With Super Bowl XXXVIII coming this weekend, the New England Patriots are favored by seven points to win. I myself predicted that they would go to the big game, especially considering my opinion of the Indianapolis Colts, namely their quarterback Peyton Manning. That I will get to in a bit.
On the other hand, I never thought that the Carolina Panthers would make it this far. Considering this is a team that was 1-15 a few years ago, and just 7-9 last year, to see them beat the hated St. Louis Rams by way of a Steve Smith touchdown, and eventually beat my pick, the Philadelphia Eagles, that is quite an accomplishment.
So we have the Patriots against the surprising Panthers this Sunday, but a yearly tradition during Super Bowl week is the Madden Bowl, an eight-man tournament to determine who the best Madden player in the NFL is. Last year, the Madden Bowl was won by Indianapolis Colts' defensive end Dwight Freeney by a score of 10-0.
Sadly, Freeney won't be able to take part in the Super Bowl, and it could only be put in the hands of Peyton Manning himself. Sorry Colts faithful, but every time I see Peyton Manning play, you know he is due for a few interceptions. Four picks during the AFC Championship game, three of which were put in the hands of New England's cornerback Ty Law, is not going to help lead your team to a Super Bowl ring.
I'm sure by the time of this posting, the Madden Bowl will have already taken place, but I figured to prepare for the big game, I would do my own version of the Madden Bowl, letting the computer play both teams on All-Pro difficulty and the most recent rosters provided by EA Sports. To keep the scores more realistic, I decided to use 10-minute quarters. What follows will be a rundown of the entire game's key plays (Please note: the entire game was run solely by the PlayStation 2. Under no circumstances did I make any alterations to the gameplay or did I take control of any plays whatsoever, so don't accuse me of being like ESPN, biased towards certain teams!)
The Patriots win the opening coin toss and choose to receive. On the first play, Brady passes to Faulk for an easy 6 yard gain, and then follows up with a 22 yard pass to Fauria for a first Another first down comes after a 9 yard pass to Patten, followed by a quick up the gut run by Faulk. Fauria then fights several Panther backs on his way to another first down pass. Three short runs then bring up 4th down, and kicker Adam Vinatieri kicks a successful 36 yard field goal. NE 3, CAR 0.
Vinatieri kicks of to Carolina's Rod "HE HATE ME" Smart, who runs it to the 22, where the ball is fumbled, and recovered by the Panthers. Jake Delhomme is unsuccessful in his first two plays, but on 3rd and 12 he passes to Mushim Muhammad for 13 yards and the first down. After a run for a loss, running back Stephen Davis redeems himself after catching a screen pass with exceptional blocking for another 13 yards. On the following play, Delhomme completes yet another pass to Steve Smith for six yards. There is a fumble on the play, but the Panthers are lucky again as Smith recovers his own error. He then catches another pass for a first down. Once again facing 3rd and long, Brady's hot hand finds Muhammad for a 22 yard gain and the Panthers find themselves in the red zone. Unfortunately they are unable to convert, and John Kasay comes in to make a successful 24 yard field goal. CAR 3, NE 3.
Sauerbrun kicks off to Faulk and the Patriots start at their own 28, but are only able to get 8 yards before punting away to Carolina. Steve Smith catches the ball but only goes to the CAR 30. Two running stops plus a blocked pass result in a three and out, and the ball is punted back to New England, who calls fair catch at their own 37.
On the first pass, Tom Brady finds a streaking Patten and gains 38 yards. Brady is sacked on the next play but gets a 9 yard pass afterwards. A handoff to Faulk results in nothing but a 4th down, and once again Vinatieri comes in for a 37 yard kick, which is good. NE 6, CAR 3.
Smith receives the kickoff and rushes it to the CAR 22. A quick pass to Chris Mangum yields a 15 yard gain and a first down. But the following play has Muhammad streaking for a 54 yard pass. Only Tyrone Poole's alertness prevented a touchdown, and the first quarter ends with a 6-3 Patriot lead.
Once again the red zone becomes the dead zone, and Carolina has to settle for a 20 yard field goal. CAR 6, NE 6.
