NFL Flashback


Alex Petrosini, Staff Writer

What was happening in the NFL 20 years ago?

 Twenty years ago, Rich Gannon won the NFL MVP. That same year, Priest Holmes won the NFL offensive player of the year, and Derrick Brooks won NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Tom Brady and the Patriots were the defending Super Bowl champions.  The year was 2002. 

2002 was a year of firsts in the NFL. It was the first season in franchise history for the Houston Texans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first Super Bowl, and it was Tom Brady’s first year as a full time starter for the New England Patriots. To kickoff the 2002 NFL season, the Houston Texans shocked the world as 9 point underdogs in their first game in franchise history, beating the Dallas Cowboys 19-10.  Week 2 brought the NFL landscape a possible game of the year, with the Buffalo Bills traveling to Minnesota to face the Vikings.  With 21 seconds left in the game the Bills are down by 7 at their own 35.  Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe has a string of completions to set the Bills up for a 54-yard game tying field goal.  The kick is up, THE KICK IS GOOD!!!  With 5 minutes left in overtime the Bills have the ball at the Vikings 48 yard-line.  Drew Bledsoe drops back to pass and completes it to Peerless Price at the 30 yard line.  Price, with one defender to beat, uses his speed to run around the defender and score.  The Bills win as this crazy NFL season continues.     

A quarter of the way through the NFL season, the Oakland Raiders were proving to be one of the best teams in the league, scoring over 50 points in their week 4 win against the Tennessee Titans, and at least 30 points in each of their first 3 games.  Meanwhile on the other side of the spectrum, three teams were 0-4, including the defending NFC Champions, the St. Louis Rams.  To start the season, the Rams lost 3 out of their first 4 games by one score and couldn’t find a way to win. Advancing forward to the midway point of the season, The Green Bay Packers were the #1 team in the league.  Led by a lethal passing attack from one of the best quarterbacks in the league, quarterback Brett Favre, and a 1000-yard receiver Donald Driver, the Packers were shaping up to be a real Super Bowl contender.  The Bengals were the worst team in the league at the time, and their odds were increasing to draft their future Quarterback Carson Palmer, with the #1 overall pick.  By week 10 of the 2002 NFL season, the Packers persevered to a 8-1 record with a huge win by demolishing the Lions 40-14, and continuing their NFC North dominance. 

 By week 12 of the 2002 NFL season, the playoff picture was really shaping up. While the 1-10 Bengals had basically secured the #1 pick in the draft, the Buccaneers were the #1 team in the league after the Packers went on a 2-game losing streak.  The Buccaneers were led by their defense which was #1 in the league, letting up only 11.5 points per game.  With players like Derrick Brooks (who would become Defensive Player of the Year) and Ronde Barber, the defense made it a nightmare for opposing teams to score.  Speaking of defensive stars, rookie defensive end Julius Peppers was making a name for himself.  The 2nd overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft proved why he was drafted so high by leading his teams in sacks, and tying for 6th in the league in sacks. In Baltimore, a young rookie safety named Ed Reed was making a name for himself as well with 5 interceptions in his rookie year.  Ed Reed and Ray Lewis were forming a deadly duo on the Baltimore defense that would be feared for years to come. Week 15 of the NFL had rolled around in mid December, and the playoff race was heating up more and more.  The race for the AFC East was tight, with all teams still in contention to win the division.  While the Bengals continued to tank, the Raiders offense was pouring on the points, week in and week out. With just two weeks in the season to go, the pretenders and contenders were coming to form, as every game mattered more than ever. In week 16 the Jets won a crucial game against the Patriots, while the Bills got eliminated from the playoff race. By week 17, the stakes were high with playoff spots still up for grabs.  The Jets pulled off a huge win again, and as the Patriots beat the Dolphins in overtime, there was a three-way tiebreaker for the AFC East. The Jets won the tiebreaker and made the playoffs in an incredible fashion. 

The playoffs were set and ready to go. To kickoff the playoffs, the Jets faced the Colts in Indianapolis and opened up with an early 7-0 lead.  The Jets then extended their lead to 10-0, to 17-0, and then 24-0 as they kept scoring; the Colts had nothing to stop them. The Jets won 41-0.  Wow!  What a way to start the playoffs. The Falcons easily handled the Packers 27-7, and the day after we saw one of the best football days of the entire season.  It was January 5th in Pittsburgh, a chilly day with snow lightly sprinkled on the ground.  The Browns were visiting Heinz Field to take on the Steelers on wildcard weekend. The Browns held an early 14-0 lead, but Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El returned a punt for a 66 yard touchdown to cut the lead in half, as snow fell from the sky.  The Browns, however, seemed to be too much for the Steelers defense as they extended their lead to 24 -7 in the 3rd quarter. With 4 minutes left in the game, and the Steelers down 33-21, the game seemed to be over.  But with 3:06 remaining in the 4th, the Steelers scored and cut it to a 5 point game.  The Steelers forced the Browns to punt, got the ball back, and took the lead with 54 seconds left.  The 2 point conversion was good, and the Steelers had pulled off a 17 point comeback. However, the Browns were still in it and they got across midfield with 2 seconds to go. The Browns’ receiver Andre King had the ball in field goal range. He tried to dive out of bounds to stop the clock right before it ran out, but he did not make it in time. The Steelers finished off their comeback and won 36-33. Later that day, on the opposite side of the country, the Giants faced the 49ers in a wildcard matchup possibly even crazier than the one earlier that day. Entering the 4th quarter, the 49ers were down 38-22,  but Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens showed off their chemistry and cut the game to one score.  With 1:00 left on the clock, the 49ers scored and took a 1-point lead. With 6 seconds left on the clock, the Giants lined up for a game winning 41 yard field-goal.  The snap was botched and the placeholder threw towards the end zone!  INCOMPLETE!  THE 49ERS ARE MOVING ON TO THE DIVISIONAL ROUND.  In the divisional round, the Titans edged out the Steelers and won 34-31 in overtime.  The Eagles, Raiders, and Buccaneers cruised to the conference championship with easy wins against their opponents. In the AFC championship, the Oakland Raiders were able to outpace the Titans, and won 41-24 to move on to the Super Bowl.  In the NFC championship, the Buccaneers defense was able to hold the high flying Eagles offense to just 10 points, and earn their spot in the Super Bowl. 

It was Sunday night in San Diego, and moments away from the kickoff of Super Bowl XXXVII.  Jon Gruden, coach of the Buccaneers, was going against the team he had previously coached, the Oakland Raiders.  The Buccaneers received the opening kickoff and the game began. After both teams traded field goals in the first quarter, the Buccaneers tacked on a field goal and scored the first touchdown of the game to take a 13-3 lead. At halftime the Buccaneers had a 20-3 lead, credited by their defense forcing NFL MVP Rich Gannon to throw 2 interceptions in the first half. After the Tampa offense extended their lead to 24 points, the defense got another interception and at the end of the 3rd Quarter, it would be 34-9 Buccaneers.  The Buccaneers would continue their total dominance, forcing Rich Gannon to throw 5 interceptions in the game, and win Super Bowl XXXVII 48-21 in a dominating fashion.  The Raiders, the top offense in the league, didn’t score a touchdown until the third quarter, as the Buccaneers defense dominated and led the Buccaneers to a win in the Super Bowl.      

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