NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Adam Vinatieri finished off one of the most dramatic of all Super Bowls Sunday night by kicking a 48-yard field goal on the game's final play to make the surprising New England Patriots champions of professional football with a 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Tom Brady, who became the youngest winning quarterback in Super Bowl history and was voted the game's MVP, guided the Patriots from their own 17 to the St. Louis 30 in the span of 74 seconds, setting up Vinatieri for the winning kick.
"It felt good when it left my foot and when I looked up, I knew we had done it," Vinatieri said. "I didn't hear much of anything until it went through the uprights and my teammates started pounding on me.
"I am so happy for everybody because they fought all night long."
The Patriots, 14-point underdogs, held St. Louis' high-powered offense to just three points through the first three periods and converted three Rams turnovers into 17 points to take control. But the Rams capitalized on huge call by the officials to ignite what became the biggest rally ever in a Super Bowl.
No team had ever made up more than a 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl, but the Rams scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on a two-yard run by quarterback Kurt Warner and a 26-yard throw from Warner to Ricky Proehl.
The second of those touchdowns tied the game with 1:30 to play and after the Patriots received the ensuing kickoff, they had the ball at their own 17 with 1:31 remaining.
Conventional wisdom suggested the Patriots, with no time outs remaining, would play it safe to bring about what would have been the first Super Bowl overtime.
The Patriots, however, chose to go for it.
"I was coming out on the field and Drew (backup quarterback Drew Bledsoe) just told me to go out and sling it," Brady said.
Brady, in his first year as a starter, completed two short passes to fullback J.R. Redmond that advanced the ball to the 30 and Brady quickly killed the clock with 41 seconds to go.
The Patriots' quarterback then hit Redmond again for 11 yards and he was able to get out of bounds to stop the clock with 33 seconds left. Next came a key play with Brady hitting Troy Brown on a 23-yarder to the St. Louis 36 and Brown also got out of bounds with 21 seconds remaining.
"The pass to Brown was obviously a big one," said New England Coach Bill Belichick. "But the one before that to Redmond was big, too, because he fought hard to get out of bounds."
Vinatieri had the distance to make the kick from there, but the Patriots ran one more play, a quick six-yard completion from Brady to Jermaine Wiggins.
With the clock running, the Patriots hustled to the line of scrimmage and Brady spiked the ball to stop the clock one last time with seven seconds to go.
Vinatieri's kick was never in question, sailing down the middle of the field with plenty of distance to spare. The clock showed two seconds left when the ball cleared the uprights, but those two seconds ticked off without any whistle blowing.
"I knew they would get me down there to kick it," said Vinatieri, who kicked a game-tying field goal in the divisional playoff round against Oakland in the snow as well as the game-winner as well in overtime.
"We have a ton of champions. These guys never, never give up. They stepped up. They fought and fought. We shocked the world, but we didn't shock ourselves."
"It is absolutely incredible," Brady said. "This is what happens when players believe in each other. We have responded all year."
New England ended the season with nine straight victories and won the Super Bowl despite giving up 160 more yards than it gained. No team had ever been outgained by that margin and still won a Super Bowl.
New England scored first-half touchdowns on a 47-yard interception return by Ty Law and an eight-yard pass from Brady to David Patten that came after Proehl fumbled the ball away at midfield.
Vinatieri added a 37-yard field goal in the third period that came after Otis Smith intercepted Warner and returned the ball 38 yards to the St. Louis 33.
And it appeared the Patriots had clinched the victory with yet another huge turnover with 10 minutes remaining.
Facing a fourth down at the New England three and trailing by 14, Warner was hit and fumbled as he attempted to scramble for the end zone. Tebucky Jones picked up the ball and ran 97 yards for a score that would have put the Patriots in front by 21.
But a holding call was made on the play against defensive end Willie McGinist, who replays showed tried to tackle Rams star running back Marshall Faulk as he went into his pass route.
That call kept the Rams' hopes alive and touched off a thrilling final few minutes.
Despite the comeback, St. Louis was frustrated on offense most of the night. Warner threw for 365 yards while hitting 28 of 44 passes, the second largest passing total ever in the Super bowl. But his two interceptions were the most important statistic of the game.
"New England is a great football team," Warner said. "But those mistakes cost us 17 points and cost us the win."
Faulk gained 76 yards on 17 carries.
Brady was 16 of 27 for 145 yards, but he did not throw an interception as the Patriots became the 16th team to play in the Super Bowl without having a turnover.
Antowain Smith gained 92 yards on 18 carries for the Patriots.
The opening half could not have gone more perfectly for the underdogs. They were outgained in the first two periods, 184 yards to 177, and had the ball for three fewer minutes than did the Rams. But New England survived the opening phases of the game and then capitalized on two big defensive plays to create the framework for a huge upset.
St. Louis marched into New England territory the first three times it had the ball, giving the impression that it was just a matter of time before the points would begin to pile up. The Rams were the first team in NFL history to score 500 points in three straight seasons.
But an interference penalty against the Rams stalled the first drive and a poor pass by Warner on third and three from the New England 32 forced St. Louis to settle for a Jeff Wilkins field goal on its second possession.
After an unproductive three plays from the Patriots late in the first period, St. Louis took over again at its own 22 and converted two third downs to reach the New England 34. On third and five, however, a Warner pass was batted high in the air and was almost intercepted. That forced the Rams to call on Wilkins for another field goal attempt, a 52-yarder that was wide to the left.
Even with the excellent field position created by the missed field goal try, the Patriots could do little on offense and again had to punt the ball away.
St. Louis again started up the field, getting a 15-yard run from Faulk that put the Rams on their own 39 and set up the play that turned the game in the Patriots' favor.
New England, which blitzed Warner 39 times when the teams met in the regular season, sent five pass rushers in his direction for the first time with nine minutes left in the second quarter.
Linebacker Mike Vrabel, lined up on the left side of the defensive formation, stormed in untouched. Instead of attempting to elude Vrabel or simply taking the sack, Warner attempted to get the ball to Isaac Bruce along the right sideline.
The hurried throw, however, merely fluttered toward the intended receiver and Law had no problem collecting it. Law also had no problem going the distance for the opening touchdown of the game.
The second St. Louis turnover came with the Rams desperately trying to overcome a 7-3 deficit in the final two minutes of the half.
On first down from the Rams' 25, Warner hit Proehl over the middle. But after reaching midfield, Proehl fumbled the ball away when he was hit by Antwan Harris. Terrell Buckley scooped up the loose ball and returned it 15 yards to the St. Louis 40.
That left the Patriots 80 seconds with which to work and then needed just 49 of them to score with Brady throwing five passes and completing four of them -- the last one going to Patten, who made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone for an eight-yard score.