Patriots fit American pride

January 29, 2002 9:59 AM
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With all the events surrounding the September 11 terrorist attacks, maybe it’s only fitting that a team called the Patriots winds up in America’s biggest spectacle.

New England won its last nine games, following a 24-17 loss to St. Louis in Foxboro. Nobody figured these two teams would meet again this year in the Super Bowl.

Heck, the Pats were given a prayer of making the playoffs once Drew Bledsoe was hurt.

But, rookie named Tom Brady gradually instilled confidence within the team and the everything just fell into place. Call it karma or just plain talent. New England believed in Brady, and the long-suffering fans had a new hero.

Brady passed for 2,843 yards and 18 TD in a controlled attack that gained momentum each week by taking care of the football and not being placed in situations the team couldn’t handle.

New England had plenty of luck on its side, most notably in the Snow Bowl against Oakland when an apparent fumble was ruled an incomplete pass and led to Adam Vinatieri’s miraculous 45-yard field that sent the game into overtime. The Patriots won 20-17 and went on to Pittsburgh as a 10-point underdog.

The Steelers were expected to win, but it was New England that was able to shut down Jerome Bettis and force Kordell Stewart into several ugly throws in the final minutes that were picked off.

Brady was able to celebrate the victory, but not on the field. Bledsoe came on for Brady when he was injured and immediately took New England into the end zone. Bledsoe finished up a 24-17 win that landed the Pats a trip to New Orleans for another crack at St. Louis.

Brady passed for a respectable 185 yards against a speedy Rams secondary, but tailback Antowain Smith was held to just 36 yards on 15 carries. Smith, a 1,000-yard rusher, will need a much better effort if New England is to win its first Super Bowl in three tries.

It’s not clear at press time whether Brady or Bledsoe will start at quarterback, but New England should be in good shape with either. Troy Brown, who gave New England the lead against Pittsburgh with a punt return touchdown, led the Pats with 81 catches for 1,199 yards and five scores.

The Patriots have improved since that first Rams encounter at Foxboro, especially in the receiver position. David Patton has emerged as a deep-ball threat with excellent hands. Jermaine Wiggins has become a reliable target at tight end and J.R. Redmond has been an important third-down receiver out of the backfield.

Belichick is a master defensive strategist so it figures he will come up with a different scheme for the Rams. The Patriots will have the revenge factor on its side, even though the Vegas books believe this will be a blowout.

Super Bowls played without the two-week break have tended to be close games over the year. That’s good news for New England.

LEADING PLAYERS

Tom Brady  

2843 yds  

18 TD

Antowain Smith  

1157 yds  

12 TD

Troy Brown  

199  

5 TD

Adam Vinatieri  

24/30 FG  

113 pts

Lawyer Milloy  

113 tackles  

2 INT