In every Super Bowl there are signature plays.

Lynn Swann’s acrobatic catches against Dallas. Marcus Allen’s touchdown run against Washington. Joe Montana’s winning touchdown pass to John Taylor against Cincinnati. Adam Vinatieri’s winning field goals against St. Louis and Carolina. David Tyree’s helmet catch. Malcolm Butler’s interception. Julian Edelman’s fingertip catch.

But there are bigger moments as well.

These are the moments where one team steps forward and seizes its destiny. These are the offensive drives or defensive series that determine the outcome.

Here are the ones that decided whether Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots – or their opponent – hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy.


Feb. 3, 2002

Patriots 20, Rams 17

Tom Brady was young and the dynasty was being hatched in 2002, when J.R. Redmond pulled in a reception during the drive that set up the winning field goal against the Rams, the team that could not lose, but did.

The heavily favored St. Louis Rams had just tied the game, 17-17, with 1:30 remaining on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Ricky Proehl. Troy Brown returned the kickoff 15 yards to the New England 17. John Madden told millions of viewers that Tom Brady should try to run the clock out and take the game to overtime.

Instead …

Two Brady passes to running back J.R. Redmond give the Patriots a first down at their 30. After an incompletion, Brady finds Redmond again for 11 yards. He’s immediately tackled at the 41.

Brady throws incomplete on first down, stopping the clock with 29 seconds remaining.

Then he finds Brown open 14 yards downfield. Brown somehow eludes every defender, gains another 9 yards and gets out of bounds with 21 seconds left.

On first-and-10 from the Rams 36, Brady throws a short pass to tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who gains 6 yards before being tackled. The Patriots rush to the line and Brady spikes the ball with seven seconds left.

That brings Vinatieri onto the field. His 48-yard field goal is dead center as the game ends. The Patriots, 14-point underdogs, stun the self-proclaimed Greatest Show on Turf, 20-17.

Nine plays, 53 yards, 90 seconds. In all of Patriots history, there is no drive more important than this one. It turned the Patriots from often-bumbling afterthoughts to the measuring stick for the rest of the NFL.


Feb. 1, 2004

Patriots 32, Panthers 29

A low-scoring game goes crazy in the fourth quarter, where the teams combine for 37 points.

The Patriots are seven-point favorites, but Carolina scores three touchdowns in the fourth. The final one, a 12-yard pass from Jake Delhomme to Ricky Proehl (poor Ricky Proehl), and a John Kasay PAT ties the game at 29 with 1:08 remaining. Carolina had twice gone for 2-point conversions, each time turned back by New England’s defense.

Kasay, one of the game’s top placekickers, kicks the ball out of bounds on the kickoff, giving the Patriots the ball at their 40.

After an incompletion on first down, Brady finds Troy Brown for 13 yards. Timeout, 51 seconds left.

An offensive pass interference penalty against Brown costs the Patriots 10 yards and seven seconds. But Brady finds Brown for 13 yards, then tight end Daniel Graham for 4. The Patriots call their second timeout with 14 seconds left, facing third-and-3 at the Carolina 40. Then Brady calmly finds Deion Branch for 17 yards. Nine seconds left. Timeout New England. Then the Panthers call a timeout to ice Vinatieri, who had missed a 31-yarder earlier and had another kick blocked.

This one, from 41 yards, is good. New England 32, Carolina 29, four seconds left.

The Patriots cover the kickoff and the game ends. That’s two championships in three years for the dynasty-in-making.


Feb. 6, 2005

Patriots 24, Eagles 21

The Patriots had done nothing on their first five drives: punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble. They trailed 7-0 when they got the ball at the Philadelphia 37 with 4:15 remaining in the first half following a short punt.

The drive begins with a 7-yard completion to Graham, followed by an incompletion. On third-and-3, Brady finds Branch for 7 yards to the Eagles’ 23. He hits Branch again for 4 yards, then Brown for 12, giving the Patriots first-and-goal at the 7. Corey Dillon runs for 3, then Brady finds David Givens in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown that ties the game.

That gives the Patriots’ offense some momentum. They score on the first drive of the third quarter, on a Brady 2-yard pass to linebacker/tight end Mike Vrabel.

It remained close, not decided until Rodney Harrison intercepted Donovan McNabb with nine seconds remaining. But that second-quarter drive gave the Patriots’ offense life and swung the game their way.


Feb. 3, 2008

Giants 17, Patriots 14

This was arguably the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. The Patriots were 18-0 coming in, favored by 12 against a New York Giants team they had beaten 38-35 in the regular-season finale.

