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With 13th consecutive win, Pats stay - luke warm

PATRIOTS 17, TITANS 14: Adam Vinatieri's late field goal wins it on a freezing New England evening.

ROGER MILLS
Published January 11, 2004

FOXBORO, MASS. - What the Patriots wanted was homefield advantage. What they weren't banking on was home-ice advantage.

But in pursuit of a shot at the Super Bowl, any advantage, including a 46-yard slap shot by kicker Adam Vinateri will do.

So while game t-t-t-temperatures p-p-p-plummeted to minus-11 wind chill by the third quarter and even colder by the fourth, the Patriots stayed, uh, luke warm.

Saturday night, they outlasted the Titans 17-14 at Gillette Stadium to record their 13th consecutive win and ninth this season at home.

Vinateri kicked a 46-yard field goal with 4:06 left for the winning margin.

The Patriots are one win away from their second Super Bowl appearance in three years. Next Sunday they host the winner of today's divisional game between the Colts and the Chiefs for the AFC championship.

But this win will be remembered for the conditions in which it was accomplished. It was, without question, one of coldest nights in New England history and the coldest game in the Patriots' 44 seasons.

How absurd was the weather? Stadium officials lifted strict security rules and allowed fans to bring in warming articles, like blankets and sleeping bags, forbidden since Sept.11, 2001.

Heck, even a Siberian-born Boston cab driver thought the night was cold.

But though even the Patriots could not have been comfortable, the home team wasn't about to change the lore that no road team in history ever had won in temperatures below 0.

And they certainly weren't about to do it at the hands of the, ahem, warm-weather Titans.

The fireworks began early. After forcing the Titans to punt on their first possession, New England struck the first blow in an uncommon manner. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, known for his short passing game, fired a 41-yard touchdown to Bethel Johnson for the first score. It was the fourth consecutive opening-drive touchdown for the Pats.

The Titans, however, were unfazed by the strong start. Testing New England's pass defense, NFL co-MVP Steve McNair completed 2 of 3 attempts for 39 yards and drove the Titans 61 yards on six plays, taking up nearly four minutes of crowd-quieting time.

Benefiting from a 9-yard roughing-the-passer penalty that put the ball on the Patriots 9, Tennessee tied the score on a 5-yard run by rookie Chris Brown two plays later.

The teams exchanged possessions, then Antowain Smith gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter when he barrelled in from the 1. Over the next three possessions, the Patriots defense, which had given up only 68 points at home all season, intercepted McNair, forced a punt and blocked a 31-yard field goal to hold a seven-point cushion at the break.

No sooner had the game resumed than the Titans struck back. They forced New England to punt after three plays then ground out an 11-play, 70-yard drive that ended in an 11-yard touchdown from McNair to Derrick Mason.

The big play of the drive came on third and six from the Titans 34. As the pocket collapsed, McNair muscled a 30-yard dart behind the secondary into the waiting hands of rookie Tyrone Calico. Later, tight end Erron Kinney chipped in a 10-yard reception on third and short and the Titans tied the score three plays later.

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