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In Houston, they had problems

The Panthers and Patriots can only hope their next trip to Houston will be easier than their last.

During the regular season, the Texans beat Carolina and took New England to the waning moments of overtime _ both times at Reliant Stadium.

So it stands to reason that they are in a good position to talk about the two teams preparing for the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.

"I'm sure when each team looks down at the schedule and starts studying, they'll probably look at our game," Texans defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Especially with two weeks to prepare."

Houston and New England are among the minority of teams that employ a 3-4 defensive set. The Panthers will study the game film to see how the Texans scored two touchdowns in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Patriots, while the Patriots can use it to see how the Texans stifled the Panthers in a 14-10 victory.

Center Steve McKinney said field position helped the Texans when they played the Patriots. Adam Vinatieri chipped in a 28-yard field goal to end it with 41 seconds left in overtime.

Two Houston scores were set up by long fumble and interception returns.

"We put up 20, but those two touchdowns were with pretty good field position," McKinney said. "That's rare for them to turn the ball over in those situations, but the NFL is a crazy league where anything can happen."

THEY KNOW HOW TO AD: Corporate hospitality always has been a key Super Bowl ingredient, and this year is no different.

The NFL's corporate village had planned for 3,500 guests at $500 a pop, but the league has blown through that and is searching for more space. Reliant Arena and the Reliant Astrodome are within 100 yards of the stadium and will be filled with corporate sponsors and fans. The league is expecting around 25,000 fans for a pregame party in the Astrodome.

In all, there are about 350,000 square feet _ enough to cover 25 football fields _ reserved for NFL sponsors and non-sponsors.

_ TIMES WIRES

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