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Friday, Jan. 30, 2004

Super Bowl XXXVIII

Winning strategies for hoisting the Lombardi trophy


Staff writer

HOUSTON -- If you're looking for a pass-happy, high-scoring game for Sunday's Super Bowl XXXVIII, save your hopes for another season. St. Louis, Kansas City, or Indianapolis will satisfy you some day.

For now, just prepare yourself for a stingy defensive game with kickers poised to play a major role.

Will it be boring? Not really. The game should be a close contest that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the clock runs out. More like a chess match, this battle should be as much brain as it is brawn.

What's it going to take for each to win?

New England Patriots (16-2)

1) The Patriots must stop Stephen Davis and contain DeShaun Foster. The running game is the heart and soul of the Panthers offense. Davis and Foster provide an excellent one-two punch with Davis running between tackles and Foster rushing the corner.

If the Panthers establish a solid running game, that allows Jake Delhomme to set up the play-action pass and hit speedsters Ricky Proehl and Steve Smith in open territory.

2) Score first and take an early lead. Then widen it before halftime. A big lead will force Dan Henning, Carolina's offensive coordinator, to call more passes. And Delhomme is not a quarterback that can beat the opponents with his arm.

3) Find the tight ends in the red zone. The Patriots have been struggling inside their opponent's 20-yard line all season. In the Patriots offense, the tight end is the position to score. So don't miss Daniel Graham and Christian Fouria in the end zone.

Carolina Panthers (14-5)

1) Keep the pressure on Tom Brady and bump the receiver. The Patriots offense heavily relies on timing. Brady is very good at the quick release on a three-step drop. But if he loses the timing, he's in trouble. Inside pressure by defensive tackles Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins will be the key.

Cornerbacks Reggie Howard and Terry Cousin should play physically against Deion Branch and Troy Brown to knock off the passing course.

Brady is not a good runner. So, keep Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker busy for pass rushing and send Mike Minter on the blitz.

2) Make the best of blocking from the tight ends and fullback. The Panthers will need to double-team Ted Washington and Richard Seymour, which means four offensive linemen are necessary to block two of three New England defensive linemen.

To run the ball effectively, fullback Brad Hoover or tight ends Kris Mangum and Jermain Wiggins, a former Patriot, will be asked to block defensive end, linebackers and safeties. The Panthers don't need a big running play. They just need to run the clock and score some points at every opportunity.

3) Turn the ball over. One reason that the Panthers made the Super Bowl is that they improved their turnover ratio in the postseason. During the regular season, they had a minus-5 turnover ratio -- meaning they lost the ball five more times than their opponents.

During the playoffs, however, they had eight more takeaways than giveaways. Turnovers change the momentum of the game and can make or break a close contest.

If the Patriots win, it will be their second Super Bowl victory in three seasons. For the Panthers, a victory would make them one of the youngest NFL team in history to clinch the world championship.



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