Super Bowl XXXVIII: Brady and Vinatieri

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The 2003 season for the Patriots would start out with controversy and turmoil.  The Patriots, who were coming off a 9-7 season in 2002, were planning to get back on track and get back into the playoffs.  Before the start of the season, head coach Bill Belichick would make one of the most controversial moves in his tenure as a head coach.

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Belichick released fan favorite and locker room leader, safety Lawyer Milloy.  The Patriots released Milloy because he refused to restructure his contract.  Milloy was in the fourth year of a seven-year, $35 million dollar contract and was scheduled to make $4.5 million.  Belichick was trying to reduce his cap number, but instead ended up releasing the veteran safety.

"This is a player and person I have immense respect for, and he meant a lot to this team and organization," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.  "Unfortunately he's a casualty of the system.  The timing is not good.  We tried to find a way to make it work.  In the end, we weren't able to get to that point."

Milloy would go on to sign with division rival, the Buffalo Bills.  Ironically the Bills and the Patriots would meet in Week 1.  The Bills would go on and crush the Patriots 31-0.  The narrative in the New England media was whether or not Belichick had lost his locker room by releasing Milloy.  ESPN’s Tom Jackson said on live TV that the team “hates their coach.”

The Patriots would come to rally around their head coach.  Rodney Harrison commented following Jackson’s words on TV, "I respect Tom Jackson, but that is one of the stupidest things I ever heard.”  In fact, when Belichick was asked about the comment he replied, “I am not going to dignify the comments with any type of response.”

In Bill we trust.

The Patriots would start the year 2-2 and then go on to win the next 12 and finish the regular season 14-2.

During that 14-2 run, the Patriots would have a Week 11 match up with the Dallas Cowboys.  This would be the first time Belichick would go against Bill Parcells, who was the Cowboys head coach.  The Patriots defeated the Cowboys for only the second time in franchise history by a score of 12-0 at home on ESPN.

The Patriots would be led by quarterback Tom Brady, completing 317 out of 527 at 60.2% of his passes for 3,620 yards and 23 touchdowns, with only 12 interceptions.  Brady had wide receiver Deion Branch and David Givens to lead the aerial attack, while veteran receiver Troy Brown provided depth and leadership with the offense.

Before the season, the Patriots would add some important pieces on the defensive side of the football.  The team added free-agent safety Rodney Harrison and the team traded for defensive lineman Ted Washington to plug up the middle of the defensive line.

To go along with Harrison and Washington, the team still had cornerback Ty Law, defensive end Richard Seymour, and linebackers Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi.

The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years, this time matching up with the Carolina Panthers.  The Panthers were coming off a 1-15 season the year before, and in 2003, led by head coach John Fox, the team would go 11-5.

Shop for 2018 NFL Jerseys at NFLShop.comThe genius of Belichick would begin to cement itself as the season went on.  From a potential broken locker room to a 12-game winning streak to end the season, Belichick would begin to establish his reputation as the best coach in NFL history.

The two teams squared off on February 1st, 2004 in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.  The game would go on to some as the “Greatest Super Bowl” of all-time.  Both teams were in the top 15 in scoring, so points shouldn’t have been hard to come by, but they were.  Well, until the end of the game.

The first quarter was a defensive struggle between both teams.  Neither team scored in the first quarter.  The second quarter was as different story, it was an offensive slugfest between both offenses.

Kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal in the second quarter, but three plays later Vrabel sacked Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme.  The Panthers QB fumbled the football and Seymour recovered the football.

Four plays later, Brady connected with Branch for the game’s first points with a touchdown.  The Panthers would quickly follow, Delhomme to receiver Steve Smith on a 39-yard touchdown pass.

Brady being Brady, he answered with another touchdown.  Brady connected with Givens to give the Patriots a 14-7 lead.  Panthers kicker John Kasay connected on a 50-yard field goal, and the Patriots took a 14-10 lead at the half.

The halftime show would not be without its own fanfare.  This was the famous Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake halftime show.  The one where Timberlake would expose the nipple of Jackson on live TV.

The second half started like the first quarter.  Neither the Panthers nor Patriots were able to move the football and gain any offensive momentum.

Patriots’ running back Antowain Smith rushed for a touchdown in the third quarter giving the Patriots a 21-10 lead to begin the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter would begin some of the most incredible football in Super Bowl history.

The Panthers answered Smith’s touchdown with an 81-yard, two minute drive with a DeShaun Foster touchdown run.  The Panthers would attempt a two-point conversion which they failed to capitalize on.

The Patriots would attempt to answer the Panthers scoring drive, but failed to answer.  Brady threw an interception intended for tight end Christian Fauria.  The Panthers then came back and took a 22-21 lead in the fourth off an 85-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mushin Muhammad.

The back and forth would continue.  Brady led the team down field in a four-minute drive and connected with Vrabel for a touchdown with 2:55 left to play in the game.  Running back Kevin Faulk ran the ball into the end zone to convert the two point conversion, and the Patriots would go up 29-22.
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With only 2:55 left to play, you’d think the Patriots were in the driver’s seat for the rest of the game.  Instead, the Panthers would drive 80-yards down field to tie the game up at 29-29.

Then Brady would prevail.  He would do what we would grow to see over the course of his Patriots career, lead his team down field and win.

The Panthers kicked the ball off following the touchdown.  Kasay struck the ball and kicked the ball out of bounds resulting in a penalty.  Brady and his offense took the ball from the 40-yard line with 1:08 left in the Super Bowl. 

Brady completed four of five passes and set up Vinatieri for a 41-yard field goal.

Flashing back two years before, Vinatieri would nail a 48-yard field goal and the Patriots would win the team’s first Super Bowl over the Rams.  Now back to Houston.

Prior to the kick Vinatieri had a touch day kicking.  He was 0-2 and was about to kick the second biggest kick in franchise history and his future Hall of Fame career.

The center hiked the ball and from 41 yards, Vinatieri nailed the kick and the Patriots took a 32-29 lead with only five seconds to play.  The kick would prove to be the game winner and the Patriots would win their second Super Bowl in three years.

Brady won the Super Bowl MVP, throwing three touchdowns for 354 yards and led his team to an incredible victory over a tough Panthers team.  The game featured a combined 868 yards between both teams, but in the end the Patriots just made more plays than the Panthers.

The Lombardi Trophy was coming back to New England.  Cue the duckboats, because the Patriots were on top of the football world.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Super Bowl XXXVIII: Brady and Vinatieri
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Brady and Vinatieri
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