other end of the field, and the game was over.
And the Raiders season also was over.