New Orleans, LA – New England stunned heavily favored St. Louis 20-17 when Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard game-winning field goal as time expired Sunday in a Super Bowl with an ultra-patriotic red, white and blue theme.
The winning kick set off raucous celebrations by the Patriots and capped a spectacular worst-to-first turnaround by a team that finished last in the AFC East in 2000.
"The fans of New England have been waiting 42 years for this day," said Patriots owner Bob Kraft after accepting the Vince Lombardi trophy. "We are all patriots and tonight the Patriots are world champions."
"Every player and every coach works a lifetime for this. It's a tremendous thrill," said New England coach Bill Belichick, whose team made life miserable for the feared Rams offense all night.
"If you want a guy making the play at the end of the game, Adam Vinatieri is the one," Belichick said.
The pre-game extravaganza, awash in the colors of the Patriots, was filled with classic American symbols, lots of flag waving, the singing of patriotic songs and even a reading of The Declaration of Independence.
When the New England players took the field they seemed to just blend in and there was almost a feeling that it was destined to be their night, against all the odds.
Despite being 14-point underdogs, the Patriots thoroughly outplayed the Rams for three quarters.
But NFL Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner, who was also the Super Bowl MVP two years ago, engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives to tie the game at 17-17 with just 90 seconds left and set the stage for the big finale.
That's when New England's second-year quarterback Tom Brady took over and did his best Warner impression.
Starting from the New England 17-yard line, Brady promptly completed five passes in seven plays to move his team to the St. Louis 30 with seven seconds left, setting up Vinatieri's game-winning kick.
"It was just awesome. Everybody got it done," Brady said of the final drive.
"We shocked the world but we didn't shock ourselves," said Vinatieri, who also kicked the winning field goal in overtime in New England's playoff win over Oakland.
Brady, 24, became the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl as the Patriots captured their first championship in the third trip to the big game in franchise history.
Brady, who threw a touchdown pass with 36 seconds left in the first half to give New England a 14-3 halftime lead, was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXVI as the Pats finished a dream season on a nine-game winning streak, including upsets of Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the top-ranked team in each conference, a week apart.
DREAM COME TRUE
"It's a dream come true," said Brady. "Whenever we've had our backs against the wall all year we responded."
The game-winning kick avoided what would have been the first overtime in Super Bowl history.
New England almost avoided the last-second drama, but a 96- yard touchdown return by Patriots safety Tebucky Jones off a Warner fumble was called back by a holding penalty.
Two plays later, Warner scored on a two-yard run to give St. Louis its first touchdown with 9:33 to play.
Warner got the ball back near midfield with just under two minutes left and finally put together the kind of lightning-fast scoring drive that had been his team's trademark over the past three seasons.
An 18-yard pass to Az Hakim and an 11-yard strike to Yo Murphy took the Rams to the 26.
Then, the New England secondary suffered one of its few lapses of the game and Warner found a wide open Ricky Proehl on the left sideline at about the 15-yard line. Proehl cut back to the middle at the 10, sidestepped two defenders, and dived into the end zone for the tying score.
Up until that point, a ferocious New England defense had played a tremendous, physical game, keeping the much-vaunted St. Louis attack, billed as "the greatest show on Earth," from getting in gear.
The first three New England scores all came off St. Louis turnovers, including a second-quarter interception returned 47 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Ty Law that put the Patriots in front for the first time at 7-3.
"That was the momentum right there," said Law. "That started it off. We rode it from there."
Brady's touchdown pass to a leaping David Patten in the corner of the end zone followed a recovery of a fumble by Proehl when he could not hold the ball after being hit by Antwan Harris.
Vinatieri's 37-yard field goal with 1:22 left in the third quarter made it 17-3 and followed an Otis Smith interception of a Warner pass.
"I made some mistakes and it's tough to swallow," said Warner. "It was our mistakes that really did us in today."
Perhaps, but it was also an outstanding example of in-your-face team defense and controlled error-free offense by the Patriots.
"Nobody gave us a chance in hell to win this game," said New England running back Antowain Smith, who ran for 92 yards, outgaining Rams superstar Marshall Faulk.
"We've been underdogs all year long," he said. "I guess next week we'll be the favorites."
WRNI'S Mark Degon discussed the game with Providence Journal Sports Columnist Bill Reynolds.
? Copyright 2002, Reuters