- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

NEW ORLEANS The New England Patriots simply weren't going to be denied.
After losing a two-touchdown lead in a matter of eight minutes in the fourth quarter, the gutsy Patriots marched 53 yards in 74 seconds to set up a 48-yard, last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri. His kick gave them a dramatic 20-17 victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams and the Super Bowl XXXVI title last night in the Superdome.
"We shocked the world, but we didn't shock ourselves," said Vinatieri, who had won four games with overtime kicks this season.
Said Patriots coach Bill Belichick: "If you want a guy making a play at the end of the game, Adam's the one."
The Rams, dubbed the "Greatest Show on Turf" after becoming the first team to score 500 points in three straight seasons, racked up 427 yards last night, 365 from the right arm of NFL MVP Kurt Warner. But New England intercepted Warner twice and forced receiver Ricky Proehl to lose a fumble, leading to 17 Patriots points.
Nickel back Terrell Buckley recovered Proehl's fumble and returned it 15 yards to the St. Louis 40 to set up game MVP Tom Brady's 8-yard scoring pass to receiver David Patten, which made it 14-3 with just 31 seconds left in the first half.
"I knew it was going to be up to us in the secondary," said cornerback Ty Law, who returned the first pickoff 47 yards for a 7-3 lead. "They say [the Rams have] the best track team in the NFL, but I've never seen anybody win a 100-meter dash with anybody standing in front of him. We challenged them physically. We challenged them mentally."
Fellow cornerback Otis Smith took the second interception back 30 yards to the St. Louis 33 with 3:25 to go in the third quarter. Vinatieri, 25-for-25 in his career indoors, kicked a 37-yard field goal 2:07 later to extend the margin to 17-3.
"It was a great year, but any time you lose your last game, it hurts," said Warner, the MVP when St. Louis edged Tennessee 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV two years ago.
St. Louis, 14-point favorites coming in, didn't penetrate the New England red zone until 12 minutes remained. Warner's 2-yard touchdown run with 9:31 to go and Proehl's 26-yard catch and run to the end zone on a busted coverage by nickel back Terrance Shaw tied the game with 1:30 left. But the Patriots, who had lost to the Rams 24-17 at home on Nov. 18 and suddenly seemed on their heels, weren't willing to play for the first overtime in Super Bowl history.
"Any time you have that much time left, you've got to try to take advantage of it," said first-year starter Brady, who, at 24, became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He passed for 53 of his 145 yards on the final drive, during which he was 5-for-5 except for two time-saving spikes.
The Patriots, a 5-11 cellar-dweller last season, overcame the death of quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein in training camp, a serious injury to longtime starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 and the almost season-long absence of twice-suspended receiver Terry Glenn to win their final six games and the AFC East title.
New England rallied from a 13-3 fourth-quarter deficit in its playoff opener to beat the Oakland Raiders 16-13 on Vinatieri's 23-yard field goal in overtime. The 10-point underdog Patriots then upset the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-17 on the road in the AFC Championship game, and last night they stunned the mighty Rams in the biggest Super Bowl upset since the New York Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in 1969.
"A lot of people didn't believe in these players, but they believe in themselves, and that's all that matters," said Belichick, who was fired by the Cleveland Browns six years ago.
Trailing 14-3 at halftime, Warner came out throwing to no avail. After a holding penalty backed him up to his 8, Warner connected with star receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce for 20 and then 22 yards. An interference call on Smith moved the ball to the New England 41, but rookie tackle Richard Seymour sacked Warner at the 48, and on third down ex-Ram Roman Phifer hit Warner when his arm was in motion. The Patriots picked up first downs on a 17-yard burst by halfback Antowain Smith and a 22-yard reverse by Patten, but on third-and-4 at the St. Louis 36, nickel back Dre Bly knocked down Brady's pass for Patten, forcing a punt.
Rams halfback Marshall Faulk powered for 12 and then 6 yards before dashing for 12 more to midfield. On third-and-5, Holt slipped while running his route, giving Otis Smith the position to intercept Warner's pass. Pro Bowl receiver Troy Brown's diving 11-yard catch put the ball on the St. Louis 22, and four plays later, Vinatieri hit the 37-yarder for the 17-3 edge.
The fourth quarter began with the Rams facing second-and-3 at their 45. Receiver Az-Zahir Hakim snatched a 14-yard slant out of the air on third-and-6 before Warner avoided end Bobby Hamilton's pass rush and hit tight end Ernie Conwell for a 9-yard gain. Fullback James Hodgins picked up the first down, and then Faulk juked for 21 to the New England 9. Backup tight end Jeff Robinson caught a 6-yard toss, but safety Lawyer Milloy and Law almost picked off Warner's next two passes in the end zone. A would-be fourth turnover Warner fumbled trying to get into the end zone on fourth down, and safety Tebucky Jones returned it 97 yards for what looked liked the clinching touchdown was waved off because backup linebacker Willie McGinest blatantly held Faulk on the play. Two plays later, Warner scored.
New England went three-and-out, and St. Louis took over at its 7 with 7:44 to go. Warner hit Holt for 7 and Bruce for 5 before he found Proehl for 30 on third-and-10 with Jones blitzing. A 12-yard toss to Robinson gave the Rams a first down on the New England 39, but on second-and-9, McGinest made up for his goof by throwing Warner for a 16-yard sack. After Seymour jumped offsides, Warner couldn't connect with Holt and the Rams had to punt.
After another Patriots three-and-out and a 30-yard shanked punt by Ken Walter, the Rams got the ball back at their 45 with 1:51 left. Hakim evaded linebacker Mike Vrabel and raced 18 yards. Warner lofted an 11-yard toss to wideout Yo Murphy. On first-and-10 at the New England 26, nickel back Terrance Shaw followed Bruce inside instead of Proehl outside, and the 12-year veteran deked past Jones into the end zone with to tie the score with 1:30 to play.


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