Adam Vinatieri kicked a late 41-yard field goal to earn the New England Patriots a thrilling 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, their second Super Bowl title in three seasons.
Vinatieri, who booted the winning effort with no time on the clock when the Patriots defeated the St Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI two years ago, drove the ball through the uprights with four seconds left to break Carolina hearts.
One of the NFL's most reliable kickers, Vinatieri had struggled through an unusually difficult day, shanking a 31-yard attempt wide in the first quarter and having another 36-yard effort blocked in the second.
But the 31-year-old made no mistake on his third attempt as thousands of flashbulbs went off around a sellout Reliant Stadium, the fans on the edge of their seats after a wild fourth quarter.
"I was fortunate, I just looked up and it was going down the middle," Vinatieri told reporters. "You just try to block the external things out and kick it.
"I've said it before, most guys never have the opportunity to play in this game and to have two opportunities to win it is amazing."
"If you've got one kick with everything on the line, he's got one kick in him," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "It was a great kick, an awesome kick."
The MVP in New England's Super Bowl win over the Rams, quarterback Tom Brady turned in another sparkling MVP award-winning performance, completing 32 of 48 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns against a ferocious Panthers defense.
Having spent the entire two-week build-up to Super Bowl XXXVIII being compared to the brilliant Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers, Brady lived up to his billing and is now a perfect 6-0 in postseason games.
It was the 15th straight victory for the Patriots, the second longest winning run in NFL history behind only the 1972 Miami Dolphins, winners of 17 in a row.
"It's unbelievable to win it that way again," said Brady. "For a 60-minute game that comes down to seconds tells you about how competitive these two teams are.
"You work so hard to get here and do it ... it's just fun."
The first Super Bowl held inside a stadium with a retractable roof was one of wild contrasts.
The opening half featured the punishing hitting and the aggressive defensive play that has become the hallmark of both teams as they combined to set a Super Bowl record for the longest scoreless start to a title game.
But by the fourth quarter the contest had turned into an offensive shootout as the two teams combined to score 37 points and establish several Super Bowl records.
Leading 14-10 entering the final quarter, the Patriots appeared to seize control when Antowain Smith scampered two yards to put New England in front 21-10.
But the plucky Panthers, as they had all season, refused to quit, quarterback Jake Delhomme replying immediately with an 81-yard scoring drive, DeShaun Foster racing the final 33 yards for the touchdown.
Carolina decided to go for a two-point conversion to move within a field goal of the Patriots but failed.
The Panthers, however, did not trail for long, Delhomme finding Mushin Muhammad streaking down the sidelines and hitting him with a spectacular 85-yard touchdown strike. The play was the longest from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.
Again, the Panthers went for the two-point conversion and again failed but they still took the lead for the first time 22-21.
Brady hit back by marching his team 68 yards. He found linebacker Mike `Vrabel with a one-yard touchdown pass followed by a successful two-point conversion plunge from running back Kevin Faulk as the Pats went in front 29-22.
The seesaw battle continued with the Panthers scoring again on their next possession, Delhomme and Rickey Proehl hooking up on a touchdown pass to tie the game.
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