NEW ORLEANS — They were underdogs throughout the playoffs, now they can say they are world champions.
New England came into this week 14-point underdogs against the St. Louis Rams, but in the end they were the ones who walked out of the Superdome with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Rams 20-17 to win Superbowl XXXVI.
But they certainly made it interesting.
After leading 17-3 into the fourth quarter, the Patriots allowed two unanswered touchdowns to St. Louis and suddenly found themselves knotted 17-17 with 1:30 remaining in the game.
But on New England’s ensuing possession, quarterback Tom Brady drove 53-yards on 8-plays to set up a 48-yard field goal attempt for kicker Adam Vinatieri. The Patriots kicker knocked it right down the middle, and as time expired New England found themselves victorious in a game that virtually no one gave them any chance of winning.
But there they were, world champions. There they were, with their long-snapper Lonie Paxton doing snow-angels in the endzone, something he did the last time Vinatieri kicked a game-winning kick which came against Oakland in a blizzard two weeks ago. It’s likely a ritual that will continue for years to come.
The victory was the first championship in franchise history, and also the first for a Boston sports team since 1986 when the Celtics last brought home a championship.
On paper, it certainly wouldn’t have appeared that New England had won the football game. They converted only 2-of-11 third down attempts, with St. Louis finishing with far more total net yards (427 compared to 267). Quarterback Kurt Warner threw for more yards then Brady (365 compared to 145), but Warner’s two interceptions, one of which was run back for a touchdown, were the difference in the game.
The Rams took a 3-0 lead on a 50-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins early in the first quarter following a 10-play 48-yard drive that began on St. Louis’ own 20-yard line.
But New England cornerback Ty Law later intercepted Kurt Warner and returned it 47-yards for a touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead with 8:49 left in the first half.
They added to that lead after Terrell Buckley recovered a fumble by wide receiver Ricky Proehl which gave the Patriots the ball at the Rams 40-yard line with 1:20 left in the half. Brady then took them 40-yards on 5-plays and fired a touchdown pass to wide receiver David Patten to send New England into the locker room with a 14-3 lead at halftime.
A 37-yard field goal late in the third quarter by Vinatieri gave New England a 17-3 lead, and all of a sudden Patriots fans began to believe that a championship was within reach.
But the Rams wouldn’t go down quietly.
They answered on their next possession with a 12-play 77-yard drive that ended in a 2-yard touchdown run by Kurt Warner. It came after the Patriots had appeared to stop the Rams on fourth down on that possession. Linebacker Roman Phifer caused Warner to fumble on 4th-and-3 and Tebucky Jones took off 97-yards the other way in what appeared to be another Patriots touchdown. However Willie McGinest was called for holding runningback Marshall Faulk on that play, and the touchdown was called back. Two plays later St. Louis reached the endzone and cut the lead to 17-10 with 9:31 left in the game.
The Rams forced two three-and-outs on New England’s next two possessions, and then got the ball at their own 45-yard line. St. Louis then did what they have done so well, and that was striking quickly. They went 55-yards on only 3-plays and scored on a 26-yard touchdown by receiver Ricky Proehl, and suddenly with 1:30 left in the game the lead was gone, and the score was tied 17-17.
To make matters worse the Patriots took possession on their own 17-yard line with only 1:21 left in the game, and had many thinking they should just kneel down and try to win the game in overtime.
They were wrong.
Ever the calm, cool, collective individual he has been all season, Brady drove the Patriots down the field on 8-plays, including a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Troy Brown which helped set up Vinatieri’s 48-yard game winning field goal. The kick went up, and down came the confetti which covered the field in red-white-and-blue snow.
And off went Paxton, off to make yet another snow angel in the endzone like he had done the last time Vinatieri kicked a game-winning field goal. The new ritual ended what has been truly a magical season for the New England Patriots, and now they are world champions.