8. Patriots 28, Steelers 3, AFC Divisional, January 5, 1997
If you’re a Patriots fan of a certain vintage, you surely can close your eyes and still envision the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage, a bomb through the thick fog from Drew Bledsoe to sensational rookie receiver Terry Glenn down the right sideline. Curtis Martin scored the first of his three rushing touchdowns a few moments later – he finished with 166 yards on the ground – and the tone was set for a Patriots blowout against the brash Steelers. It wouldn’t be Pittsburgh’s last lesson that games aren’t won verbally.
9. Patriots 27, Raiders 20, AFC Divisional, January 5, 1986
The Patriots, who entered the postseason as the fifth and final seed in the AFC, began their improbable journey to Super Bowl XX with a 26-14 victory over the Jets in the wild-card round, their first of three straight victories on the road. The Patriots built an early lead behind the passing of Tony Eason (no, really) and the running of Craig James (a much more admirable ballcarrier than broadcaster). The Raiders fought back to lead 20-17 at halftime, but the Patriots scored the winning touchdown and final points in the third quarter on special teams ace Jim Bowman’s recovery of a fumbled punt in the end zone. The detail fans probably remember best from this game, however, is Raiders linebacker Matt Millen slugging Pat Sullivan on the field when the Patriots executive talked trash to him and Howie Long.
10. Patriots 17, Titans 14, AFC Divisional, January 10, 2004
In limb-numbing weather – the game-time temperature was 4 degrees – the Patriots held off a resolute Tennessee team led by quarterback Steve McNair. Receiver Bethel Johnson, regarded as a bust in Patriots lore, had a big game, with a 41-yard touchdown catch and a crucial late first down on a reverse, and Adam Vinatieri booted the winning field goal from 46 yards with 4:02 left in regulation. Given the circumstances, that field goal under such adverse conditions could rank as a career highlight. For Vinatieri, it’s at the back end of his top five.