Vinatieri smooth in the clutch

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW ORLEANS - Game-winning field goals have become a habit lately for Adam Vinatieri.

Two weeks ago, the New England Patriots kicker hit field goals from 45 and 23 yards in four inches of snow to tie and win an AFC divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. Last night, he won the Super Bowl for the Patriots, converting a 48-yard field goal as time expired.

"We shocked the world," Vinatieri said, "but we didn't shock ourselves."

The field goal with no time left was the latest a Super Bowl game has ever been decided.

It was the 13th game-winning field goal of Vinatieri's six-year career. The Patriots were 4-0 in games decided by three points or less.

"He's the clutchest kicker in the league," quarterback Tom Brady said.

Said coach Bill Belichick: "If you want a guy making the play at the end of the game, Adam is the one."

Vinatieri, who has never missed a field-goal attempt in a dome, felt the game was over immediately.

"Once I kicked it, I knew it was good," he said. "I looked up and it was just time to celebrate. It was unbelievable."

Introducing the team

Going against usual Super Bowl practice, the Patriots were not introduced individually. After the St. Louis Rams had each of their starters on offense announced, the Patriots all ran to the sideline.

"The players wanted to do it that way," Belichick said. "They wanted to come out as a team."

Faulk returns

The Rams had star running back Marshall Faulk returning kickoffs last night, but he only returned one for 1 yard. But one play can turn a game around, even if it means risking a star player.

"I thought he might break it," said Rams coach Mike Martz. "We thought about this all week. He's the greatest running back in football right now. You don't put him back there normally because you risk injury. But this is the Super Bowl ... to win it. That's why we did that."

Faulk said: "I'm always an emergency guy for going back there."

Cheap shots?

Faulk wasn't too happy with the treatment by some of the Patriots, and suggested New England took cheap shots at him.

"They took some shots at me that I thought were unnecessary shots, but within the game of football, that's what happens," said Faulk. "When the ball doesn't come to you and you're walking down the field and you get hit, if that's a clean hit, then that's fine. You don't get protected in this league, but that was their plan. We still moved the ball, though."

No excuses

The Rams weren't making any excuses after the game. There were a number of questions from reporters about the Rams' taking the Patriots too lightly, but most of the Rams said they just got outplayed.

"We knew those guys had a great defensive scheme, and we knew they were capable of coming out, putting pressure on us and making plays," said Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace. "That was the key to their game - they made more plays than we made."

Said Martz, in reference to overlooking the Patriots: "Oh please, that's insulting to me. This is the Super Bowl. How can you overlook somebody in the Super Bowl? I don't understand that question."

Patriots quarterback Brady said it best: "We've got a team full of underdogs. I guess we're the top dog now."

Part of the team

New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe said he was proud to be a part of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl despite not playing in the game. This might have well been his last game in a New England uniform.

"I'm proud to be a part of this team," said Bledsoe. "This whole season has been about playing as a team. I know my role, and I do my part to support my team. I really do understand what my role has been. My hat goes off to Tom Brady and our offensive line. They made the plays that we needed to win the game."

Rams' 'D' comes up short

The satisfaction of how well the Rams' defense progressed this season was tempered by the final minute and a half.

That is how long it took Brady to lead his team on a 53-yard drive to set up Vinatieri's winning kick.

Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith received much of the credit for taking a Rams defense that gave up nearly 30 points a game a year ago to finish No. 3 in the league this season with eight different starters. All that was of little consequence afterward.

"Right now, I just know I have a bad feeling in my stomach about a great team that fought all year but came up one game short," Smith said.

"They got turnovers, and we didn't," he added. "That's something we've done a great job of the last couple of games, and [yesterday], we didn't. You have to point that out. We are never satisfied when a team gets 20 points. The majority of the points came when we were on the field. We had a chance to stop them, and we didn't at the critical time."

Faulk makes impact

As usual, Faulk made the biggest play for the Rams.

But this time, it was neither his running nor pass catching that did it. Instead, Faulk drew a holding penalty on Patriots defensive end Willie McGinest on a fourth-and-three with the Rams down 17-3 in the fourth quarter.

McGinest grabbed Faulk right after the snap and virtually tackled him.

Warner scrambled out of the pocket and attempted to run in for a touchdown, but fumbled after he was hit by linebacker Roman Phifer at the 1-yard line. Safety Tebucky Jones returned the fumble 97 yards for an apparent touchdown. But the penalty gave the Rams the ball at the 1, and Warner scored on a quarterback sneak two plays later to bring the Rams to within a touchdown.

"He tackled me," Faulk said. "I didn't see the flag at all. I was trying to run to the flat, and he tackled me. That was going on for the most part [all day]. Every time I released, I got held, pushed, grabbed. It just so happened that we were on a part of the field where it's condensed and the line judge actually had an opportunity to see it."

