A late field goal from Adam Vinatieri gave New England a thrilling 32-29 win over Carolina at Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Defensive deadlock took hold early on before Tom Brady led the Patriots to a 21-10 lead via touchdowns from Antowain Smith, Deion Branch and David Givens.
Inspired Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme helped his side fight back to 29-29 in the final seconds.
But New England had the last say with Vinatieri's 41-yarder, seizing their second Super Bowl win in three years.
Lightning struck twice for Vinatieri who also sealed his team's 20-17 win over St Louis in 2002 with a last-gasp field goal.
The result was harsh on the Panthers, who rallied well in what turned out to be one of the Super Bowl's greatest games.
Delhomme, in particular, put in a sparkling fourth-quarter display after a slow start, setting the platform for a 33-yard touchdown run by DeShaun Foster.
He then completed a spectacular 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad, before combining with Ricky Proehl in a play that looked to have sent the game into overtime.
The unflappable Brady responded instantly, however, at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
He found Troy Brown and then the ever-reliable Branch with fewer than 10 seconds left to put Vinatieri well within range.
And Brady deservedly walked off the field to receive the Vince Lombardi trophy and his second Super Bowl MVP award.
Pundits had expected the clash between two of the NFL's toughest defensive units to yield a low aggregate score.
Timberlake (left) and Janet Jackson provided half-time controversy
And fans had to wait until deep in the second quarter before the Patriots put the first points on the board.
But they were buoyed by a half-time show, which included an unexpectedly raunchy set by Janet Jackson, who showed rather more flesh than intended when she had part of her top removed by fellow pop star Justin Timberlake.
And, after a brief intervention from a streaker, the enthralled crowd were then treated to a free-scoring fourth quarter, which made the NFL finale the fifth highest-scoring in history.
"The guys fought so hard all day long," said Vinatieri afterwards: "I'm just fortunate to have the opportunity to put the icing on the cake."
Head coach Bill Belichick paid tribute to his players, who end the season with 15-straight victories.
"It has been a wonderful team and a real thrill for me to coach them."
"It's just incredible," said Brady, who completed 32-of-48 passes for 343 yards.
"It's unbelievable to do it the way we did it. The guys made great catches, and Adam drove that sucker right down the middle to win it. What a game."