JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 6 -- The New England Patriots cemented their place in NFL history, and they did it with their typical share-the-glory style. They captured their third Super Bowl in four years by grinding out a workmanlike, 24-21 triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles before 78,125 Sunday evening at Alltel Stadium.
Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady improved their record together in postseason competition to 9-0, and the Patriots finished 17-2 for a second straight season. They joined the 1990s Dallas Cowboys as the only teams to win three Super Bowls in four years, and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said as he presented the Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft: "You join the elite teams in the history of the National Football League."
Coach Bill Belichick and his dad are doused in the closing seconds of New England's 24-21 victory over the Eagles.
(David J. Phillip - AP)
Belichick said later: "We start at the bottom of the mountain like everybody else. We're thrilled to get to the top of the mountain. We're happy to do it, and I'll leave the comparisons and the historical perspective to everybody else."
Patriots tailback Corey Dillon's two-yard touchdown run broke the first Super Bowl tie entering the fourth quarter. Kicker Adam Vinatieri added a 22-yard field goal with 8 minutes 40 seconds left for a 24-14 lead, and linebacker Tedy Bruschi had an interception on the Eagles' next possession. Philadelphia got quarterback Donovan McNabb's third touchdown pass of the night, a 30-yarder to wide receiver Greg Lewis, with 1 minute 48 seconds left, but the Patriots recovered an onside kick, ran all but the final 46 seconds off the clock and pinned the Eagles deep in their territory with a punt.
Patriots safety Rodney Harrison sealed the outcome with his second interception of the game with nine seconds to go. McNabb threw three interceptions in a 30-for-51, 357-yard performance, and Philadelphia had four turnovers.
"I threw three interceptions," McNabb said. "I don't look at the touchdowns. I don't look at anything else. I look at the three interceptions. Turnovers kill you, and it hurt us today."
Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens was a major factor in the game, as he'd vowed to be, with nine catches for 122 yards in his early return from a severe ankle injury. McNabb threw touchdown passes to tight end L.J. Smith in the second quarter and to tailback Brian Westbrook in the third quarter.
But Brady threw touchdown passes to wideout David Givens in the second quarter and to Mike Vrabel, a linebacker being used at tight end, in the third quarter. Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch had 11 catches, tying the Super Bowl record, for 133 yards and was named the game's most valuable player.
And New England found a way to survive yet another loss in its secondary when it plugged in Dexter Reid at safety for the injured Eugene Wilson. Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel scrapped their usual three-linemen, four-linebacker alignment in favor of a two-linemen, five-linebacker setup designed to keep the Patriots' best pass rushers on the field.
"We've never self-proclaimed ourselves anything," said Brady, who connected on 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards. "That's not our style. We have a great owner. We have a great coach. We have a great bunch of guys. We just try to express what this team is about: We really are a team."
The Eagles allowed Bruschi to have a clear path to McNabb on the third play of the game. McNabb ducked under Bruschi, with his knee brushing the turf, and kept running, only to lose the ball on a hit by linebacker Willie McGinest. Bruschi scooped up the would-be fumble, and the Patriots were in business at the Philadelphia 34-yard line.
But Eagles Coach Andy Reid alertly challenged. The replay review showed that McNabb was down on the original hit by Bruschi. So the Eagles retained possession long enough to punt, and the defenses quickly settled into a groove.
Philadelphia crafted a solid drive on its third possession of the evening, moving from its 26 to a first down at the Patriots 8. Smith made a superb lunging catch on third and nine for a first down, and Owens got open on a crossing pattern for a 30-yard catch and run. A personal foul on Patriots linebacker Roosevelt Colvin on that play moved the ball to the 8, but the Eagles were pushed back to the 24 on a first-down sack by Vrabel.
McNabb forced a throw into coverage and had it intercepted on the carom by cornerback Asante Samuel. He got a reprieve when the Eagles retained possession and were awarded a first down on an illegal-contact penalty against Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer. But McNabb came right back with another poor throw into tight coverage, and Harrison grabbed the pass before it could reach Westbrook.
The Eagles forced a punt and got the ball back at the Patriots 45, but Smith lost a fumble while struggling for extra yards following a third-down catch. No matter. The New England offense was doing nothing and went three plays and out. And Philadelphia finally got into the end zone, with the setup work being done by wideout Todd Pinkston.
Pinkston got open on a crossing pattern for a 17-yard reception on a third-and-eight play to keep the drive going, and out-leaped cornerback Randall Gay for a 40-yard catch after McNabb stepped up in the pocket to avoid a blitz. That gave the Eagles a first down at the New England 17, and Westbrook got 11 yards on a sweep around the left side. Westbrook was stopped for no gain on first down, and McNabb threw incomplete on second down, but Smith got open against Phifer on third down from the 6 and hauled in McNabb's throw for the touchdown.
The Patriots moved downfield to try to answer immediately, with Dillon's 25-yard run giving them a first down at the Philadelphia 7 after an instant-replay review overturned a fumble by Givens. But, on second down from the 4, Brady lost the ball on a play-action fake to tailback Kevin Faulk, then failed to recover the fumble. Defensive tackle Darwin Walker emerged from the pile with the ball and the Eagles were awarded possession. But their offense couldn't move. Dirk Johnson's 29-yard punt enabled the Patriots to get the ball back at the Eagles 37, and Brady calmly got them into the end zone by surprising cornerback Lito Sheppard with a throw across the field to Givens for a four-yard touchdown.
"It's just a darn good defense we were playing," Brady said. "It took us a while to get into a rhythm."
The Patriots grabbed their first lead of the evening with a 69-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. Branch provided three catches for 63 yards. Enter Vrabel, who serves as an extra lineman on the goal-line offense. He had a touchdown catch against the Carolina Panthers in last year's Super Bowl and two more this season. He got open despite being held by defensive end Jevon Kearse and made a juggling grab, then celebrated by imitating Owens's arm-flapping touchdown dance.
The Eagles got even later in the third quarter with a drive on which Westbrook was the focal point. The tailback made a 10-yard touchdown catch when McNabb, even under pressure, threaded a throw between Vrabel and Reid. But the Patriots came right back, giving the ball to Dillon and Faulk on running plays and screen passes to move resolutely down the field. Dillon plowed into the end zone from two yards out to put the Patriots back in front.