Pats, Panthers end with Texas shootout

HOUSTON -- The final Super Bowl XXXVIII betting odds had the over-under at 37½ points -- for the game, not for one quarter.

The low-scoring game most predicted from the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, two teams built on defensive reputations, went according to the script through three quarters. Then came a fourth quarter totally out of character, one more explosively offensive than the MTV-produced halftime show.

In New England's 32-29 victory Sunday, the Patriots and the Panthers combined for a Super Bowl-record 37 points in the fourth quarter -- 19 for Carolina, 18 for New England. The number eclipsed the previous one-quarter high of 35 points, set in Super Bowl XXII, when Washington scored all 35 points in the second quarter.

The "under" appeared to be a sure bet early in the game. In fact, the game set another scoring record -- for going the furthest into the game without a score. It took 26 minutes and 55 seconds (until 3:05 of the second quarter) before the Patriots broke the scoreless tie on a Tom Brady TD pass to Deion Branch.

Even through a scoreless third quarter, the Patriots held a still-modest 14-10 lead. Then the two teams suddenly transformed from defensive stalwarts to offensive juggernauts, trading touchdowns in almost Showtime, fast-break fashion. A backyard brawl turned into a good, old-fashioned Texas shootout.

"As an offense, as the game was swaying back-and-forth, I was saying to myself, 'OK, we're not going to run the ball. This is going to be a shootout'," said Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who made the biggest play of the quarter, a Super Bowl-record 85-yard TD reception from Jake Delhomme.

The two teams combined for 427 yards of total offense (251 for Carolina; 176 for New England). The output was a complete reversal for Carolina, which gained minus-seven yards through its first six possessions of the game. And Delhomme, who at one point was 1-of-9 passing for one yard, went 9-for-14 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Brady completed 13-of-19 for 136 yards.

Big plays in the quarter ranged from the spectacular, like Muhammad's long touchdown and DeShaun Foster's nifty 33-yard TD scamper, to the unusual, as in linebacker Mike Vrabel's 1-yard TD grab from Brady.

"It was completely two different halves," said Panthers coach John Fox. "I thought it was more of a defensive struggle in the first half. Things opened up pretty good in the second half, and it turned into an offensive battle.

"Our offense was able to throw effectively, especially in the second half. Defensively, we really struggled to stop the pass."

The Patriots gave up a league-low 11 touchdown passes during the regular season. Yet Delhomme riddled the New England defense for 323 yards and three touchdowns.

The Panthers, meanwhile, had just as much trouble with Brady, who finished with a 354 yards and three TD passes to earn game MVP honors.

Neither team expected to surrender such an offensive flurry of yards and points -- over the course of one quarter or the entire game. Yet for all the defensive pride on both sides, the Lombardi Trophy made it easier for at least one team to digest.

To the Super Bowl champion Patriots, there was ample reason to be overjoyed about the "over."

"We didn't expect to give up any points on defense," said Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer. "But we won the game, and that's all that matters."