37 years after the famous “Ice Bowl”, the 1967 NFL championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots hosted their own version of it. The Patriots' January 2004 game against the Tennessee Titans did not receive a fancy name or a NFL Network special but it is still a memorable contest in the annals of Foxboro's Gillette Stadium.
After all, the divisional round contest versus Tennessee is the coldest home game in Patriots history. When the game was kicked off at 8:15 p.m., the thermometer was in the single-digits, reading a mere four degrees. Add in the wind factor and the game was started at a wind chill level of minus-10. And it certainly did not get any warmer over the next three hours.
What did help the sellout crowd stay moderately warm during the record cold was the home team's performance from the very first series on. After forcing a defensive three-and-out, the Patriots offense went to work and drove 69 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead after a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Bethel Johnson.
The visiting Titans responded by driving to a game-tying touchdown but New England's offense went right back to work. It took the Patriots nine plays to drive into scoring range yet again. However, their promising second series ended without points as kicker Adam Vinatieri shanked a 44-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter.
It did not take New England long to add to the scoreboard, though. After safety Rodney Harrison picked off Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair on the very next play after Vinatieri's miss, Tom Brady and company were set up at their own 43-yard line. Nine plays later, New England found itself at the Tennessee 1 – and from there Antowain Smith did not have a hard time finding the end zone to increase the Patriots' lead to 14-3.
As hot as New England started into the game, as quickly the team's temperature went the way of this January night's: It cooled off drastically. While the Patriots defense and special teams – Richard Seymour blocked a field goal attempt late in the second period – had a productive game, the offense's rhythm stalled. This, in turn, allowed Tennessee to get back into the game and tie the game in the third quarter.
It took until the late fourth period for the game to see some offensive movement by New England again. After a short Titans punt, the Patriots started the ultimate game-winning possession in Tennessee territory. And while New England drove only 13 yards on the next seven plays, it was enough to set up another kicking attempt for Adam Vinatieri – and this time, the future Hall of Famer did not miss.
Vinatieri's 46-yarder put the Patriots ahead 17-14 and with roughly four minutes left in the game, placed the team's defense in the spotlight – and coordinator Romeo Crennel's unit delivered: Tennessee was able to drive to the New England side of the field but with a game-deciding 4th and 12 coming up, the Patriots froze the Titans' comeback hopes by knocking away a pass attempt.
New England survived the cold, New England survived the Titans, New England advanced to host the AFC title game an ultimately win the Super Bowl. It all started on a cold January night in Foxboro – and maybe history can repeat itself today.