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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

After blocking it all out, offensive line is secure

HOUSTON -- A nickname? The Carolina Panthers defensive line needs practice.

New England's offensive line of Matt Light, Russ Hochstein, Dan Koppen, Joe Andruzzi, and Tom Ashworth got the better of Carolina's vaunted front four of Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins, Brentson Buckner, and Mike Rucker last night in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady attempted 48 passes (completing a Super Bowl-record 32) and was not sacked; Brady attempted 126 postseason passes (not including scrambles) and was not sacked.

Houston resident Antowain Smith ran for 83 yards, and Kevin Faulk 42 behind the Patriots' unheralded O-line. By attacking the left side of Carolina's defensive line with power runs, the Patriots rushed for 127 yards and averaged an effective 3.6 yards. It would have been better if not for a 10-yard loss on an end-around by Troy Brown.

Remember, Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp said New England's offensive line didn't have a chance against what was considered the league's best defensive line.

"I'd like to thank Warren Sapp for helping me get another ring," said injured left guard Damien Woody, who was replaced by Hochstein, a practice squad player at the beginning of the year. Woody was referring to Sapp's recent statement on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" that Hochstein, his former Bucs teammate, couldn't block either of the show's co-hosts.

"The ring is going to really look good on my finger," Woody continued. "You think what he said didn't play a part in our performance? If I could, I'd like to thank him personally for his comments on national TV."

"We've been hearing the whole playoffs how crummy we are," offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. "How we're just a bunch of bums and aren't any good. They had a sackless postseason. So let's give the offensive line its just due."

A good catch

Christian Fauria took a break from his postgame interview to pay homage to his locker room neighbor, David Givens.

"I'm happy to see the development of this kid," Fauria said. "All the trouble he had his first year, pulling every muscle in his body, he just always steps up. He's going to have a great future."

The present hasn't been too shabby. Givens, who grew up in nearby Humble, Texas, caught five passes for 69 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter and an 18-yarder to Carolina's 3 on New England's final touchdown drive.

Driven by what they perceived as trash talk from Carolina's defensive backs, all of the Patriots' receivers stepped up. Deion Branch caught a game-high 10 passes for 143 yards and a 5-yard touchdown pass, and Brown had eight grabs for 76 yards.

"We knew a lot of this game would be in our hands," Givens said. "We just came out focused, and we knew we had to execute."

"We make the plays when we have to," Branch said.

Law of the land

Carl Poston, the agent for Ty Law, says he has not had discussions with the Patriots regarding Law's contract since the summer of 1999, when Law signed his record-setting seven-year extension.

Law is on his way to Honolulu for Sunday's Pro Bowl, his third straight and fourth of his career. He can make a strong case for being the best cornerback in the game, if not one of its top players overall. He is the league's highest-paid corner and feels he should be paid as such.

Law is set to earn $5.8 million in salary next season and count almost $9.5 million toward the 2004 salary cap, believed to be an estimated $79 million. Before the season, a cornerback taking up 12 percent of New England's payroll was viewed as a problem. After the season Law had, it's more like a bargain. Law may even be underpaid.

Well-armed

Brady passed for 354 yards and counterpart Jake Delhomme 323, the second Super Bowl in which both quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards. Joe Montana and Dan Marino did it in Super Bowl XIX . . . Brown left the game on the Patriots' first possession with a bloody nose. He took a knee to the face from Rucker. With cotton stuffed in one of his nostrils, Brown came back to return Todd Sauerbrun's second punt . . . Brown's 28-yard punt return in the first half was his longest of the season and longest since his 55-yard touchdown in the 2001 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh . . . The Patriots failed to score on their opening possession for the first time in six games . . . Vinatieri's field goal miss from 31 yards (wide right) in the first quarter and blocked (by Shane Burton) 36-yarder in the second quarter were his third and fourth career misses indoors in 35 attempts. The other two came Nov. 23 here against the Houston Texans . . . Willie McGinest's second-quarter sack gave him one in each of his three Super Bowls . . . The game was scoreless for a record 26 minutes 55 seconds . . . Rodney Harrison limped to the sideline in the third quarter with a leg injury but returned. He later broke his right arm on the Panthers' last scoring drive. He had his arm in a sling after the game . . . Branch's 52-yard reception was the longest play from scrimmage in New England's Super Bowl history (four games) . . . The Panthers, as the visiting team, were introduced first, and they came out as a team. That probably didn't sit well with the Patriots, the originators of the team introduction, who, as expected, declined individual introductions just as they did for Super Bowl XXXVI. Then again, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery . . . The Patriots' inactives were Mike Cloud, Antwan Harris, Fred Baxter, J.J. Stokes, Dan Klecko, Rick Lyle, and Anthony Pleasant . . . Reliant Stadium's retractable roof was closed because of the chance of rain.

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