Super Bowl XXXVIII grades: Brady comes through late

As the Patriots get ready for yet another Super Bowl, Analyst Zoltan Buday looks back on their win over the Panthers 13 years ago.

| 4 months ago
(Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

(Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Super Bowl XXXVIII grades: Brady comes through late

New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29

Here are the biggest takeaways and highest-graded players from Super Bowl XXXVIII, where the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in Houston Feb. 1, 2004.

New England Patriots

Quarterback grade: Tom Brady, 79.0

Brady comes up big in fourth quarter to earn second Super Bowl ring

Although Brady did not have an extremely impressive game, his performance will be remembered for his calm and confident play in the second half of the fourth quarter as he led back-to-back scoring drives to win the game. The New England quarterback relied heavily on short and intermediate passes as he completed only one of his four attempts beyond 20 yards; however, he did enough to take advantage of the Panthers’ coverage busts. Also, the young signal-caller clearly struggled under pressure as his passer rating dropped to 29.7 in these situations, compared to 142.5 when he was not under pressure.

Top offensive grades:

G Joe Andruzzi, 86.2
WR Deion Branch, 82.4
QB Tom Brady, 79.0
T Matt Light, 75.2
HB Kevin Faulk, 73.8

Second-year wide receiver Deion Branch steps up to lead offense

Starting with the offensive line, Brady’s supporting cast did not have a great game against Carolina. In fact, every offensive lineman allowed at least two pressures on the afternoon, with tackles Matt Light and Tom Ashworth allowing a combined 11 total pressures from the edge. However, no one made up more for their deficiencies in pass protection than right guard Joe Andruzzi, who was a dominant force in the running game. In addition, Brady’s receivers dropped 3 of the 35 catchable passes going their way, including two dropped passes by David Givens. Finally, it was Deion Branch who stepped up and caught 10 passes for 143 yards – the most in the first two years of his career – and a touchdown.

Top defensive grades

DI Ted Washington, 83.9
S Rodney Harrison, 80.9
ED Willie McGinest, 80.5
ED Mike Vrabel, 79.9
DI Bobby Hamilton, 79.4

Despite issues in coverage, Patriots defense does enough in win

While cornerback Ty Law did not allow a completion on any of the four passes going his way and safety Rodney Harrison had a considerably good game in coverage, the rest of the Patriots secondary had a tough outing against Carolina. Safety Eugene Wilson and cornerbacks Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel combined to allow 249 receiving yards and three touchdowns in coverage and all gave up a passer rating of at least 140 when Jake Delhomme targeted them. On the other hand, the front-seven did a good job stopping the run and putting Delhomme under pressure as Willie McGinest led the Patriots with four total pressures and nose tackle Ted Washington was a force to be reckoned with in the trenches.

Carolina Panthers

Quarterback grade: Jake Delhomme, 74.8

Delhomme’s slow start puts Panthers into hole

Even though Delhomme completed only one of his first nine pass attempts for one total yard, he started playing better once he settled down. Despite being pressured on 43.2 percent of his dropbacks, the Panthers signal caller kept making plays and performed well under pressure too. In fact, he averaged 7.9 yards per attempt on passes under pressure and had a passer rating of 104.5 on these plays. Delhomme especially excelled when targeting the deep areas of the field outside the left numbers. He completed four of his five attempts into this section of the field for 169 yards and two touchdowns and also had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on these throws. In addition, he threw one of the best touchdown passes you will see in a Super Bowl on one of these passes toward Steve Smith.

Top offensive grades:

WR Steve Smith, 79.8
T Todd Steussie, 78.8
WR Muhsin Muhammad, 77.2
QB Jake Delhomme, 74.8
G Kenny Donnalley, 74.4

Steve Smith shines on the biggest stage

Having just finished the first of his eight regular seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards, wide receiver Steve Smith came up big in the Super Bowl too. Even though fellow receiver Muhsin Muhammad finished the game with more receiving yards due to a long touchdown catch on an uncontested play, Smith played at least as well. As a matter of fact, unlike Muhammad, Smith did not drop any passes and made more contested catches too, not to mention his highlight-reel stiff arm on Tyrone Poole. Running back DeShaun Foster was the other bright spot on Carolina’s offense, who forced the same amount of missed tackles (1) on three carries as fellow running back Stephen Davis did on 13 attempts. In addition, Foster averaged 10.6 yards after contact and scored the Panthers’ only rushing touchdown in the game.

Top defensive grades:

ED Al Wallace, 85.1
ED Mike Rucker, 82.7
ED Julius Peppers, 82.5
DI Shane Burton, 80
DI Kris Jenkins, 75.5

Defensive line’s performance undermined by back-seven

The Panthers’ best unit in the entire game was their defensive line, especially the edge rushers. Carolina’s starting edge defenders, Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers, combined to record 5 hits and 12 hurries on 85 combined pass-rushing snaps as they led the Panthers’ pass rush. However, despite their efforts, Carolina could not stop New England’s offense, which was mainly due to linebackers being unable not come off blocks and the secondary making individual mistakes. The Patriots especially went after cornerback Ricky Manning, who allowed seven receptions on seven targets for 92 yards and a touchdown. As a result, Brady had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when targeting the Carolina cornerback in this game.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Patriots QB Tom Brady

Click the tables below to expand.

Patriots '03 season Super Bowl grades

Patriots SB defense grades '03 season

Panthers '03 season Super Bowl grades

Panthers SB defense grades '03 season

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