The contest went in an altogether different direction.
Within the Patriots' 32-29 victory Sunday night, the teams' combined for 868 total yards with 677 passing yards after a slow start. Behind Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots racked up 29 first downs with a healthy third-down efficiency of 47 percent.
"During the first quarter, I think everyone thought, 'Here's the game we anticipated and this is going to be a 14-10, 17-10 game,'" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "All of a sudden it becomes a track meet for no apparent reason and opens up. It was great entertainment all the way to the end and a fun game to watch."
Brady engineered a one-minute drill to set up another game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
The Patriots' quarterback and kicker are emerging as the masters of the clutch. New England won its 15th game in a row to claim its second Super Bowl title in three seasons.
At age 26, Brady is undefeated in the postseason and the youngest quarterback to have won two Vince Lombardi trophies. He completed a Super Bowl-record 32 passes in 48 attempts.
Vinatieri overcame two missed field goals to convert the deciding 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining.
Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal to defeat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. This is the 16th time in eight seasons that he has kicked the game-winner either in the final minute of regulation or overtime.
"At those two key positions, quarterback and kicker, you had to give a little bit of an advantage to Brady and Viniatieri because they've been there before," Billick said. "Brady is developing a reputation now, well-deserved, for operating in a clutch environment."
Fox opted to try for two points after DeShaun Foster's 33-yard touchdown run cut the Panthers' deficit to 21-16. Yet, Jake Delhomme's pass fell incomplete.
After Delhomme built a 22-21 lead on an 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad another two-point attempt was unsuccessful.
"There's a chart that you follow to a certain degree," Billick said. "It's more of a feel than a science. You have to project a little bit."
Carolina kicker John Kasay's subsequent kickoff sailed out of bounds to give the Patriots excellent field position at their own 40. Brady took full advantage of the 1:08 afforded to him.
"Not that that's not the right thing to do, but it's a risk," Billick said. "It's unfortunate it came down to that. You would have liked to have made them go the length of the field."
During CBS' broadcast, which included singers Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's risqué stunt, a commercial aired about next season. Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and other NFL players sang a version of "Tomorrow."
"There's a certain finality to the Super Bowl being over," Billick said. "You come to work reenergized. You want to see what happens in the next one."
Sportsbook.com and Vegas.com have installed Baltimore at 25:1 and 15:1 odds, respectively, to win Super Bowl XXXVIV.
"We've been a lot longer odds than that," Billick said. "That's semi-gratifying that they think that much of us."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.