Faulk returns the kickoff to the NE 28, and on the next play he is stopped on a sweep right for a 1 yard loss. The next play doesn't help much either with no gain; neither does the batted pass afterwards. Thus, the ball is punted back to Carolina, where Smith takes the fair catch at the 36.
After a weak 2 yard loss, Davis gets to the first down line with a 12 yard run, but on 3rd and Inches, Jake Delhomme makes a mistake by trying to pass. It is incomplete and the Panthers are forced to punt, which ends up out of bounds at the NE 18.
Two short runs are followed up by a first down pass to Fauria. Faulk then follows up with a 6 yard run, but is stopped on the next play. Brady then throws an incomplete pass, forcing the Patriots to punt for the third time. Muhammad calls for a fair catch, but muffs the punt, but the Panthers once again are able to recover.
The next drive only goes for 9 yards and once again the ball is punted away to New England, who fair catches at their own 32. Faulk fumbles the ball, and it is recovered by New England, but a holding penalty sends the ball back 10 yards. Faulk is able to get 8 yards back on a screen pass, but on 3rd and 11 is able to hit Patten for the first down. The next play results in another first down when Brady connects again to Faulk, with a third consecutive pass resulting in a first down heading to Troy Brown. The Patriots are on the move, currently on the CAR 23. The first two plays set up a 3rd and 4, but Kevin Faulk fails to run the ball for a first down, leading to the two minute warning. Again, Vinatieri comes out to make his third successful field goal, this time from 34 yards. NE 9, CAR 6.
The kickoff is returned to the 23. Delhomme's first pass is picked off by Tyrone Poole, who runs it all the way to the CAR 1. Coach Bill Belichek can be seen celebrating on the sidelines.
On the first play, Brady makes a bonehead play by throwing a pass out of bounds to Troy Brown despite not having any blockers in front of him. He could just simply run it in for the score, but on the following play he hands off to Faulk"TOUCHDOWN PATRIOTS! The extra point is good. NE 16, CAR 6.
Smith returns the kick to the 21. A misdirection to Stephen Davis results in 3 yards, followed by a Muhammad reception for 3rd and inches. Davis makes a quick catch for the first down but Carolina is wasting too much time. They catch the ball on the NE 40 and call their first timeout. Suddenly the Panthers are on a roll as they complete a 24 yard pass to Walter Young, but on the following play a pass caught by Mangum is fumbled and recovered by New England, who are content to just run the clock down until the end of the half.
Carolina's Smith returns the ball to the 20. Stephen Davis makes a large gain with a sweep right, but a penalty for clipping makes it all a moot point. The following pass is intercepted by Willie McGinest, resulting in the Panther's third turnover.
With the ball on the 19, Kevin Faulk gets 8 yards with the misdirection pass, but the following pass is incomplete. Faulk then can't get across the first down line, so again we see Adam Vinatieri, who makes his fourth successful kick, this time from 23 yards. NE 19, CAR 6.
Not wanting to relive his error from earlier, HE HATE ME catches the kickoff in the endzone, and kneels for a touchback. Suddenly the Panthers are ice cold, with an 8 yard loss followed by two incomplete passes. Punting time for Sauerbrun and the ball is returned to the CAR 49.
A no gain run followed by a quick sack causes a 3rd and 12 for New England, but that doesn't stop Tom Brady from connecting to Deion Branch for a 21 yard gain. The same situation occurs on the next series, almost ending in the same way, but the catch is short of the first down. So once again, you guessed it, Vinatieri comes in for the FIFTH TIME to attempt at 38 yard field goal. He ends up 5 for 5. NE 22, CAR 6.
The Panthers start again at the 20. Davis fights for three yards, followed by a quick Delhomme pass for the first down. He is then sacked in two consecutive plays. With 3rd and 21 looming, the following pass is deflected incomplete. Time to punt yet again.
After a fair catch at the NE 39, New England fails to make a single play, and punts back to the Panthers, who make the fair catch call at their 28.
Still frozen, Carolina goes three and out so they are punting again. Fair catch is called at the NE 33.
At first the drive seems to be as slow as the rest of the quarter, but suddenly on 3rd and 7 from their own 36, Brady passed to a wide open David Patten who runs it all the way (64 yards). TOUCHDOWN PATRIOTS! The extra point is good. NE 29, CAR 6.
