FOXBORO, Massachusetts (Ticker) --
knows all about playing the role of postseason hero.
In bone-chilling conditions, Vinatieri kicked a 46-yard field goal with 4:06 remaining to lift the
New England Patriots
to a 17-14 victory over the
in the AFC divisional playoffs.
With a game-time temperature of 4 degrees and a wind chill at minus-10, Vinatieri once again mastered adverse weather by hooking his field goal just inside the left upright to snap a 14-14 tie.
It was another clutch kick for Vinatieri. In the divisional round against Oakland two years ago, he drilled a 45-yarder late in regulation in a driving snowstorm before converting again in overtime. But his biggest kick came later that postseason, when he hit a 48-yarder as time expired in the Super Bowl XXXVI victory over St. Louis.
"The one in the snow was still the most difficult kick I've ever made because of the sheer amount of snow," Vinatieri said. "They don't get any easier when you get into this situation - the pressure, the circumstances and what they mean to the team. You just go out there, not to think about all of that and try to put the ball through the uprights."
"Big kick. We get in those situations and that's what he's here for," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He's certainly come through many times for us. It was right at the edge of his range and he hit it."
After Vinatieri's latest clutch kick,
drove the Titans to the Patriots 33. But after McNair was called for intentional grounding, a holding penalty on
and a completion, the Titans were left with 4th-and-12 at the 42.
Under a blitz on fourth down, McNair underthrew a pass for
, who had the ball slip through his hands at the 15.
"That was a tough way to end it," said Bennett, who had a pair of clutch catches on the final drive. "I should have made that play but I didn't. It was a go route and Steve put it up there perfectly."
"They blitzed throughout the whole ballgame," said McNair, who completed 18-of-26 passes for 210 yards, one touchdown and an interception. "Every time, they were just bringing one more than we could block."
Bennett's drop allowed the Patriots (15-2) to win their 13th straight game and advance to the AFC championship, where they will host Kansas City or Indianapolis.
ran for a touchdown in the first quarter and McNair tossed an 11-yard TD pass to
in the third quarter for the Titans (13-5).
"We had a chance with the ball in our hands to win the football game and we didn't," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We lost to a very, very good football team."
set up Vinatieri's eventual game-winning kick by converting a 4th-and-3 play from the Titans 33, when he found
for four yards.
That was a big play to Troy, and in the biggest situations, I always find Troy," Brady said.
Brady, the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXVI, improved to 4-0 in his postseason career after completing 21-of-41 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. But he threw for just 49 yards after the first quarter.
"It was probably the coldest game that I've ever played in," said Brady, a California native. "We're practicing in this stuff and we're living in it so I think we get used to it."
On the Patriots' first possession, Brady found
with a 41-yard touchdown pass. But the Titans answered on Brown's second TD run in as many weeks.
gave the Patriots back the lead with a one-yard TD run with 1:14 into the second quarter.
It was game of missed opportunities for McNair and the Titans, who failed in their bid to advance to the championship game for the second straight season.
Trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, the Titans twice had first downs inside the Patriots 20. But each time, they failed to come away with any points.
McNair, who again was noticeably hoppling on his injured left ankle, directed an 11-play, 70-yard drive in the third quarter. He capped the march with his 11-yard TD toss to Mason, tying the contest at 14-14.