Faulk finished with 76 yards on 17 carries but at times seemed to be forgotten in the offense. Asked if thought he got the ball enough, Faulk said, "I wasn't really paying attention to that. I go into the game, and we run the play that is called."

Warner thumbs through

Rams quarterback Kurt Warner expressed some discomfort with his hurting right thumb, which he injured in the first game of the season, at times last night.

Warner jammed the thumb in the first quarter, but said that did not affect his game.

"I hit it about three times during the game," Warner said. "I don't know when and where. I didn't worry about it. It was something I had to fight through, and I did. I felt fine, good enough to win the football game. I just didn't do it."

Miscellaneous

Patriots punter Ken Walter, who averaged 43.1 yards on eight kicks, was a ball boy for the Ravens in the 1996 season. ... Brady became the fifth player to wear No. 12 and capture the MVP award. The others were Joe Namath, Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw (twice). ... The last time the NFL champion was from New England was 1928, when the Providence Steam Rollers won the title. ... Super Bowl champions are 28-7 when leading at the half. ... Brady's touchdown pass to receiver David Patten in the second quarter was his first touchdown in 83 throws.

Super kicks

Last night's Super Bowl was the third decided by a fourth-quarter field goal:

1971: Jim O'Brien kicks a 32-yarder with five seconds left to give the Baltimore Colts a 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V.

1991: Matt Bahr's 21-yarder with 7:10 remaining gives the New York Giants a 20-19 lead over the Buffalo Bills. That score holds up as the final margin in Super Bowl XXV when the Bills' Scott Norwood is wide-right on a 47-yard attempt in the final seconds.

2002: Adam Vinatieri's 48-yarder as time expires gives the New England Patriots a 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Super Bowl history

