Titans' last-gasp drive falls short

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- Adam Vinatieri kicked the New England

Patriots into the AFC title game once again.


The hero of the snowy "Tuck Rule" game and the 2002 Super Bowl

kicked a 46-yard field goal with 4:06 left on a bitterly cold

Saturday night to give New England a 17-14 victory over the

Tennessee Titans and put the Patriots within one win of the Super


"It was a big kick," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We

get in those kind of situations -- that's what he's here for. And

he's certainly come through many times for us."

New England fought off temperatures that dipped to 2 degrees --

with a wind chill of 11 below -- to win its 13th consecutive game

and improve to 9-0 at home this season. The Patriots will be back

in frigid Foxboro next week to play for the AFC championship

against the winner of Sunday's game between Kansas City and


It was 14-14 after three quarters, and it was still that way

when Tom Brady hit Troy Brown with a 4-yard completion on

fourth-and-3 from the Tennessee 33. Vinatieri, who missed a

44-yarder in the same direction in the first quarter, came on four

plays later and sneaked the ball over the crossbar.

"I honestly thought it wouldn't be that close," Vinatieri

said. "When I hit it, I was jumping up and down ... but I was the

only one jumping up and down. Everyone else was still holding their


Steve McNair led the Titans to the New England 33 before an

intentional grounding and a holding call put them out of range for

the potential game-tying field goal. A desperation fourth-and-12

tossup bounced out of Drew Bennett's hands, and the Patriots ran

out the clock to deprive Tennessee of a second consecutive

appearance in the conference title game.

"I didn't anticipate this. Nor could those guys inside,"

Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "But a numbing feeling comes over

you when you have a huge expectation as we have, and it comes to a

screeching halt."

That numbing feeling might also have come from playing in the

coldest game in the Titans' tenure in Tennessee or Houston, and the

coldest in Patriots history, too. But it didn't quite match the NFL

record of minus-13 -- with a wind chill of 48 below -- for the 1967

Ice Bowl, when Dallas visited Green Bay's Lambeau Field.

Barbecue grills typically used for tailgating in the parking

lots were pressed into duty as space heaters, and free coffee was

poured for those who dared to make a party of it. The team gave out

hand-warmers to the first 10,000 people entering the gates, and

lifted the ban on blankets and sleeping bags.

Those who stayed in their seats for halftime were serenaded with

Frank Sinatra's "Summer Wind" and teased by video of a roaring

fire on the scoreboard. The Minutemen who fire their muskets to

celebrate Patriots' scores were dressed for Valley Forge.

On the sidelines, the players huddled under parkas, blew on

their hands to keep warm and fought for space on the heated

benches. Steam puffed from the mouths of the quarterbacks as they

barked out the plays, and from their teammates as they huffed each

bone-chilling breath; at the end, Fisher's mustache was frosted


There were a few dropped passes early -- one late, by Patriots

tight end Daniel Graham might have set up a go-ahead touchdown --

and some bad throws that might have been due to the loss of touch.

"You throw a parka on. You get as many kicks in as you can on

the side," Vinatieri said. "Then you sit on the seat and try to

stay warm."

Then you go out and kick a rock-hard ball 46 yards through the

dense, cold air so that, just maybe, your teammates will swarm

around you and keep you from freezing.

"That's Adam Vinatieri. He does it over and over again," Brady

said. "He never surprises us."

A South Dakota native who's no stranger to the cold -- or

pressure -- Vinatieri became a local legend when he kicked a

46-yarder through a blizzard in the "Tuck Rule" game and against

Oakland to send the game in overtime, then won it with a 23-yarder.

He kicked the game-winner in the '02 Super Bowl, a 48-yarder with

no time left.

Although it lacked the snow that blanketed the field for the

victory over the Raiders, the last playoff game to be held in

Foxboro, this one was nearly as dramatic.

Brady was confused enough by what the Titans were showing him

early on that he called a timeout less than four minutes into the

game. It was well-spent: On the next play, he found Bethel Johnson

running down the middle and hit him with a 41-yard touchdown to

give New England a 7-0 lead.

Roman Phifer almost intercepted McNair's pass at the 18, but

Richard Seymour was called for roughing the passer after he threw

McNair into the ground. Two plays later, Chris Brown scored on a

5-yard run to tie it at 7 after one quarter.

Vinatieri missed from 44 yards, but Rodney Harrison intercepted

McNair on the next play, and New England was moving again.

Facing a third-and-13, Brady hit Johnson on a flare pass and

then threw a block as the receiver cut back across the backfield

looking for an opening; that sprung him for a 14-yard gain. On a

third-and-2 from the Tennessee 6, Brady rolled right for a 3-yard

gain. Two plays later, Antowain Smith ran it in from the 1 to make

it 14-7.

Tennessee tied it in the third when McNair hit Derrick Mason

near the 10 on third-and-10 from the 11. He broke Asante Samuel's

tackle and then jumped for the goal line, breaking the plane as a

hit sent him spinning out of bounds.

McNair was 5-for-5 for 59 yards on the drive and 18-for-26 for

210 yards overall. Brady was 10-for-16 for 152 yards in the first

quarter but struggled after that, finishing 21-for-41 for 201