HE HATE ME returns the kickoff to the CAR 25. After a strong 9 yard play, Jake Delhomme is suddenly possessed by Peyton Manning, as he throws his third interception once again to Tyrone Poole, who runs it back for 35 yards"TOUCHDOWN PATRIOTS! The extra point is good, and suddenly this game is getting out of reach. NE 36, CAR 6.
Again HE HATE ME returns it to the 25, and once again the pass is intercepted. Maybe it's time to pull Delhomme, thinks Coach Fox. Tom Brady is still hot, making a quick first down pass, but afterwards slumps to a three and out and Adam Vinatieri kicking his unheard of SIXTH straight field goal. NE 39, CAR 6.
HE HATE ME once again returns to the 20. Finally Delhomme completes a pass for a first down, then makes another pass for 9 yards, with another short pass for another first down. The third quarter comes to an end, and for the Panthers, it was about time.
The first play results in Delhomme's third consecutive completion, this time for 2 yards, but all for naught as the next pass is incomplete. Still that doesn't stop him from finding Muhammad for another first down pass. Now the Panthers have a drive in the making. A good sweep left by Stephen Davis yields 6 yards followed by a well targeted pass to Steve Smith who breaks free from three Patriots"TOUCHDOWN PANTHERS! The extra point is good. NE 39, CAR 13.
The kickoff is returned to the NE 18, but an inadvertent face mask call brings the ball to the 23. Sadly for the Patriots, the drive only gains 3 yards before punting back to the Panthers, calling a fair catch at the NE 43.
Delhomme seems to be off the interception streak, connecting for another 12 yard pass to Karl Hankton., then to Stephen Davis for 4 more yards. The next two passes are incomplete, and the Panthers are going for it on fourth down. The next pass is incomplete, so the Patriots take over on downs, but not for long as Brady's first pass is picked off by Ricky (no, not Peyton) Manning. Delhomme is so close to throwing another pick but is lucky to have it incomplete, yet it is 3rd and long, but no problem for Muhammad, making the catch for another first down. Walter Young follows up with another catch for 19 yards. Now it is first and goal from the 9. The first pass is incomplete, then a run is cut short for a loss of 2. 3rd and goal from the 11, Peyton strikes again and Delhomme throws his unheard of fifth interception!
Despite being on the verge of a win, New England is still using the passing game, yet they make another completion of 9, then running it off to Faulk for a short gain, with another run to cross the marker for the first down. From here on in the game is simply a matter of killing the clock but someone on New England jumps the line for a false start penalty, stopping the clock. A 14 yard completion keeps the clock going, as does the following completion. Brady plays it conservative by handing off to Faulk for a short gain, followed by the same play after a long wait. New England will have one more play before the two minute warning, and they just hand it off to Faulk again. They will punt the ball away but not before the two minute warning.
Fair catch is called at the CAR 10. Delhomme completes his first pass for a first down, and gets the hurry up offerse going. Another first down pass follows, and another completion by Stephen Davis. In just three plays, Carolina is at the New England 24. They make another completion while a Patriot was offsides, causing a free play. The penalty is declined and now the ball is on the 2. Delhomme snaps the ball, passes it into triple coverage, and wait, what's this? Is that Peyton Manning? Yes it has been INTERCEPTED for the sixth time! The play is not a touchdown, it is a touchback!
With the game officially over, New England simply kills off the clock and Super Bowl XXXVIII is over. The New England Patriots win their second Vince Lombardi trophy with a convincing 39-13 win, and cornerback Tyrone Poole is named Super Bowl MVP for his two interceptions (one of which led to a touchdown).
In the end the key stats for the two quarterbacks were:
TOM BRADY- 23/37, 324 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
JAKE DELHOMME- 32/58, 445 yards, 1 TD, 6 INT
I will agree with the prediction that the Patriots should win on Sunday, however I will not completely take this game seriously. One factor that was heavily skewed was the running game was substandard, as both running backs totaled for about 50 yards. I'm sure there will be a lot more ground game on Sunday. I also do not think that even if the Colts made it to the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning is still not bad enough to throw six interceptions!
A 39-13 Patriots win is possible, just not the way it was played here.