By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
With the pinnacle game of the NFL season nearby, I am going back through the archives to discuss the top 10 Super Bowls of all time. Our No. 8 game started with a fizzle and ended with a sizzle, so let's look back at the New England Patriots vs. the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 38.
The New England Patriots were trying to make it back to the Super Bowl after their 2001 win and missed playoff appearance in 2002. They didn’t start off too hot, going 2-2 in their first four games. This included a 31-0 shellacking at the hands of Buffalo in the first game of the season. Something clicked, and the team reeled off 12 straight wins to finish 14-2, clinching the AFC East and No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Patriots were led by the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, which gave up only 14 points a game. SS Rodney Harrison was the biggest contributor, recording 94 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions. Pro Bowler Ty Law recorded six interceptions, one for a touchdown. Brady was arguably the biggest name on the offense and threw for 3620 yards and 23 touchdowns.
In the freezing confines of Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans went back and forth, until Adam Vinatieri’s field goal with four minutes left in regulation proved to be the winning points, as the game ended 17-14. The AFC Championship would also be a rematch, as the Indianapolis Colts, who lost 38-34 to New England during the regular season, came to town.
Behind the relentless defensive pressure that forced four sacks and four interceptions from Peyton Manning and the offensive output of five field goals from Adam Vinatieri, the Patriots beat up the Colts 24-14 to clinch a Super Bowl berth.
The Carolina Panthers had only made the playoffs once in franchise history. In fact, they were one of the worst teams in the league, but they dramatically improved from 1-15 in 2001 to a record of 7-9 in 2002. They would use that momentum in the regular season and start 2003 by winning five in a row to jump out in front of the NFC South.
The momentum would wane, as they went 3-5 over their next eight games, but they regrouped and ended their season with a three-game winning streak, clinching the NFC South and a playoff berth.
RB Stephen Davis led a rushing attack that was top 10 in the NFL, gaining 1,444 yards and eight touchdowns. QB Jake Delhomme (3219 yards, 19 touchdowns), had quite the top target in WR Steve Smith (1110 yards, seven touchdowns). Defensively, the team was anchored by Pro Bowler Mike Rucker, who led the team with 12 sacks.
The playoff run started in the wild card game against the Dallas Cowboys. John Kasay kicked five field goals, and Steve Smith had 135 receiving yards and a touchdown, as Carolina won 29-10.
The Divisional playoff game against St. Louis was so long that it almost became a second game. Carolina had an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Rams kicked a game-tying field goal with no time remaining to send the game into overtime. It would be two overtimes before Delhomme found Smith for 69 yards and the game-winning score, ending the game at 29-23.
The defense would strike again in the Conference Championship against the Eagles, causing five sacks and three interceptions in an ugly 14-3 win. The Super Bowl berth would be the first in Carolina history.
Defense claimed the first quarter of the Super Bowl, and Vinatieri missed two field goals to keep the game scoreless. Another 12 minutes would pass before Brady found Deion Branch from five yards out to take the 7-0 lead.
Carolina struck right back with their next drive, going eight plays for 95 yards, which was capped by a Delhomme to Smith 39 yard pass to tie the game up 7-7 with 62 seconds left in the half. This was enough time for New England, and the team promptly scored on another five yard pass from Brady to David Givens, giving New England the 14-7 lead with 18 ticks on the clock.
Carolina still managed to cut into the lead before halftime, using good starting field position to give Kasay a 50-yard field goal attempt, which he nailed to make the halftime score 14-10.
The scoring would halt until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Antowain Smith rushed in from two yards out to give a wide advantage to New England, 21-10.
Four plays later, DeShaun Foster took a handoff from Delhomme and went 33 yards for the Carolina Panthers score. The two point conversion would fail, and New England would keep the lead, 21-16.
New England would drive to Carolina’s nine yard line on the next drive, but an interception by DB Reggie Howard gave Carolina new life. Two plays later, Delhomme found Muhsin Muhammad for 85 yards and the touchdown. Carolina would miss the two-point conversion again but held the lead for the first time all game, 22-21.
Despite holding the lead now, New England wasn’t worried and in fact took the lead right back. Brady completed his third touchdown pass of the game, a one yarder to TE-eligible Mike Vrabel, and New England took a 29-22 lead thanks to the two-point conversion.
Carolina wasn’t out of it yet though, and with one minute, eight seconds left in the game, Delhomme found WR Ricky Proehl from 12 yards out to tie the game up 29-29.
The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving New England field position at its own 40. That was a huge mistake for Carolina. With a small field, Brady methodically moved down the field and on a crucial third down completed a 17-yard pass to Branch, putting New England on the Carolina 25 with four seconds left.
Adam Vinatieri, known as Mr. Clutch in the playoffs, then calmly kicked a 41 yard field goal to give New England the 32-29 lead. Carolina did nothing on the kickoff, and the Patriots were champions again.
Four Super Bowls required last second kicks, but none had the amount of offense and firepower that Super Bowl 38 had, making it one of the best Super Bowls of all time.