HOUSTON -- Kicker John Kasay gave the New England Patriots something they certainly didn't need: an assist. Kasay, the only remaining Panther from Carolina's inaugural season in 1995, committed one of the biggest gaffes in his career with 1:08 left in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
After Ricky Proehl caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme to tie the game at 29-all, Kasay's ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds, leading to a penalty that gave New England the ball at its own 40-yard line. Six plays and 64 seconds later, Kasay's counterpart Adam Vinatieri kicked yet another game-winning field goal to give New England a 32-29 victory and its second championship in three seasons.
"I caught it just a little late," Kasay explained. "I was trying to make a really good kick. I got a little high and a little outside on the ball."
Considering the Patriots have one of the all-time clutch kickers in league history and this generation's Joe Montana in Tom Brady, Kasay's penalty seemingly spelled doom from the moment an official tossed his yellow flag in the air.
"Obviously, they would like to have that one back," New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. "That was a huge change in field position. ... If we gain 30 yards, Adam has a chance to win. Fortunately, we got more than that."
Not only did the errant kickoff give the Patriots field position, but it also changed some players' outlook after Carolina had regained the momentum.
"Getting it at the 40, you get a little upbeat," Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown said.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers tried to stay positive. All year long, they've overcome deficits and managed to win close games, so having their backs against the wall was nothing new.
"I never lose faith in the game and think we're going to lose until the last seconds tick off," Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. "I just thought 'this is another obstacle we have to overcome.' "
Unlike the offense moments earlier, the Panthers defense was unable to successfully handle an adverse situation.
Brady, as he did two years ago in New Orleans against the St. Louis Rams, marched his Pats down the field on a final, 64-second drive to give Vinatieri a shot to atone for two earlier misses.
"I don't care if he misses four or five field goals in a row, he's the guy I want out there when the game is on the line," Patriots defensive tackle Richard Seymour said. "I knew with the guys that we had, we had a great chance percentage-wise to make some plays."
And New England did it against a Panthers team that had allowed 30 points in only one other game this season -- 37 in its initial loss of the season to Tennessee on Oct. 19.
"We needed a really good kick, and I didn't get it done," Kasay said.
Teammate Brentson Buckner refused to point fingers.
"If it wasn't for John Kasay, we wouldn't be sitting here," said Buckner, alluding to Kasay's five game-winning field goals this season said. "They still had 60 yards to go."