JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 5 -- In Adam Vinatieri, the New England Patriots have the most renowned clutch kicker in the history of football. But although he has two Super Bowl-winning field goals on his résumé, the Philadelphia Eagles, with three-time Pro Bowl selection David Akers, don't feel outclassed entering Sunday's game.
And they shouldn't, according to no less an authority than Vinatieri. "He's a good friend of mine," Vinatieri said of Akers during the week, "and he's as good of a kicker that has ever played the game."
New England's Adam Vinatieri, left, kicked game-winning field goals in both of the Patriots' Super Bowl victories, while the Eagles' David Akers has a career field goal accuracy of 83.2 percent, the second-best mark in NFL history.
(Amy Sancetta -- AP)
_____Getting Their Kicks_____
Mike Vanderjagt, Colts ...87.0 percent (194 for 223)
David Akers, Eagles ... 83.2 percent (139 for 167)
Matt Stover, Ravens ...82.7 percent (350 for 423)
Ryan Longwell, Packers ...82.4 percent (206 for 250)
Adam Vinatieri, Patriots ...82.1 percent (243 for 296)
Most Career Postseason FGs
Gary Anderson . . . 32 George Blanda . . . 22
Adam Vinatieri . . . 23 Steve Christie . . . 22
If the New England Patriots' performances in their last two Super Bowls are any indication, it would be a big mistake to channel surf during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX. While there's no way to accurately predict the outcome, the Patriots are 2-0 in February.
Super Bowl XXXVI
The Patriots took a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter, only to have Kurt Warner lead the St. Louis Rams to two touchdowns. Warner scored on a 2-yard run with 9 minutes 31 second left, then hit Ricky Proehl with the tying touchdown, a 26-yard pass, with 1:30 left.
Super Bowl XXXVIII
The Patriots led 14-10 as the fourth quarter began, then it was deja vu all over again. DeShaun Foster scored on a 33-yard run (the two-point conversion failed), Jake Delhomme hit Muhsin Muhammad on an 85-yard TD pass (the conversion failed) and Ricky Proehl -- who is not on the Eagles' roster this year -- caught a 12-yard TD pass that tied the score at 29-29.
The numbers bear that out. Akers set an NFL record this season with 17 field goals of 40 yards or longer during the regular season (in 21 attempts). He connected on 27 of 32 field goal tries overall, and his career field goal accuracy of 83.2 percent is the second-best mark in league history, behind the 87 percent of the Indianapolis Colts' Mike Vanderjagt. And Akers must play his home games outdoors at Lincoln Financial Field, while Vanderjagt gets to kick at least half the time indoors because the Colts' home games are in a domed stadium.
"He's a great kicker," Vinatieri said. "He's the second-most-accurate field goal kicker in the league. If he didn't play in a tough place like Philadelphia, where the weather conditions are tough, he'd probably be number one."
Vinatieri ranks fifth on that list of regular season field goal accuracy. But he is unmatched when it comes to making the kicks that count the most on the sport's biggest stage. He beat the St. Louis Rams with a 48-yard field goal as time expired in the Super Bowl three years ago, and he beat the Carolina Panthers with a 41-yarder with four seconds remaining in last year's game.
"You envy him when he makes them," Akers said during the week, "not if he had missed them."
Such is the life of a kicker. Vinatieri was selected to his second career Pro Bowl this season, making 31 of 33 field goal attempts during the regular season and leading the NFL in scoring with 141 points. He has kicked 17 game-winning field goals, 16 in the final minute of regulation or in overtime, and he is the only kicker to win a Super Bowl with a field goal in the final minute. He has the selective memory necessary to be a reliable clutch kicker: He missed his two field goal tries in last year's Super Bowl before drilling the game-winner.
"You just try to make every kick the same, no matter what the situation," Vinatieri said. "A 40-yard field goal is a 40-yard field goal. If you can try to block out all the external things that run through your mind, you're better off. Fortunately for me, it has worked thus far. But every time you step out onto that field, it's a new challenge and a new experience. . . . You have to always welcome and be ready for the opportunity. If it comes to you, you have to dive in headfirst."
Akers argued during the week that Vinatieri's postseason exploits should put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As for himself, he said he hadn't yet been dreaming of kicking a game-winner Sunday.
"To be quite honest with you, I really haven't had that premonition," Akers said. "When I see guys like Adam kick one, I really don't think about kicking one. I guess I don't think about it enough for you guys. I really haven't had that thought, 'You're down by one with two seconds to go, and he's got to make this kick to win the game.' . . . [But] if it comes down to it, I feel very confident that I can make it."
The Patriots' defensive prowess has been well documented, but the unit didn't fare well in the fourth quarters of their two Super Bowl triumphs. The Rams scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game at 17 before Vinatieri won it three years ago, and the Panthers scored 19 fourth-quarter points in their 32-29 defeat last year. . . .
Eagles tailback Brian Westbrook has succeeded the Rams' Marshall Faulk as the league's most feared receiver coming out of the backfield. In the Super Bowl three years ago, Patriots defenders made sure to bump or grab Faulk every time he tried to go out into a pass pattern. And they likely will take a similarly scrappy approach with Westbrook in this game, even an emphasis this season on game officials cracking down on clutching and grabbing tactics by defensive players.
"I think a lot of the qualities are the same," said New England linebacker Mike Vrabel. "If you're a running back in this league and you can run routes like a receiver, you make it difficult on a defense. There's always an emphasis for us to identify and neutralize the best players on an offense. We always try to play physical." . . .
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick's behind-the-scenes personality -- the one that he uses to motivate his players -- is far livelier than the one he projects publicly, according to New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
"You don't know Bill," Weis said. "He'll never let you see. He's never going to be a rah-rah, 'Win one for the Gipper' type. He's got a cerebral approach. But there are some off-color comments in there. Let's leave it at that." . . .
The Patriots have a package of about 15 offensive plays suited to the skills of their strong-armed but unpolished backup quarterback, Rohan Davey, that they work on in practice and would use if starter Tom Brady were to get hurt during a game and they'd have to put Davey in. They call the package their "Six Pack" because Davey wears No. 6 on his jersey. . . .
The Eagles withheld wide receiver Terrell Owens from their walk-through Saturday, apparently so he could keep his injured ankle elevated and rested. He has said he plans to play Sunday, seven weeks after suffering a severe ankle sprain that required surgery. . . .
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast for Jacksonville calls for a breezy day with a high of 67 degrees and a low of 50, with no precipitation. The game time temperature is expected to be around 57.
Sir, Super Bowl, Sir!
Fifty Marines got a special thanks for their service from the Cleveland Browns -- a free trip to the Super Bowl. The Browns donated 50 tickets to Marines who have served or will serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Some of the tickets that cost $500 and $600 each were handed to Marines on Friday at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the East Coast's largest Marine Corps base. Tickets also were given out at Parris Island, S.C., Reserve Command in New Orleans, and Central Command in Tampa.
"I want you to think about what you've done and about your comrades. [But] I want you to go and have a good time, have fun," Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, said as the group boarded a bus for Jacksonville, Fla.
News services contributed to this report.