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HOUSTON - Automatic Adam wasn t perfect, but he lived up to his reputation when it mattered most.
Adam Vinatieri, who won the Super Bowl two years ago when he kicked a 48-yard field goal on the last play of the game, gave the New England Patriots their second championship in three years when he nailed a 41-yarder last night with four seconds left.
The slowest-scoring Super Bowl erupted into one of the most entertaining finishes in the game s 38-year history when late scoring bursts by both teams ended with Vinatieri s kick and a 32-29 Patriots victory against the Carolina Panthers.
Vinatieri missed one field goal attempt and had another blocked in the first half of the game.
“That s what Adam s here for and Adam came through for us big time,” New England coach Bill Belichick said.
The Patriots championship gives them an opportunity to become the first dominant team of the 21st century and match the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s as the only franchise to win three Super Bowls in four seasons.
It culminates a season that began with a 31-0 loss in Buffalo and ended with 15 consecutive victories.
“It was an awesome year,” Belichick said. “We ve been in close games all year.”
Linebacker Mike Vrabel had two sacks, forced a fumble that led to the game s first score and put New England ahead 29-22 with with 2:51 left when he caught a one-yard touchdown pass after lining up at tight end.
Carolina tied the score with 1:08 to go on Jake Delhomme s 12-yard scoring pass to Ricky Proehl. But John Kasay s kickoff went out of bounds, a penalty that gave New England the ball at its 40 and helped put the Patriots in position to pull out a victory.
“I m sure he didn t want to kick that ball out of bounds,” Vinatieri said.
Tom Brady completed five consecutive passes, the last one of 17 yards to Deion Branch to the 23, and New England called timeout to stop the clock with nine seconds left to give Vinatieri his chance to win it.
“Most guys never have an opportunity to play in this game, never mind two opportunities to win it at the end,” Vinatieri said.
Brady, who had a record 32 pass completions in 48 attempts for 354 yards and three touchdowns, earned his second Super Bowl MVP.
Delhomme was 16 of 33 for 323 yards and three touchdowns, the first time both quarterbacks topped 300 yards in a Super Bowl game.
“Careful on that city,” Brady told Patriots fans back in Boston. “Don t tear it down. We ll be back there tomorrow. We want to see it on Tuesday for the parade.”
All of the first-half scoring took place in the final 3:05, ending the longest opening scoreless tie in Super Bowl history. Brady threw two 5-yard scoring passes, to Branch and David Givens. Steve Smith caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme for Carolina and Kasay kicked a 50-yard field goal.
The third quarter, like the first was scoreless. Antowain Smith put New England ahead 21-10 when he ran off the right side for a two-yard touchdown on the first official play of the fourth quarter. But Carolina responded on its next series, zipping 81 yards on six plays; DeShaun Foster scored on a 33-yard run off tackle, the fourth longest in the game s history. The two-point conversion failed and the Patriots clung to a 21-16 lead with 12:39 left in the game.
After Brady was intercepted in the end zone, Delhomme threw an improbable 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad - the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history - with 6:53 left to give Carolina its only lead, 22-21.
The Patriots reclaimed the lead, 29-22, with 2:51 left on Vrabel s one-yard reception and Kevin Faulk s 2-point conversion run.
The game, scoreless for nearly the first 27 minutes, erupted for four scores and 24 points in the final 3:05 of the first half as New England snatched a 14-10 lead.
Vinatieri pushed his first try wide to the right from 31 yards on New England s first series and the quarter ended in a scoreless tie for only the fifth time in Super Bowl history and the first since 1992.
“They slapped me on the back and said, C mon, man, we re going to need you at the end, “ Vinatieri said some teammates told him after that miss.
The Panthers prevailed again when Vinatieri s 36-yard field-goal try was blocked by defensive tackle Shane Burton with six minutes left in the half, leaving the game scoreless for the longest period in Super Bowl history.
That s when Vrabel stepped in to touch off a furious scoring binge in the final three minutes of the half. Vrabel beat left tackle Todd Steussie to the outside and burst toward Delhomme s backside as he cocked his arm to pass. Vrabel knocked the ball loose and Richard Seymour recovered for the Patriots at Carolina s 20.
Brady scrambled up the middle on third down for 12 yards to the 5 and then hit Branch in the middle of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass with 3:05 left in the first half and a 7-0 New England lead.
Carolina then swooshed 95 yards in eight plays. Delhomme found Steve Smith, who beat cornerback Tyrone Poole off the line of scrimmage and caught a pass at the 3 for a 39-yard touchdown to tie the score with 1:07 to go.
New England set up at the 22 after the kickoff and scored on six plays in 49 seconds, spurred when Brady completed a 52-yard pass to Branch (10 catches, 143 yards) at the 14.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ed Bouchette is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.29.76045 -95.36978