Vinatieri again goes out with bang

Two early misses pale after Pats' kicker adds to reputation in clutch


Patriots 32

Panthers 29

Super Bowl Xxxviii

February 02, 2004|By Jamison Hensley and Brent Jones | Jamison Hensley and Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - Adam Vinatieri turned what had been a nightmare of a game into another dreamlike finish.

After missing his first two field-goal tries of the game last night, the New England Patriots' kicker converted his second game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl in three years, drilling a 41-yard attempt with four seconds remaining to defeat the Carolina Panthers, 32-29.

"He's a pressure kicker," coach Bill Belichick said. "If you have a kick with everything on the line, he's the guy I want kicking it."

It was two Super Bowls ago when Vinatieri made a 48-yard field goal on the last play of the game to lift the Patriots to an upset victory over the St. Louis Rams. For his career, Vinatieri is 15-for-20 on game-winning or -tying field-goal attempts.

Although the finish was memorable, the start was forgettable for Vinatieri.

He hit a 31-yard kick wide right and then saw a 36-yarder blocked. They were his 11th and 12th failed attempts of the season. At halftime, he switched the shoe on his left foot, the one used to plant.

Vinatieri's first miss meant the Patriots failed to score on their opening drive for the first time in six games.

"It just came down to rhythm," Vinatieri said. "It's incredible. There's nothing better than this feeling right now."

No resentment

Members of the Panthers' defense held no hard feelings against John Kasay, whose untimely out-of-bounds kickoff resulted in a penalty that gave the Patriots the ball on their 40 late in the fourth quarter. That put New England in excellent position to mount the game-winning drive.

Kasay shanked the kick after the Panthers tied the score at 29 with 1:08 left. The Patriots, with all three of their timeouts, only had to go 37 yards to set up Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal.

"As a defense, no matter where the defense gets the ball, we have a job to do," cornerback Reggie Howard said.

Said Brentson Buckner: "I could see if he kicked it and they got the ball at the [Panthers'] 10-yard line, but they got it on the 40. They got 60 yards to go to get points. John Kasay is the reason why we're here now."

Patriots' line holds

A patchwork New England offensive line created no holes for a heralded Panthers front four.

The Patriots, who had three original backups in their starting line, did not allow a sack in 48 pass attempts against tackles Buckner and Kris Jenkins and ends Michael Rucker and Julius Peppers.

The Panthers' line failed to even rattle quarterback Tom Brady.

"That's the most heat I've faced all year," said Brady, who was not sacked once in the postseason. "But we fended them off."

Rucker concurred with the effort.

"I feel like we got some good hits on him," Rucker said. "We didn't get any sacks, but sometimes a good hit is just as good. Obviously, we didn't get enough on him because he still got some passes off."

The Patriots' offensive line also was a force in the running game, which produced 127 yards on 35 carries.

Jenkins (Maryland) finished with three tackles.

Vrabel all over place

Brady may have won the Most Valuable Player award, but Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel had the most well-rounded effort.

He finished with six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. More surprisingly, he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass after lining up as an eligible receiver on New England's short-yardage package.

It was the first touchdown by a defensive player since the Chicago Bears' William "The Refrigerator" Perry scored in the 1986 Super Bowl.

"It's a long, long way from those days in Pittsburgh when I just covered kicks," Vrabel said.

Foster provides punch

DeShaun Foster's 33-yard touchdown run probably gave him the top two runs of the postseason.

Perhaps topping his 1-yard touchdown effort in which he broke tackles from several players in the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Foster provided his team with a big play it desperately needed in the fourth quarter last night.

Foster broke through two tackles before racing down the sideline and diving into the end zone with 12:48 left.

"The offensive line did a great job of blocking for me, and [receiver] Steve Smith blocked his man, then I was off to the races," Foster said. "It would have meant a lot more if we had won the game, but it was good to have a run like that."

Rarely down

Muhsin Muhammad's 85-yard touchdown catch gave the Panthers their first lead while putting the Patriots in an unfamiliar situation.

When Muhammad scored on Jake Delhomme's pass with 6:53 left - lifting the Panthers to a 22-21 lead with 6:53 left - it marked the first deficit for New England in eight games. The Patriots hadn't trailed since their last trip to Houston, a span of 488 minutes, 6 seconds.

Muhammad thinks his play won't be remembered long.

"If you score the game-winning touchdown and break a record like that in a victory, that is something that is great to cherish," he said. "But nobody is going to remember you scored the longest touchdown in history in a losing effort."

Defenses make point

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.