JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 6 -- The Philadelphia Eagles had more total yards, first downs and third-down conversions, but as usual, the New England Patriots' defense came up with all the critical turnovers it needed with a plan designed to put as much pressure as possible on quarterback Donovan McNabb.
New England, which prospered all season with a three-linemen, four-linebackers defense, used the last two weeks to work on a scheme that often put five linebackers on the field, the better to rush McNabb from all areas of the field, hurry his throws and keep him from running downfield.
New England's Tedy Bruschi celebrates after intercepting a fourth-quarter pass intended for L.J. Smith.
(Julie Jacobson - AP)
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McNabb completed 30 of 51 passes for 357 yards, but also was intercepted three times, twice in the fourth quarter.
"We never were in a 3-4 the entire game," Belichick said after the Patriots' 24-21 victory, which earned his team its third Super Bowl title in the past four years. "We thought it would be a passing game and we decided to play our best pass rushers. As long as they were not able to get their running game going, we were going to stay with it."
The Eagles never were able to run the football effectively Sunday.
Running back Brian Westbrook, the native of Fort Washington and former DeMatha High star, had 44 yards on 15 carries, including one run of 22 yards. He averaged 2.9 yards a carry, and the Eagles only ran the ball on two other occasions. McNabb had one carry for no yards.
The Patriots were definitely helped by the return of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who had not played in his team's first two playoff victories because of a knee injury. He said afterward he still wasn't 100 percent, "but I gave it everything I had. You have to give credit to all our defensive linemen because they held it down when I wasn't in there."
New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who will leave Monday to play in his first Pro Bowl, as usual was the right man in the right place in the final period. When McNabb overthrew running back Dorsey Levens on a quick pass over the middle, Bruschi made a diving interception to help preserve what was then a 10-point New England lead with 7 minutes 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"We wanted to stay in our rush lanes and not let [McNabb] get out of there and hurt us with the run," Bruschi said. "We also knew we had to make tackles to stop their receivers downfield. I think we did a pretty good job doing that for the most part."
All the Patriots were talking afterward about the play of their two young cornerbacks, rookie Randall Gay and second-year man Asante Samuel, who were asked to play a lot of man-to-man coverage to make the schemes of Belichick and departing defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel effective. Crennel has accepted the head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns and negotiations will begin Monday.
"The guys who had to step up, stepped up," Harrison said. "They did a tremendous job of playing man-to-man coverage and breaking up some passes. They just really learned, and it's a huge step for next year. So many veterans got hurt this year, but these young guys kept coming through time and time again, just like they did today."
The Patriots, already missing starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, both on injured reserve and unavailable throughout the playoffs, lost starting safety Eugene Wilson late in the first half with a right arm injury. His replacement, Dexter Reid, was beaten badly on the Eagles' final touchdown, a 30-yard pass to Greg Lewis, but Harrison clinched the victory when he intercepted a McNabb pass with nine seconds remaining.
Said Samuel: "Hey, that's what we do. We play Patriots ball. All we do is win. They can say whatever they want about us, but we just find a way to win."