With Super Bowl XLIX on the horizon, we take the time to look back at the New England Patriots' past seven Super Bowls. Today, we continue the series with the Patriots' fourth appearance on the game's biggest stage – Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Their upset win over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI turned the Patriots into superstars; but while the team shined bright off the field, it failed to do the same on it. Due to this, the defending Super Bowl champions finished the 2002 season with a 9-7 record – and out of the playoffs.
Therefore, changes were needed. The most notable came at the safety position: in March, the Patriots signed free agent Rodney Harrison, in September – five days before the season opener – they released veteran Lawyer Milloy. The move was widely questioned and, coupled with a 2-2 start, led to speculation about the players' relationship with their coach.
However, the Patriots bounced back and went on to win their final 12 regular season games to earn another playoff berth. The team then proceeded to eliminate the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts before traveling to Houston to take on the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers.
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Carolina Panthers vs. New England Patriots – Game Synopsis
Date: February 1, 2004
Stadium: Reliant Stadium, Houston TX
Carolina Panthers 29
New England Patriots 32
Houston's Reliant Stadium saw the two best teams in the NFL deliver a game for the ages. Early on, it did not look like that would be the case: almost the entire first half was dominated by defense. The Patriots still had a chance to take the lead on their first drive but Adam Vinatieri missed 31-yard field goal attempt. This was the closest either team came to scoring in a first quarter that saw six punts and four 3-and-outs.
The slugfest continued in the second quarter. After punting on the first possession of the quarter, and subsequently forcing another 3-and-out, the Patriots were again in prime position to take the lead. Once again, though, Vinatieri missed a field goal attempt, as his 36-yard try was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Three plays later, linebacker Mike Vrabel sacked Panthers' quarterback Jake Delhomme, who fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Richard Seymour. The result: first down Patriots at the Carolina 20 yard line.
Tom Brady connected with wide receiver Deion Branch four plays after the takeaway, to give the game its first points with 3:10 to go in the first half. At that point, Carolina had amassed -8 yards of offense. Yet, the NFC Champion began driving down the field, tying the game with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Delhomme to Steve Smith.
New England responded with a touchdown of its own: the Patriots drove 78 yards in 36 seconds, capped by Brady's second touchdown pass of the day. This time, Houston-born David Givens was on the receiving end of it.
The first half, which started as a defensive battle, was still not over, though. After a Vinatieri squib kick, which was returned to the Carolina 47 yard line, the Panthers' Steven Davis ran for a 21-yard gain to set up John Kasay's 50-yard field goal. Thus, the Patriots entered halftime up 14-10. After a scoreless first 27 minutes, the first half saw 24 points being scored within a three-minute span.
The second half began like the first one: neither team was able to move the ball effectively. At the end of a scoreless third quarter, however, the Patriots found themselves at the Carolina 9 yard line. Two plays into the final period, Antowain Smith rushed for a touchdown to give New England a 21-10 lead – and kick off the arguably most spectacular 15 minutes in Super Bowl history.
The game, which had started as a defensive battle, turned into an offensive shootout. The Panthers, down 11, answered the Patriots' touchdown with an 81-yard, two minute drive that ended with a 33-yard DeShaun Foster touchdown run. A two-point conversion failed; the score was 21-16.
New England's offense responded with another long series, going from its own 27 to the Carolina 9 yard line in nine plays and four and a half minutes. However, the team once again failed to end a drive on the scoreboard as a Brady pass intended for tight end Christian Fauria was intercepted in the end zone.
To make matter worse, the Panthers would take the lead three plays later. Jake Delhomme connected with wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad on a 85-yard touchdown pass to give head coach John Fox's team a 22-21 lead (another two-point attempt failed).
Once again, the Patriots answered with a touchdown: after a four-minute drive, Tom Brady found linebacker/tight end Mike Vrabel in the endzone with 2:55 left in regulation. A two-point run by Kevin Faulk was successful and the Patriots were up 29-22.
The game, however, was still far from over. The Panthers drove 80 yards in 1:30 to tie the game at 29. Unfortunately for Carolina, Kasay's kick off following the touchdown landed out of bounds and the Patriots got the ball back at their own 40 yard line with 1:08 left in the game. On his second game-winning Super Bowl drive, Brady completed four of five pass attempts to set up Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal, which gave the Patriots a 32-29 lead and their second Lombardi Trophy.
Super Bowl XXXVIII had all one could have hoped for: great play on both sides of the football and great drama. The game started slow, but both teams combined to still gain 868 yards of offense (Patriots 481, Panthers 387). In the end, the Patriots prevailed and secured their second World Championship in a three-year span.
Super Bowl XXXVIII Highlights: