Brady's Passing Fuels Winning Drive in Final 1:21 After Rams Tie It

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What began two weeks ago with a whiteout in Foxboro ended Sunday with a confetti blizzard in the Superdome.

Somewhere in between, most of the NFL world got snowed.

Snowed into thinking the St. Louis Rams were unbeatable. Snowed into thinking the New England Patriots were doomed. Snowed into thinking kicker Adam Vinatieri's 15 minutes of fame were up.

Oh, what a mistake.

With the game on the line and a monumental upset nearly half a football field away, Vinatieri split the uprights with a 48-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Patriots to an unbelievable 20-17 victory before a crowd of 72,922.

It marked the first NFL title for the Patriots--two-touchdown underdogs--and the first time in Super Bowl history the winning score came on the game's final play.

So sure was Vinatieri his kick was good, he threw up his arms immediately after finishing his leg swing, then gleefully wrapped his arms around delirious holder Ken Walter.

"When I was getting ready to kick it, [Walter] said, 'You better come to me after you hit this thing,'" Vinatieri said. "So I ran towards the sidelines, then I stopped and he just about tackled me."

Vinatieri, remember, made those two clutch kicks in the snow to beat the Raiders in a divisional playoff. Sunday's was even bigger.

The kick punctuated a dream season for the Patriots, who went from worst (fifth place in the AFC East last season) to cursed (losing starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe two games into the season) to first. Tom Brady, who rocketed to NFL stardom in Bledsoe's stead, was named the game's most valuable player and strolled away with, of all things, a Cadillac pickup truck.

The past week was anything but a smooth ride for Brady, who suffered a twisted left ankle against Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game and didn't know if he would be the Super Bowl starter until midweek. He wore a stiff plastic cast on his left ankle, although he said it didn't bother him much.

So cool was Brady before the game, he walked off the field after warmups, stretched out on the floor in front of his locker and took a nap. Actually fell asleep. Before the biggest game of his life.

"Drew was [lying] right next to me," he said. "I laid down and was looking up at the ceiling and I just fell asleep."

His counterpart on the Rams, Kurt Warner, had a nightmarish game. He threw two interceptions, was sacked three times and took a beating from Patriot pass rushers. The game was the most secure in Super Bowl history, but Warner's pocket was unbelievably porous.

On a pivotal play in the second quarter, linebacker Mike Vrabel charged in from the left side of the defense and plowed into Warner just as he released the ball.

The pass, intended for Isaac Bruce, was thrown on the wrong side of the receiver and wound up in the hands of cornerback Ty Law, who dashed 47 yards down the sideline for the touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

"I got up, and I just saw Ty dancing," Vrabel said. "He was there already."

By halftime, New England's lead had swelled to 14-3, thanks to a spectacular eight-yard touchdown catch by David Patten. He had to extend his body to its fullest to make the grab, then stay inbounds as he landed prone on the turf. Cornerback Dexter McCleon argued he was out of bounds, but officials studied the replay and ruled it a touchdown with 31 seconds left in the half.

It was the first time since a 16-3 loss to Carolina more than a year ago that St. Louis scored only three points in a half, and the 11-point deficit was the Rams' largest of the season.

Things would get worse before they got better for St. Louis. Vinatieri kicked a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter to put his team up, 17-3. And Patriot safety Tebucky Jones had what appeared to be a 97-yard return for a touchdown off a Warner fumble on fourth and goal, but the play was brought back because linebacker Willie McGinest held Marshall Faulk so blatantly he nearly tackled him.

That holding call gave St. Louis a first and goal at the Patriot one, and the Rams scored two plays later when Warner followed center Andy McCollum into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown with 9:31 to play.

When St. Louis took over at its 45, trailing by a touchdown with 1:51 to play, it looked as if the Patriot fairy tale was just about over. Warner went to work, tossing an 18-yard pass to Az-Zahir Hakim and an 11-yarder to Yo Murphy. On the third play of the 21-second drive, he found Ricky Proehl, and Proehl found the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown and a 17-17 tie with 1:30 left. Along the way, he juked Jones and spun cornerback Terrance Shaw out of his socks.

"When we made the touchdown, I said, 'We're going to win this game,'" Proehl said. "We felt good about what we were doing in the last couple of drives."

But Brady is the feel-good kid, and there was no way he was going to burn the last 1:21 to take his chances in overtime. He inched downfield from his own 17 with three short completions to J.R. Redmond, then picked up 23 more yards with a toss to his favorite receiver, Troy Brown. One more completion, a six-yarder to tight end Jermaine Wiggins, put Vinatieri in position to make history.

Before he took the field for the final drive, Brady got some words of encouragement from Bledsoe, with whom he has remained close friends even as competitors.

"I just said to him, 'Hey, sling it. Have some fun. Go win the game,'" Bledsoe said. "He certainly did. He came through. That's what legends are made of, you know, two-minute drive in the Super Bowl to win the game."

Moments later, Brady plopped down on a chair in front of his locker, cut the tape off his heavily bandaged ankles, and happily adjusted his newly minted championship cap.

"Man," he said, turning to third-string quarterback Damon Huard, "we just won the Super Bowl. The Suuuuper Bowl."

Back on the field, the last specks of confetti were still fluttering to the turf.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Deciding Drive

After St. Louis tied the score at 17-17, New England had first and 10 at its 17-yard line with 1:21 remaining. The deciding drive:

First and 10 on Patriot 17 (1:21)--Tom Brady passes to J.R. Redmond for five yards. Dre' Bly and London Fletcher make the stop at the Patriot 22.

Second and five on Patriot 22 (0:57)--Brady passes to Redmond for eight yards, tackled by Aeneas Williams and Tommy Polley at the 30.

First and 10 on Patriot 30 (0:41)--Brady's pass is incomplete.

Second and 10 on Patriot 30 (0:41)--Brady passes to Redmond for 11 yards, pushed out of bounds at the 41 by Polley and Kim Herring.

First and 10 on Patriot 41 (0:33)--Brady's pass is incomplete.

Second and 10 on Patriot 41 (0:29)--Brady passes to Troy Brown, run out of bounds by Adam Archuleta at the Ram 36 after a 23-yard gain.

Second and 10 on Ram 36 (0:21)--Brady passes to Jermaine Wiggins for a six-yard gain, stopped by Dexter McCleon and Leonard Little.

Second and four on the Ram 30 (0:07)--Brady spikes ball to stop the clock.

Third and four on the Ram 30 (0:07)-- Lonie Paxton centers the ball to holder Ken Walter. Adam Vinatieri kicks a 48-yard field goal to win the Super Bowl.

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WINNING TIME

Key plays in the final, furious minutes of Super Bowl XXXVI:

* Kurt Warner passes 26 yards to Ricky Proehl for touchdown with 1:30 left as Rams complete rally from14-point fourth-quarter deficit.

* Patriots get ball at their 17-yard line with 1:21 remaining.

* Patriot quarterback Tom Brady completes two passes to J.R. Redmond for 13 yards before he spikes ball to stop clock. With 41 seconds left, he connects with Redmond again for 11 yards before throwing incomplete with 33 seconds left.

* Brady passes to Troy Brown for 23 yards with 29 seconds left.

* Brady passes to Jermaine Wiggins for six yards with 21 seconds left. Wiggins is tackled inbounds and Brady spikes the ball with seven seconds left.

Adam Vinatieri kicks 48-yard field goal and time expires.

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