Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Super Bowl Countdown #8 - Super Bowl XXXVI - Patriots 20, Rams 17

Over the next ten days, Lattanzi Land is producing a top ten countdown of the greatest Super Bowls of all time. This is a collaborative effort between myself and my good friend and football expert Dustin Holt. Every day, Monday through Friday, the next one will be put up, climaxing with #1 on Friday, February 5th. Some of these may surprise you, and some may make you ask what we are smoking. Enjoy, and any feedback can be made in the comment boxes or via email at joshua.lattanzi@gmail.com or dholt13@gmail.com - we now present #8...

Sometimes, there are just those games that can be classified as 'shockers'. Games that, at least on paper, contain teams that should not be mentioned in the same breath. Super Bowl 36 had these elements, along with many others that put it onto #8 on this list.

The St. Louis Rams, called the 'Greatest Show on Turf', breezed through the 2001 season with a 14-2 record, scoring 503 points and racking up nearly 7,000 yards in total offense. Anchored by offensive superstars Kurt Warner (4,830 yards and 36 TD passes), Marshall Faulk (2,147 yards from scrimmage and 21 TD's), and receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt (each with over 1,100 yards), the Rams rarely had any trouble moving the ball and seemed to score at will.

The defensive side of the Rams has been spoken of very little due to the prolific offense, but they should have ever been underestimated. In the previous season, the Rams were amongst the worst defenses in the league, but a return to health and the signing of key players made their defense a force with which to be reckoned. The defense boasted standouts such as Leonard Little, Aeneas Williams, London Fletcher, Dre Bly, and Grant Wistrom. The great offense enabled the defense to focus on making turnovers and disrupting the other team to maximum effect.

The New England Patriots were relative newcomers to the postseason at this time. They had their share of turmoil even from the beginning as starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe got injured early on and little used Tom Brady had to step in and guide the offense. He was efficient and proved capable even after top receiver Terry Glenn was benched for insubordination after Week 4. It was the defense, however, that was the bread and butter of the team. The Patriots had a 3-4 attack let by linebackers Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, and Willie McGinest, with Richard Seymour anchoring the front line and a good set of defensive backs in Otis Smith, Ty Law, and Lawyer Milloy

The Patriots finished 11-5 and earned a first round bye during the playoffs. They barely escaped the Raiders in what would go on to be known as the 'Tuck Rule Game' and defeated Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in the AFC Championship Game as Bledsoe came back to lead the Patriots to victory after Brady went down with a sprained ankle.

The 2001 season had been disrupted by the events of September 11th and the Super Bowl was scheduled to be in New Orleans on January 27th. With an entire week's games postponed and a deal cut with the Automobile Dealer's Association, they were able to push the game back to February 3rd and play the entire season out without canceling a single game overall.

Early on, the Rams looked like they could move the ball at will, but were stopped on third down a few times and had to settle for field goal attempts by Jeff Wilkins. Wilkins made the first one, from 50 yards, but missed his second one, from 52 yards. With just under nine minutes to go in the second quarter, the Rams looked like they would move again, but on third down, Warner threw a pass intended for Isaac Bruce and Ty Law stepped in front and returned the interception all the way to the end zone for a 7-3 Patriots lead.

The first half ended in a nearly apocalyptic fashion for the Rams as they turned the ball over on a Ricky Proehl fumble in Patriot territory after the two minute warning. Brady led a scoring drive that would end as he threw an 8 yard touchdown pass to David Patten with about 30 seconds remaining. The Patriots had a 14-3 lead at halftime and they would be receiving the opening kickoff of the second half!

The start of the second half did not fare well for the Rams either, as they punted on their first couple of possessions and Warner threw another interception that led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal and a 17-3 lead. The Rams were lucky that it was only a two score game at the time, considering the disaster that nearly struck next.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Rams were driving and had gotten down to the Patriots' 3 yard line. After being unable to punch it in, they were faced with a 4th and goal. Warner tried to sneak it in but was stripped and the Patriots picked up the fumble and ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown to make it then 23-3...or so they thought. A flag had been thrown and defensive holding was called against Willie McGinest, giving the Rams a first down at the 1 yard line, where they pushed it in another Warner quarterback sneak.

After a quick three-and-out by the Patriots, the Rams started deep in their own territory and got the ball into New England territory, but a sack and two incomplete passes forced a punt and allowed the Patriots to keep the ball until the two minute warning.

The Rams got the ball back with under two minutes to go and showed their quick strike capabilities that got them the nickname 'Greatest Show on Turf' - 55 yards in 21 seconds, including a 26 yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl that tied up the game at 17 with 1:30 remaining.

Unfortunately, that was too much time for Tom Brady. Despite having no timeouts and starting at their own 17, Brady completed a series of passes that moved the ball through their territory and into St. Louis territory. A 23 yard completion to Troy Brown and a 6 yard pass to the tight end Wiggins allowed Brady to spike the ball and set up a long field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri.

From 48 yards, Vinatieri nailed it, but even to this day, there is some controversy in the time of the ending. There were 7 seconds left when the ball was snapped, and somehow, all 7 seconds managed to tick off. Nevertheless, the Patriots had pulled off the upset and would be the watershed moment in a period of dominance.

The Rams, on the other hand, would never be the same again - it was the beginning of the end for the 'Greatest Show on Turf' as players moved on, got older, and lost effectiveness. For Tom Brady, it was the first of many memories as he won his first Super Bowl MVP award and while the Patriots would go on to win 3 more AFC titles and 2 more Super Bowls, none were as sweet as that glorious evening in New Orleans as they shocked the world with their 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

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