Close but no victory cigar this time

HOUSTON — HOUSTON - All the Carolina Panthers wanted was for Jake Delhomme to have a shot at leading them to victory in the fourth quarter. No matter how bad he looked for most of the first three quarters of the Super Bowl, they knew he"d come through when it mattered most.

He did. It just wasn't enough to top the last-second dramatics of New England kicker Adam Vinatieri.


Despite a go-ahead 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad and a 12-yarder to Ricky Proehl that tied it with 1:08 left, Delhomme could only watch helplessly as Vinatieri kicked the Patriots past the Panthers, 32-29, last night.

When Carolina's last-chance kickoff return was stopped and time expired without him getting back on the field, the Cajun quarterback stood on the sideline with his helmet off, his hands on his hips, biting his lip. He was practically in a trance watching New England celebrating amid the falling confetti, snapping out of it when Patriots running back Kevin Faulk came by for a quick hug.


Of all the thoughts flooding Delhomme's mind, there had to be a sense of what might've been. After all, he'd missed two-point conversion passes after the first two of Carolina's three fourth-quarter touchdowns. With one or both of those, everything else might"ve been different.

The Panthers were used to this kind of nail-biting finish, although they usually were the ones who ended up celebrating. They had 12 of 16 regular-season games decided by six points or less, going to overtime three times. They needed double overtime to get by the St. Louis Rams in the second round.

What they wouldn't have done for one more period.

In those close games, Delhomme often led them to the winning points. He did it against Arizona, Washington, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, and had a 69-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith that beat the Rams three weeks ago.