Vinatieri the hero, Brady the MVP

HOUSTON -- Humdrum?


What was supposed to be a colossal bore turned into one of the

most exciting Super Bowls ever with a thrilling back-and-forth

final quarter that Adam Vinatieri finished off with his foot.

Tom Brady set up Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds

left to give the New England Patriots their second NFL championship

in three seasons with a 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

Not only did Vinatieri win this one Sunday night, he did the

same thing two years ago, beating the St. Louis Rams on the final

play of the game.

"Nobody makes all of them. But if you've got to have one kick

with everything on the line, he's the one you want kicking it,"

New England coach Bill Belichick said. "It was an awesome kick. It

was a great kick. That's the game. That's what Adam's here for."

Most of the first half did live up to the predictions that two

defensive teams would make for a dull game. They were scoreless for

nearly 27 minutes, the slowest start in Super Bowl history, and

Vinatieri missed one field goal and another was blocked.

But that changed in the final 3 minutes of the first half and

again in the fourth quarter, when the teams combined for 37 points,

the most in any quarter in any Super Bowl.

The scoring never stopped.

The Patriots were ahead.

The Panthers were ahead.

The Patriots were ahead, then the Panthers tied it.

And then came the most reliable foot in football.

"You know you might have a chance at the end of the game to win

it," Vinatieri said.

"I looked up and it was going right down the middle."

It wouldn't have been possible without Brady. He finished

32-of-48 for 354 yards and three touchdowns. The 32 completions

were a Super Bowl record.

"To win this the way we did is incredible, unbelievable. A

great all-around game," he said.

"I don't know how I do it."

Brady was voted the game's MVP for the second time in three

seasons, although he did throw a second-half interception that

prevented New England from winning more easily.

Before the game, played in the city that is home to the nation's

space program, there was a tribute to NASA and the crew of the

shuttle Columbia, which broke up over Texas exactly one year ago.

And before the second-half kickoff, Justin Timberlake tore off

part of Janet Jackson's top, exposing her breast during the

halftime show, and New England linebacker Matt Chatham tackled a

streaker on the field.

It made fans wonder what was in store for the second half. The

teams didn't disappoint.

Carolina tied the game at 29 with its third fourth-quarter TD on

a 12-yard pass from Jake Delhomme to Ricky Proehl with 1:08 left.

Then John Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds to give New England

field position at its own 40.

Brady moved the Patriots 37 yards in six plays, hitting Deion

Branch to set up Vinatieri's winning kick, which prevented the

Super Bowl from going into overtime for the first time ever. It

also gave New England its 15th straight victory.

"I felt like they fought so hard all the way that my role was

to help them hoist the trophy," Vinatieri said.

The Patriots led 14-10 at the half, and after a scoreless third

quarter, they made it 21-10 on the second play of the fourth on a

2-yard run by Antowain Smith. That capped an eight-play, 71-yard

drive featuring a 33-yard pass from Brady to tight end Daniel


Carolina wasn't about to give up, though, scoring on DeShaun

Foster's 33-yard run on a six-play, 81-yard drive. But the 2-point

conversion pass was behind Muhsin Muhammad and it was 21-16. The

decision to go for 2 would come back to haunt coach John Fox.

The Patriots seemed ready to put the game away when they got the

ball back, but Brady made a rare mistake -- throwing an off-balance

pass that Reggie Howard intercepted in the end zone.

Two plays later, Delhomme found Muhammad behind the New England

defense for an 85-yard score, the longest play from scrimmage in

Super Bowl history, to give the Panthers a 22-21 lead with 6:53

left. Fox again went for the 2-point conversion and failed.

It was the first time New England trailed since Nov. 23. The

last time was also in Houston, when the Patriots rallied from a

20-13 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Texans 23-20 in

overtime on, what else, a field goal by Vinatieri.

The Panthers' lead didn't last long, either.

Brady came back with a TD pass to linebacker Mike Vrabel with

2:51 remaining, and Kevin Faulk ran in for the 2-point conversion

to give New England a 29-22 lead.

About two minutes later, Delhomme and Proehl hooked up to tie

the score, giving Vinatieri another chance to be a hero.

"I thought he kept us in the game," Fox said, referring to

Delhomme, who rebounded from a 1-of-9 start to throw for 323 yards.

"They kept battling back. Unfortunately they had the ball last."

After the scoring drought to open the game, the Patriots and

Panthers finally got going -- 24 points in the final 3:05 of the

first half.

The Patriots dominated that dormant period and finally took a

7-0 lead on the first of two 5-yard TD passes by Brady. The

quarterback found Branch after Vrabel sacked Delhomme, forcing a

fumble and giving New England the ball at the Carolina 20.

At that point, New England had outgained Carolina 125 yards to

minus-7, and Delhomme had been sacked three times.

But the Patriots' touchdown seemed to wake up the Panthers.

Delhomme led Carolina on a 95-yard drive, tied for second longest

in Super Bowl history, capping it with a 39-yard TD pass to Steve

Smith, who beat Tyrone Poole in single coverage. That tied the game

7-7 with 1:14 left in the half.

Brady came right back, hitting Branch for 52 yards behind Ricky

Manning Jr. to set up his second 5-yard TD pass, this time to David


Carolina wasn't finished, either.

Vinatieri squibbed the kickoff and Kris Mangum returned it 12

yards to his own 47. With 12 seconds and a timeout left, the

Panthers crossed up the Patriots by handing the ball to Stephen

Davis, who rushed 21 yards to the New England 32.

After a timeout, Kasay kicked a 50-yard field goal to close the


New England looked as if it might get off to a quick start,

shutting down the Panthers on their first possession, then moving

to the Carolina 13 after Troy Brown's 28-yard punt return.

But Vinatieri's 31-yard field-goal attempt was wide right. It

was only the third time he had missed indoors in 34 attempts, all

of them in Houston.

The Patriots continued to keep the Panthers backed up.

Carolina got its first first down with just over 2 minutes left

in the first quarter on a holding penalty on New England's Ty Law

but had to punt three plays later.

Carolina's defense held up its end -- Will Witherspoon ended

another Patriots threat by dumping Brown for a 10-yard loss on a

reverse to take New England out of field-goal range.

With just under 9 minutes left in the second quarter, the

Patriots reached the Carolina 38. Brady's third-down sneak was

barely stopped, then Antowain Smith barely got the 6 inches on

fourth down, a spot that was upheld on replay.

The Patriots reached the 18, but Vinatieri's 36-yard attempt was

blocked by Shane Burton.

Three plays later, Vrabel stripped Delhomme and Richard Seymour


On third-and-7, Brady, the self-described "slowest quarterback

in the league," scrambled up the middle to the 5. On the next

play, he found Branch in the end zone for the game's first score.

But all of that was forgotten by the final quarter as New

England established its credentials as a mini-dynasty.

"I don't know about our legacy," said Charlie Weis, the team's

offensive coordinator. "But two titles in three years in the

environment of the NFL these days is quite an achievement."

For which the Patriots can thank Vinatieri.