And so it’s over, Super Bowl XXXVIII is in the books, and may we never have to put down that many Roman Numerals for many, many years. For the second time in the last three years, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champions. Wow. What a game. A game that for the first 27 minutes looked like it might actually be close to the score of the XBox NFL game that my buddy Steve and I played prior to the start (I won’t say the exact score, but let’s just say that scoring was at a premium and that New England beat the Panthers by five points). In the end, those that had the ‘over’ had nothing to worry about. Great numbers fantasy wise for those of you that are still in a fantasy contest of sorts, and the squares came up with the rarely seen 2-9 to close out the game. Three two point conversions were attempted so nearly every number on the grid had a chance at one point or another.
Before we get into the game, many thanks to you the reader for checking me out here every week. I’m sure that most weeks you’ve already seen the games, but you continue to come back and get my view of things, and I thank you for that. While we’re at it, many thanks too to all those that came over to my house for the annual party. I know most of you read this column, thanks for everything – all the food and drink that you bring, the way you conduct yourselves during the game, and really the lack of clean up that is required of me at the end of the night. That’s why I don’t mind having people over, I don’t think I’ve ever had to spend more than 1/2 hour putting the house back together after the game ends. A good group of people to be around, I hope that you have a group out there that is similar, it really makes the game more fun than it should be.
In any case, enough about that, let’s get into the game…
New England 32, Carolina 29
With two weeks of hype in the books, at 6:28 ET, Superbowl XXXVIII was ready to begin. New England would be looking to win their fifteenth game in a row, while Carolina would be looking to cap off a cinderella season of their own just two years removed from losing fifteen games in a row. Perhaps a David versus Goliath type of situation, with two well coached teams that play as that, teams. Carolina would get the ball first, and they would quickly learn that the Patriots had a defense the likes of which they hadn’t been matched up against this season. Seven yards in the first three plays and New England would get their first offensive possession. After a nice return, New England started off near midfield, and they enjoyed some success in moving the ball against an impressive Panther defense. Alas, the drive would not end like the last four opening Patriot drives, they would have to settle for a field goal attempt. A rarely seen defensive delay of game penalty gave New England an extra five yards just before the kick, but Adam Vinatieri would not click from 31 yards out, missing wide right.
An ominous sign of sorts that this was going to be a strange game, and the Panthers took over for a scant three offensive plays before punting again. New England then ran into a stiff Panther D as they were unable to move the ball on their second possession. This would continue for the next couple possessions on either side, Carolina getting a first down via penalty, but still unable to move into a scoring position. The first quarter would come to a quiet close, neither team able to score, those that had Adam Vinatieri as the first to score fuming, and zero-zero on grids across the country singing a happy tune.
Carolina’s first possession in the second frame was much like those in the first, three and out. New England went to work on offense, and they finally had some success, mostly with Antowain Smith (83 yards rushing, TD) chewing up some real estate on the ground. Defining moment in the drive was early on, third and an inch from the Panther 38, New England couldn’t get the inch, and fourth down loomed. The Patriots would go for it, handing the ball to Antowain Smith. After an extremely close play, they got three inches for the first down, a play that Carolina would challenge, but the ruling on the field was upheld. Eventually, the drive would stall, and again Vinatieri took to the field to try and score the first points of the game from 36 yards out. His attempt was blocked, still a scoreless tie. The game would then turn, as on Carolina’s third play, New England’s Mike Vrabel would sack Jake Delhomme, forcing a fumble that New England would recover on the Panther 20 yard line. Brady was able to click with Deion Branch (10 catches for 143 yards, TD) for the score that would get things going, ending twenty-seven minutes of scoreless football.
With the ice broken in the scoring column, Carolina went to work, moving the ball well, the drive capped off with Delhomme (323 yards passing, 3 TD, 0 int) hooking up with Steve Smith (4 catches for 80 yards, TD) on a great play for the 39 yard score that knotted the game at seven. Those with seven-seven in the squares would have little time to celebrate, as Tom Brady (354 passing yards, 3 TD, 1 int) would quickly move down the field. Branch caught a ball for 52 yards, and New England would not stop until they scored, David Givens (5 catches for 69 yards, TD) catching a Brady pass from the five yard line. Eighteen seconds remained in the half, and by the time the Carolina offense got onto the field, only twelve of those remained. An innocent draw by Stephen Davis netted 21 yards, close enough for John Kasay to bang home a fifty yard field goal as the half came to a close. A wild three minutes of scoring to end what had been a drab opening half.
The third quarter opened with the Carolina defense forcing New England to go three and out, yet Carolina couldn’t do much on the ensuing possession. This theme would continue for much of the third quarter, neither team threatening the end zone or the field goal uprights. Towards the end of the quarter, New England would start to move, but no scoring would take place in this frame. Two plays into the fourth, Smith hit paydirt from two yards out (the drive helped out by defensive holding), giving New England an eleven point lead with just under fifteen minutes to play.
And Jake Delhomme started what he had done so many times this season, a comeback. Finding Smith and Muhsin Muhammed (4 catches for 140 yards, TD) for nice gains, the Panthers went on the move. DeShaun Foster went to the left from the 33 yard line, and after some nice running, he was in the endzone for the score making it 21-16 New England. Carolina made the right move here, going for two, but they were unsuccessful. New England’s offense would go right back to work, Brady passing, Smith and Kevin Faulk running. Down to the Panther nine yard line they went, where they faced third down. Brady’s pass into the end zone was picked off, and the Panthers still had some life left in them.
Starting on their own 10, they were 90 yards away, and it was looking like a great finish was in the works. After a short gain, New England refused a penalty, taking the incomplete pass and loss of down instead, and it was third and long from the Carolina 15. No matter, Delhomme would find a streaking Muhammed behind the secondary, and 85 yards later, he would score the longest TD pass in Super Bowl history. More importantly, the Panthers had done something that no one since Thanksgiving had done, and that was to take a lead on New England. Up by a point, another two point conversion try was unsuccessful. Nearly seven minutes remained, this game was far from over.
Tom Brady went back to work, and they did what they do best, short passes, keep the chains moving, convert those third downs. With just under three minutes to play, Brady found linebacker playing offense Mike Vrabel for the one yard TD pass to put the Patriots back on top. Kevin Faulk would take the direct snap on the two point play and get into the end zone, New England had the seven point lead. And yet, Delhomme again would go to work. Quickly the Panthers moved down the field, taking only seven plays and Delhomme found Ricky Proehl (4 catches for 71 yards, TD) from 12 yards out. Kasay booted the extra point, and with 68 seconds left in regulation, tie game!!
In perhaps the cruelest twist of fate, Kasay’s kickoff sailed out of bounds, giving New England the ball at their own 40 yard line. After an offensive pass interference, Troy Brown (8 catches for 76 yards) made a tough catch over the middle for thirteen yards on first and twenty to move the ball across midfield. Tick….tick…….Brady would find Daniel Graham for a short gain, and on third and three at the Panther 40, Branch again got free for 17 yards to move to the Panther 23. Tick…..nine seconds remained…Vinatieri came onto the field for a 41 yard attempt. His boot would be straight and true, Patriots 32-29 lead. Rod Smart was tackled after a short kickoff return and time expired. Vinatieri and New England had done it again, a great, great game that New England was able to win over a very tough Panther team that had nothing to be ashamed of.
New England Patriots, Super Bowl Champions!