The Carolina Panthers had their best season in franchise history in 2003, winning the NFC and advancing to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for them, they ran into the New England Patriots and lost, 32-29, on a last-second 41-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
It was the Patriots’ second Super Bowl win in three years. New England won the Super Bowl the following year as well, beating the Philadelphia Eagles.
A dynasty was born.
Given what we know about the Patriots now, though, that dynasty will be viewed through a different prism. Spygate, Deflategate and a general mistrust of the Patriots will do that to a franchise – at least from the outside looking in.
Or will it? Former Carolina safety Mike Minter, one of the stars of the Panthers’ Super Bowl team, takes nothing away from what the Patriots accomplished – not only in 2003, but also over the last decade and beyond.
“Absolutely not,” Minter said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “And the reason is (because) I always look at over time, how are you? So over time, at the end of the day, they’re a great organization. Since Belichick has been there, listen, that’s a great organization. So regardless of whether they got extra tape, if they got flat balls, these guys know how to build championship teams and know how to get it done – and you got to give credit where credit is due.”
The 2003 Panthers had several solid players on offense – quarterback Jake Delhomme, running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, and wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith, among others – but ultimately, defense was their calling card. But on that night – February 1, 2004, at Reliant Stadium in Houston – the Panthers didn’t have many answers for Tom Brady, who finished 32-of-48 for 354 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
The Patriots trailed midway through the fourth quarter, but Brady led two scoring drives in the final three minutes to give New England the win, earning a tip of the cap from Minter.
“Tom Brady, regardless of what everybody else talks about, he is the second-best quarterback to ever play the game, I believe,” said Minter, now the head football coach at Campbell University. “Joe Montana’s No. 1, and I believe (Brady is) 1b. I played all the guys that’s in the league right now that everybody talks about, and Tom Brady, what separates him from a Peyton Manning or anybody else like that, is the fact that he has this mental toughness that you cannot scare him out of the game. From a defensive standpoint, your job is to try to put fear into people. Your job is to try to get them out of their game because you hit them. You’re moving them off their point, you’re coming at them. Tom Brady, you can’t do that with. That’s the diff between him and everybody else. Joe Montana was the same way. When the lights come on, (when) the stage gets bigger, they get better. And that’s the difference.”