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
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
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
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
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
- Bill Carollo