Sure they played four quarters in this one, but all anybody remembers is the final, wild 15 minutes that featured 37 points and another last-second, game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
The Patriots came to Houston for Super Bowl XXXVIII as the favorites and riding a 15-game winning streak, and faced a game Panthers squad that relied on a rugged defense to win the NFC championship.
After a dull, scoreless first quarter, the offenses took control in the second quarter.
Tom Brady landed the first blow, firing a 5-yard scoring strike to Deion Branch (10 catches, 143 yards). Carolina's Jake Delhomme countered by hitting a streaking Steve Smith for a 39-yard touchdown.
Game MVP Brady came right back and delivered another 5-yard touchdown pass, this time to David Givens, before Panthers kicker Jon Kasay drilled a 50-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 at intermission.
The offenses went into hibernation in the third quarter and it appeared as though the Patriots were going to pull away when Antowain Smith scored on a 2-yard blast in the fourth for a 21-10 lead.
Back came the resilient Panthers, however.
DeShaun Foster scored first, rumbling through and over the Patriot defense on his way to a 33-yard touchdown. In an attempt to cut the lead to 3, Carolina coach John Fox went for 2 points but Delhomme's pass fell incomplete and New England led, 21-16.
Muhsin Muhammad gave the Panthers their first lead when he dusted the Patriots secondary for a 85-yard touchdown pass.
The Patriots marched down the field and recaptured the lead when linebacker-turned-tight end Mike Vrabel caught a 1-yard pass from Brady. Kevin Faulk added the 2-point conversion and New England led again, 29-22.
Delhomme struck back, and hit Ricky Proehl for a 12-yard touchdown strike with 1:08 to go. After Kasay's extra point tied it, the kicker did the inexcusable, belting the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at the 40.
The ever-cool Brady drove his troops 37 yards in six plays, setting the stage for Vinatieri's 41-yarder.
"The guys made some great catches there on that last drive," said Brady, as always distributing the credit. "And Adam drove that sucker right down the middle to win it. What a game. Fitting for the Super Bowl, I guess."