Champions

1967-Green Bay (NFL) 35, Kansas City (AFL) 10

1968-Green Bay (NFL) 33, Oakland (AFL) 14

1969-N.Y. Jets (AFL) 16, Baltimore Colts (NFL) 7

1970-Kansas City (AFL) 23, Minnesota (NFL) 7

1971-Balt. Colts (AFC) 16, Dallas (NFC) 13

1972-Dallas (NFC) 24, Miami (AFC) 3

1973-Miami (AFC) 14, Washington (NFC) 7

1974-Miami (AFC) 24, Minnesota (NFC) 7

1975-Pittsburgh (AFC) 16, Minnesota (NFC) 6

1976-Pittsburgh (AFC) 21, Dallas (NFC) 17

1977-Oakland (AFC) 32, Minnesota (NFC) 14

1978-Dallas (NFC) 27, Denver (AFC) 10

1979-Pittsburgh (AFC) 35, Dallas (NFC) 31

1980-Pittsburgh (AFC) 31, Los Angeles (NFC) 19

1981-Oakland (AFC) 27, Philadelphia (NFC) 10

1982-San Fran. (NFC) 26, Cincinnati (AFC) 21

1983-Washington (NFC) 27, Miami (AFC) 17

1984-L.A. Raiders (AFC) 38, Washington (NFC) 9

1985-San Francisco (NFC) 38, Miami (AFC) 16

1986-Chicago (NFC) 46, New England (AFC) 10

1987-N.Y. Giants (NFC) 39, Denver (AFC) 20

1988-Washington (NFC) 42, Denver (AFC) 10

1989-San Fran. (NFC) 20, Cincinnati (AFC) 16

1990-San Francisco (NFC) 55, Denver (AFC) 10

1991-N.Y. Giants (NFC) 20, Buffalo (AFC) 19

1992-Washington (NFC) 37, Buffalo (AFC) 24

1993-Dallas (NFC) 52, Buffalo (AFC) 17

1994-Dallas (NFC) 30, Buffalo (AFC) 13

1995-San Fran. (NFC) 49, San Diego (AFC) 26

1996-Dallas (NFC) 27, Pittsburgh (AFC) 17

1997-Green Bay (NFC) 35, New England (AFC) 21

1998-Denver (AFC) 31, Green Bay (NFC) 24

1999-Denver (AFC) 34, Atlanta (NFC) 19

2000-St. Louis (NFC) 23, Tennessee (AFC) 16

2001-Balt. Ravens (AFC) 34, N.Y. Giants (NFC) 7

2002-New England (AFC) 20, St. Louis (NFC) 17

MVPs

1967-Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay

1968-Bart Starr, QB, Green Bay

1969-Joe Namath, QB, N.Y. Jets

1970-Len Dawson, QB, Kansas City

1971-Chuck Howley, LB, Dallas

1972-Roger Staubach, QB, Dallas

1973-Jake Scott, S, Miami

1974-Larry Csonka, RB, Miami

1975-Franco Harris, RB, Pittsburgh

1976-Lynn Swann, WR, Pittsburgh

1977-Fred Biletnikoff, WR, Oakland

1978-Randy White, DT; Harvey Martin, DE, Dallas

1979-Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh

1980-Terry Bradshaw, QB, Pittsburgh

1981-Jim Plunkett, QB, Oakland

1982-Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco

1983-John Riggins, RB, Washington

1984-Marcus Allen, RB, L.A. Raiders

1985-Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco

1986-Richard Dent, DE, Chicago

1987-Phil Simms, QB, N.Y. Giants

1988-Doug Williams, QB, Washington

1989-Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco

1990-Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco

1991-Ottis Anderson, RB, N.Y. Giants

1992-Mark Rypien, QB, Washington

1993-Troy Aikman, QB, Dallas

1994-Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas

1995-Steve Young, QB, San Francisco

1996-Larry Brown, CB, Dallas

1997-Desmond Howard, KR, Green Bay

1998-Terrell Davis, RB, Denver

1999-John Elway, QB, Denver

2000-Kurt Warner, QB, St. Louis

2001-Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens

2002-Tom Brady, QB, New England

Records

Two records were tied in Super Bowl XXXVI last night:

Individual

Interceptions returned for touchdown - 1, Ty Law, New England vs. St. Louis, 2002 (Herb Adderly, Green Bay vs. Oakland 1968; Willie Brown, Oakland vs. Minnesota, 1975; Jack Squirek, L.A. Raiders vs. Washington, 1984; Reggie Phillips, Chicago vs. New England, 1986; Duane Starks, Baltimore vs. N.Y. Giants, 2001).

Team

Interceptions returned for touchdown - 1, New England vs. St. Louis, 2002 (Green Bay vs. Oakland 1968; Oakland vs. Minnesota, 1975; L.A. Raiders vs. Washington, 1984; Chicago vs. New England, 1986; Baltimore vs. N.Y. Giants, 2001).

Top performances

Passing yards

414-Kurt Warner, St. Louis vs. Tennessee, 2000

365-Kurt Warner, St. Louis vs. N. England, 2002

357-Joe Montana, San Fran. vs. Cincinnati, 1989

340-Doug Williams, Washington vs. Denver, 1988

336-John Elway, Denver vs. Atlanta, 1999

331-Joe Montana, San Fran. vs. Miami, 1985

325-Steve Young, San Fran. vs. San Diego, 1995

318-Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh vs. Dallas, 1979

318-Dan Marino, Miami vs. San Fran., 1985

309-Terry Bradshaw, Pitt. vs. L.A. Rams, 1980

304-John Elway, Denver vs. N.Y. Giants, 1987

303-Ken Anderson, Cincinnati vs. San Fran., 1982

297-Joe Montana, San Fran. vs. Denver, 1990

292-Mark Rypien, Washington vs. Buffalo, 1992

291-Ron Jaworski, Philadelphia vs. Oakland, 1981

Rushing yards

204-Timmy Smith, Washington vs. Denver, 1988

191-Marcus Allen, L.A. Raiders vs. Wash., 1984

166-John Riggins, Washington vs. Miami, 1983

158-Franco Harris, Pittsburgh vs. Minn., 1975

157-Terrell Davis, Denver vs. Green Bay, 1998

145-Larry Csonka, Miami vs. Minnesota, 1974

137-Clarence Davis, Oakland vs. Minnesota, 1977

135-Thurman Thomas, Buff. vs. N.Y. Giants, 1991

132-Emmitt Smith, Dallas vs. Buffalo, 1994

121-Matt Snell, N.Y. Jets vs. Balt. Colts, 1969

Receiving yards

215-Jerry Rice, San Fran. vs. Cincinnati, 1989

193-Ricky Sanders, Washington vs. Denver, 1988

162-Isaac Bruce, St. Louis vs. Tennessee, 2000

161-Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh vs. Dallas, 1976

152-Andre Reed, Buffalo vs. Dallas, 1993

152-Rod Smith, Denver vs. Atlanta, 1999

149-Jerry Rice, San Fran. vs. San Diego, 1995

148-Jerry Rice, San Fran. vs. Denver, 1990

138-Max McGee, Green Bay vs. Kan. City, 1967

133-George Sauer, N.Y. Jets vs. Balt. Colts, 1969

129-Willie Gault, Chicago vs. New England, 1986

126-Antonio Freeman, Green Bay vs. Den., 1998

124-Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh vs. Dallas, 1979

Future sites

2003-Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

2004-Reliant Stadium, Houston

2005-ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla. 2006-Ford Field, Detroit

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