For once, the experts were right. The top National Football League (NFL) analysts predicted that Superbowl XXXVIII would be a close game, and that’s exactly what it was.
The New England Patriots’ 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers was a textbook example of what was supposed to happen this superbowl.
Of course, there were the usual dramatic moments when the hearts of both New England and Carolina fans stopped beating for a second. Especially in the last three minutes of the game. When Jake Delhomme threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad to put the Panthers ahead by one with 7:38 left in the game, fans knew that this wasn’t to be the outcome.
Where were the clutch performance of Tom Brady, and the usual late game heroics from place kicker Adam Vinatieri? That’s what was supposed to happen, and everyone, whether they were from Boston or not, knew it was still to come.
And of course, less than one minute later, the pressure of the clock winding down compelled Brady to begin another touchdown drive for the Patriots. When Brady put the Patriots up 29-22 by throwing a short touchdown pass to Mike Vrabel with less than three minutes left in the game, I thought that this year’s Superbowl had already come to its dramatic conclusion.
Delhomme and the Panthers battled back against the legacy of clutch performances that Brady has created to tie the game at 29 with a mere minute left to play.
Unfortunately for the underdog Panthers, they had forgotten that an important element of the equation had yet to be
introduced to this expectedly thrilling superbowl – Adam Vinatieri.
After the inspiring pressure performances of the arms of both teams’ quarterbacks, the outcome of Superbowl XXXVIII came down to two feet. John Kasey and Adam Vinatieri.
Kasey kicked the ball 52 yards and off to the right in the out of bounds area to give New England the perfect field position at their own 40 yard line to fulfill their “destiny.”
All Brady had to do was get the Patriots close enough so that Vinatieri would be able to complete his end of the bargain and kick a game-winning field goal. With a few crisp completions, he was able to advance the Patriots 37 yards in six plays to set-up Vinatieri.
Commentators questioned Vinatieri’s ability to give the Patriots their win from 41 yards away because of his performance earlier in the game.
Vinatieri’s 31-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter sailed wide to the right, and his 36-yard attempt in the second quarter was blocked by Carolina defensive tackle Shane Burton.
But despite Vinatieri’s 0-2 performance so far in the game, did we really think he wouldn’t come through?
Having kicked a game-winning field – goal two years ago in Superbowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams, and in the 2001 American Football Conference (AFC) championship against the Oakland Raiders, we knew it was part of the equation. Again.
And sure enough, Vinatieri’s kick with four seconds left to play, sailed right in between the goal posts as if his previous two attempts had never even happened.
Just a few yards closer than his winning field goal two years ago, Vinatieri had done it again.
Close game, check. Clutch performance by Tom Brady, check. Game winning field-goal in the last few seconds of the game by Adam Vinatieri, check.
According to the NFL analysts, everything that was supposed to happen did.
That’s why the New England Patriots are on top of the football world for the second time in three years.
The NFL commissioner stated that the contest between the Patriots and the Panthers had “thrilled America with an incredible Superbowl game.”
He was right, the game was thrilling. But did we honestly expect anything else from Brady, Vinatieri and Superbowl XXXVIII?