The Patriots took a 14-10 lead with 2:42 remaining on a 6-yard pass from Brady to Randy Moss. All that was left was for the defense to stop Eli Manning.

On first down from the New York 17, Manning passes 11 yards to Amani Toomer. Two incompletions set up third-and-10 with two minutes left. Manning finds Toomer for 9 yards, and Brandon Jacobs gains 2 yards on fourth-and-1. Manning scrambles for 5 yards, and the Giants called a timeout with 1:20 remaining. An incomplete pass sets up a third-and-5 from the New York 44. There, Manning somehow escapes from Adalius Thomas and Richard Seymour, stumbles to his right and flings the ball downfield to David Tyree, who leaps, catches the ball and pins it against his helmet while Harrison tries to snap him in two. It was a 32-yard catch, setting up a first down at the New England 24.

Manning is sacked by Thomas for a 1-yard loss on first down, forcing the Giants to use their final timeout with 51 seconds left.

An incompletion is followed by a 12-yard pass to Steve Smith and a first down at the New England 13.

On the next play, Manning lofts a pass to Plaxico Burress in the left corner of the end zone and the Giants take the lead for good with 35 seconds left.


Feb. 5, 2012

Giants 21, Patriots 17

What an encore. Again, the Giants come back to beat the Patriots, this time on a 6-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw with 57 seconds remaining. A last-play Hail Mary from Brady falls incomplete in the end zone.

The pivotal drive in this game wasn’t the winning one, though Mario Manningham’s sideline 38-yard catch was stunning.

No, it was the preceding drive, when New England had a chance to seal it but couldn’t.

The Patriots get the ball with 9:24 remaining on their 8, leading 17-15. After an incompletion, Brady finds Wes Welker for 5 yards and Danny Woodhead for 19. Two running plays give New England a first down at its 46. On third-and-3, Brady passes 4 yards to tight end Aaron Hernandez. That’s when it unraveled.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis loses a yard on first down, then Brady throws deep to Welker behind the Giants’ secondary in the left seam. Welker leaps but can’t hold the pass. Brady then throws incomplete to Branch and the Patriots are forced to punt, setting up New York’s winning drive.


Feb. 1, 2015

Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

Greatest Super Bowl finish ever?

The Patriots came back with two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Seattle’s vaunted Legion of Boom to take a 28-24 lead. Brady found Danny Amendola for a 4-yard touchdown and then Julian Edelman for a 3-yard score with 2:02 remaining to give the Patriots the lead.

But Seattle, which advanced to the Super Bowl with an overtime win against Green Bay, wasn’t done. The Seahawks got the ball on their 20, and Russell Wilson immediately completed a 31-yard pass to Marshawn Lynch out of the backfield. Two incompletions set up third-and-10 with 1:41 left, and Wilson found Ricardo Lockette for 11 yards to the Patriots 38.

Then Wilson lofted a high pass to Jermaine Kearse down the right sideline. Malcolm Butler tipped it high but the ball somehow fell into Kearse’s arms as he lay on the ground. The result was first-and-goal at the New England 5 with 1:06 left. Lynch ran for 4 yards to the 1, with Dont’a Hightower making a touchdown-saving tackle.

Then, inexplicably, Wilson threw a pass, a slant to Lockette from the right. Butler, burned on this play in practice during the week, jumped the route and intercepted the pass, setting off a high-jumping celebration by Brady on the sidelines.


Feb. 5, 2016

Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT)

Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons went down hard just a year ago. They thought the game was over in the third quarter. The Patriots knew better.

So much happened in this game, the only overtime game in Super Bowl history. So many drives to chose from.

We’ll go with this one:

The Patriots had just scored with 5:56 left to cut their deficit to 28-20. The Falcons took over at their 10 with 5:53 left.

On first down, Matt Ryan found Devonta Freeman out of the backfield for 39 yards. After a 2-yard run by Freeman, Ryan passed to Julio Jones on a deep out on the right sideline. It was a high pass, but somehow Jones leaped up, caught it in his fingertips, then toe-tapped along the sideline for a 27-yard completion that gave Atlanta a first down at the New England 22. All the Falcons needed was a field goal to clinch it.

But on first down, Devin McCourty made a great play to stop Freeman for a 1-yard loss on a sweep to the left. Then Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss by Trey Flowers. Atlanta was still in field-goal range as the Patriots called a timeout with 3:50 left.

On third down, the Falcons were called for holding to wipe out a completion, a 10-yard penalty that pushed them out of field-goal range. Replaying third down, Ryan threw incomplete and the Falcons punted.

The Patriots got the ball at their 9, and sure enough, Brady directed them to the tying score, forcing overtime.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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