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Super Pats were team of destiny
By Joe Theismann
Special to

NEW ORLEANS -- The New England Patriots' 20-17 victory in Super Bowl XXXVI turned out to be the most exciting I have ever seen, even more than the St. Louis Rams' victory two years ago that also went down to the final play of the game.

In 1999, we still didn't know who the Rams were. The expectations weren't as high as they were this season. Plus, the Rams entered Sunday's game as 14-point favorites. Every time the Rams had the ball, you held your breath. And every time the Patriots didn't get a first down, you held your breath, because the Rams' offense was about to get the ball back.

Can there be a greater finish than scoring an upset on a game-winning field goal as time expires? I'm just glad I was there to see it so I could tell my grandkids -- well, after I tell them about the Redskins' victory in Super Bowl XVII first.

I am so happy for Bill Belichick, a great man who did such a fabulous coaching job. The game went the way it had to go for the Patriots to win. They got points from both their defense, on Ty Law's interception return, and their offense, on Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal. That's the story of the New England Patriots.

When the playoffs began, the Chicago Bears seemed to be the team of destiny, but they only excelled on defense. The Patriots won with a complete team, getting enough offense, defense and special teams to steal the Bears' destiny label.

The most telling sign of the Patriots' teamwork was when they were introduced as a team instead of singling out either the offensive or defensive unit. That was a statement about what the Super Bowl was about; they got through a trying regular season as a team, they survived the playoffs as a team, and they won the championship as a team.

It's funny -- some may say, "Poor Terry Glenn wasn't a part of it." But I don't know if he has feelings enough to care that he screwed up what would have been the greatest day of his life.

The Rams' three turnovers were the difference. Looking back at the first Rams-Patriots meeting on Nov. 18, Antowain Smith fumbled on the Rams' 3 and Tom Brady threw an interception in Rams' territory. Sunday night, New England committed zero turnovers.

I agree with something Marshall Faulk once said about the Rams: The only team that can beat the Rams is the Rams. Against New England, they made just enough mistakes to lose the game.

Let's not confuse the Rams with the high-scoring 49ers teams of the past. Super Bowl XXXVI can start a great debate about how great the Rams really are. Have they become the "Air Coryell" Chargers of the modern era, scoring a lot of points yet making enough mistakes to miss out on the big prize? Sure, the Rams have one Super Bowl title, but they should have won three in a row; they are that good.

I'm not taking anything away from New England. If the Rams played the Patriots 10 times, the Rams would win eight. The key is that on Feb. 3, 2002, the Rams didn't win.

The Patriots did the same defensive job they did when they played the Rams on Nov. 18. Belichick has the well-earned reputation for being a great defensive coach. By stopping the Rams' potent offense to win the Super Bowl, he now moves to legendary status.

At the same time, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel now becomes the NFL's next defensive genius. Move over, Tony Dungy; here comes Crennel. Having Belichick as the head coach may overshadow Crennel, but Bill will deflect most of the attention to his coordinator.

Here's something I noticed as the game went on: I was sitting about 17 rows up around the 50-yard line, behind the Rams' bench. When the Rams had the ball, Belichick would stand about as far away as he could, looking back at the Patriots' defense as if he were trying to get an end-zone view of each play. Just an observation.

To the Patriots' fans, raise a glass and cheer your team because they are world champions. To the Rams' fans, don't worry -- it may only be a year before you can raise your glass again.

Here's a more complete breakdown of the game:

Best coaching move
People may talk about the defensive game plan of Belichick and Crennel, but I liked how Patriots' offensive coordinator Charlie Weis stayed aggressive at points in the game and didn't just let the defense win the game. When the Patriots got close to the goal line, I liked how he ran an out-and-up to David Patten. He also ran a reverse, and Kevin Faulk made a good decision not to throw on a designed halfback pass. Weis also called for two deep plays down the sideline to Patten. One of them hung in the air and almost got picked off. Weis was creating opportunities to score points.

Unsung hero
Adam Vinatieri, because he didn't win the Super Bowl MVP award. If Vinatieri didn't kick the 48-yard field goal at the end, the Patriots don't win the game. How much more valuable can you get? The voters may have thought they couldn't give one player an MVP award for one play. That's because most of them never played the game and don't understand how important that one play was. Vinatieri should have been a cinch as the MVP. He didn't just win a game; he won the Super Bowl.

Biggest play of the game (besides Vinateri's field goal)
Willie McGinest's sack of Warner with 4:32 left in the game was a gigantic play, because it stifled the Rams' possesson. The sack made it third-and-25 and forced the Rams to punt one play later. Troy Brown also deserves credit for getting out of bounds after a 23-yard gain on the game-winning drive. It allowed the Patriots, with no timeouts, to stop the clock and then kick the winning field goal three plays later.

Super stat
The Rams' three turnovers. They led to 17 points for New England. But that's who the Patriots have been all season, a team that converts turnovers into points.

Biggest surprise
The most surprising was how badly the Rams' offense played, particularly Warner. I never would have expected it. He never got into a rhythm and looked very uncomfortable. The whole game I sensed the Rams would explode at any moment, but they never did. I have been where Kurt Warner was Sunday, playing poorly and losing. Warner had instances of brilliance, scrambling around and escaping the rush. However, there were other times he couldn't hold onto the ball. The Rams were lucky they didn't commit more than three turnovers, especially when Tebucky Jones' 97-yard fumble return got called back.

Antowain Smith. The Patriots' running back will not be mentoned as someone who stood out. But he ran hard, got enough yards to keep Brady comfortable and chewed up the clock so the Rams couldn't dominate time of possession and the game. Entering the game, I said he had to gain 80 yards. Smith ended up with 92 on 18 carries.

What's next for Rams?
As a team on a mission all year, the Rams said turnovers didn't concern them. Now, I think they need to learn to both conserve timeouts and to not turn the ball over. They have to manage the game better. The offense is so cocky and arrogant that they feel like they don't have to adhere to the rules of football. Maybe during the regular season it isn't necessarily, but it is in the playoffs. When they line up, the Rams are the best collection of players in the NFL -- but not on Sunday.

Last year the Ravens started a trend where teams felt they needed two big tackles and a strong inside linebacker to create a strong dominant defense. The Rams could have begun another trend going into next season's training camp, forcing other teams to get better to compete with them. Now that the Rams have been beaten in the Super Bowl, it won't happen.

What's next for the Patriots?
The Patriots are such an amazing story. Remember, they were a bad 5-11 team a year ago. They added Antowain Smith, Patten, Roman Phifer, Bryan Cox, Terrell Buckley and rookies Richard Seymour and Matt Light in the offseason, and all of them were great additions.

Next season they will remain in the AFC East. Tom Brady should continue to grow as a quarterback. They may need more help along the offensive and defensive lines. But the biggest question concerns Drew Bledsoe. What will they do with their $103 million backup quarterback? Let's face it: With Bledsoe, they wouldn't have advanced to the Super Bowl. But he didn't win the game; it belonged to Brady. Someday, Bledsoe wants to earn his own ring. If I were Bledsoe, I would push for a trade to another team. He is not getting any younger, and I would say Brady -- as the Super Bowl MVP -- has more than slight edge as the Patriots' No. 1 quarterback into next season.