INT, missed kicks set up dramatic finish

Updated: February 2, 2004, 1:40 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- With a chance to put the Patriots ahead early, Adam Vinatieri missed not once, but twice. With a chance to put them in control late, Tom Brady threw his worst pass of the playoffs.

When it really counted, New England's two coolest customers were perfect.

Brady stood up to Carolina's nasty pass rush, making the throws that got New England in position to win another Super Bowl on a last-second kick. Vinatieri then delivered again with 4 seconds left for a 32-29 victory Sunday.

The dependable duo had done it again.

With his second Super Bowl title in three years, Brady stamped himself as one of the game's best clutch passers. But he was feeling a lot more like a failure after throwing his only interception.

The Patriots were already well within Vinatieri's range early in the fourth quarter when Brady threw one that he immediately knew he should have just flung away.

Instead of letting Vinatieri make the kick and put the Patriots up by eight points, he made an uncharacteristic mistake. Brady, who didn't throw an interception in any home game during the regular season, simply threw it and hoped.

Reggie Howard's interception in the end zone left him hoping for another chance.

Brady got it, and delivered a last-second drive that was a bookend to the closing seconds of the Patriots' win over the Rams two years ago. With the score tied and 68 seconds left, he made three clutch throws that decided it.

Thirteen yards to Troy Brown, then 13 more to the same guy. Then, with overtime looming and the clock running down, a perfectly timed 17-yard pass to Deion Branch along the right sideline.

As Branch tumbled out of bounds with 9 seconds left, another Lombardi Trophy was within the Patriots' grasp. All they needed was a 41-yard field goal from Vinatieri, who beat the Rams with just such a kick.

This time, he had a few troubling things on his mind. He had missed his first two tries -- one wide right, one blocked -- and wasted a chance to put New England ahead and get the early momentum.

Now, he was lining up in the only domed stadium that has befuddled him. He missed two in a regular-season game in Houston during the regular season -- the first time he'd ever been off the mark in a dome.

This time, the ball stayed true.

"I looked up and it was going down the middle," he said. "I've been very fortunate, very lucky to be on such great teams."

The quarterback and the kicker made them great again.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press