HOUSTON -- On a night that began wide right, Adam Vinatieri finished straight down the middle, literally and figuratively.
And because he did, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions for a second time in three seasons, both titles coming on last-minute Vinatieri field goals. And both kicks coming with just about everyone on the Pats sideline, and Vinatieri as well, fully expecting the eight-year veteran to knock the ball right between the pipes.
"On any field goal, not just one like that, you have to put whatever came before it out of your mind," said Vinatieri, whose 41-yarder with four seconds remaining helped the Pats dodge overtime and sent New England home with a 32-29 victory. "Selective amnesia is a good thing to have. So is good focus. All I wanted was one more shot."
In baseball going one-for-three gets you a bust in the Hall of Fame and earns you recognition as one of the game's greats. In any NFL contest, let alone a Super Bowl, a .333 average often makes you a bust and can earn you a one-way ticket home. The chances are pretty good, though, that Vinatieri is going nowhere despite his two Sunday lapses.
The lone kicker in the NFL with a fully guaranteed contract, Vinatieri was no guarantee himself on Sunday evening.
On the Pats' opening possession, Vinatieri pushed a 31-yard attempt wide right. Then in the second quarter, Vinatieri had a 36-yarder blocked by Carolina defensive tackle Shane Burton, who has made a pretty nice career of swatting away placement attempts. At that point, Vinatieri must have felt about as exposed as Janet Jackson's right, uh, well, if you saw the halftime show, you know.
He also might have felt a bit cursed by the Super Bowl venue.
Entering the 2003 season, Vinatieri had never missed a field goal attempt indoors. Then, in a Nov. 23 overtime victory against the Houston Texans here, he missed two of his five field goal tries. He atoned for those botched kicks by hitting the game-winning field goal from 28 yards with 41 seconds remaining in overtime.
Vinatieri insisted the two kicks he missed here at Reliant Stadium in the regular season did not weigh on him Sunday night. He explained that the first miscue on Sunday faded a bit on him and that, while he might have driven the second try a bit too hard and too low, Burton made a good play.
There was one other mistake Vinatieri made in the game, a short squib kickoff late in the second quarter, one on which he failed to get the ball beyond the first line of Carolina players. Panthers tight end Kris Mangum grabbed the poorly-executed kick and returned it 12 yards to the Carolina 47-yard line with 12 seconds remaining in the half. After a 21-yard run by tailback Stephen Davis moved the ball to the New England 32-yard line with five seconds left, John Kasay converted a 50-yard field goal to cut the Panthers' deficit to 14-10 at intermission.
"I was just trying to get (the kickoff) into that no man's land, between their first and second wave of guys, and I didn't get the job done," Vinatieri said. "But just like the (missed) field goals, you can't dwell on that stuff, because there's usually going to be another chance and you have to make good on it."
Vinatieri didn't have much time to ponder his game-winning kick. The Panthers tied the score at 29-29 with 1:08 remaining, on Jake Delhomme's 12-yard pass to slot receiver Ricky Proehl. Then it was left to Tom Brady and the offense to maneuver into position for Vinatieri's shot at redemption.
Not surprisingly for Vinatieri, one of the game's clutch placement specialists, the third time was a charm. Of the three game-winning field goals in Super Bowl history, he now has two of them, the first a 48-yarder in Super Bowl XXXVI that lifted the Patriots over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams.
"Maybe the only thing that flashed through my mind as I ran out there," Vinatieri said, "was that this team had worked too hard to let the game go into overtime, and perhaps lose the Super Bowl on a coin toss. But I didn't even think about that too long. I just wanted to get the ball down, get it up, and get it through."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.