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 number five game saw an upstart team, "The Greatest Show on Turf" and a game winning field goal. Let’s go back to Super Bowl XXXVI.
The St. Louis Rams came in 2001 bitter over their Wild Card loss to the New Orleans Saints. That bitterness was prevalent in their play. They rushed out to a quick 6-0 record. They would split their next four games, going 2-2, including a win over the New England Patriots. The Rams turned up the heat and won their final six games to finish 14-2, a franchise record.
The NFL's No. 1 offense was lead by QB Kurt Warner and RB Marshall Faulk. The duo, who had combined to win three straight NFL MVPs, once again dominated. Warner threw for 4,830 yards and 36 touchdowns, while Faulk had 2,147 all-purpose yards and 21 total touchdowns. Pro Bowl WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce (2,469 combined yards, 13 combined touchdowns), were Warner’s primary targets.
Defensively, the Rams went from one of the worst to a top 10 squad in yards and points. Their biggest contributor was All-Pro CB Aeneas Williams (56 tackles, four interceptions), but the squad also received contributions from LB London Fletcher (90 tackles, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions) and DE Leonard Little (23 tackles, 14.5 sacks).
With the NFC's top seed, the Rams had the benefit of home field throughout the playoffs. After a week to rest they took the field against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Using their new and improved defense, St. Louis forced Favre to throw an NFL playoff record six interceptions. Three of those—by LB Tommy Polley and two by Williams—went for touchdowns, and St. Louis won handily 45-17.
The NFC Conference Championship was a little closer. Facing off against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Rams were able to take an early 10-3 lead, but a 14-point second quarter by the Eagles put them in control at halftime 17-13. The second half became the Marshall Faulk show, who scored two one-yard touchdowns to give St. Louis a 29-17 lead. Philadelphia cut the lead to 29-24 on QB Donovan McNabb’s sneak from three yards out. But on their next possession, McNabb was picked off by Williams, and the Rams were returning to the Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots were just looking for success. The Patriots finished last in 2000, and starting QB Drew Bledsoe was injured during the second game of the 2001 season. Little-known backup Tom Brady was elevated to starter. After a 1-3 start, Brady pulled the team to 5-5 before reeling off six straight wins to take the AFC East, and the No. 2 seed, with an 11-5 record.
Brady had quite the season, throwing for 2,843 yards and 18 touchdowns. His top target was Pro Bowl WR Troy Brown, who caught 101 balls for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns. Running back Antowain Smith had a solid rushing season, gaining 1,157 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots had some ball-hawking secondary members. Cornerback Otis Smith led the squad with five interceptions and was joined by Pro Bowlers Ty Law (three interceptions) and Lawyer Milloy (two interceptions).
The Patriots started their playoff run in the divisional round, hosting the Oakland Raiders. Oakland came out as hot as possible in the snow, leading 13-3 heading into the fourth quarter. Brady would lead the Patriots to their first touchdown of the game, cutting the deficit to three.
With under two minutes to go, Brady was leading the Patriots to the tying field goal when he was sacked by Raiders DB Charles Woodson and fumbled the ball, sealing the victory for Oakland. However, the now infamous “Tuck Rule” came into playm and New England was given the ball back. Brady led them down the field and K Adam Vinatieri tied the game up with a 45-yard field goal as time expired. In overtime, Vinatieri hit a 23 yarder, and New England claimed the victory, 16-13.
The AFC Championship would make things even weirder for New England. Nursing a 7-3 lead, Brady was injured, bringing in the man he formerly backed up, Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe came right in and marched New England the rest of the way, ending the drive with an 11-yard TD pass to David Patten; New England went up 14-3. They would extend the lead to 21-3 after a blocked kick was returned for a touchdown. From there, the Patriots would hold on to clinch a Super Bowl berth with the 24-17 victory.
Despite one of the NFL's top offenses, St. Louis only managed a field goal in the first quarter, while holding New England scoreless. The 3-0 lead held until midway through the second quarter, when Law intercepted a Warned pass, returning it 47 yards for a TD to give New England a 7-3 lead. A St. Louis fumble with under two minutes left in the half gave Brady a short field. He hit Patten from eight yards out to let New England go into the half up 14-3.
New England would take a two touchdown lead into the fourth quarter when St. Louis struck back. The Rams scored on a Warner sneak, cutting the lead to one touchdown, 17-10. Defense would hold until St. Louis got the ball back with 1:51 on the clock. Three plays later, Warner hit WR Ricky Proehl from 26 yards out, and St. Louis tied the game 17-17.
New England had the ball with 90 seconds left and no timeouts. While most teams would go to overtime, New England wasn’t ready to let the clock strike midnight on their Cinderella season. Brady got to the New England 41 with 33 seconds left. Following a 23-yard pass to Brown and a six-yard pass to TE Jermaine Wiggins, Vinatieri came on for the game-winning field goal. Vinatieri knocked down the 48 yarder, giving New England the upset victory over St. Louis.
The first Super Bowl to be decided on the final play? That’s a top 10 Super Bowl, hands down.