Pat Ending

3-point victors again, Pats join elite with triple crown

Super Bowl

Patriots 24 - Eagles 21

February 07, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The New England Patriots placed a new face on the list of NFL dynasties, searing their name into NFL history with determination and not domination.

In their signature workmanlike style - a balanced offense and an opportunistic defense - the Patriots outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles for a momentous 24-21 Super Bowl triumph last night at Alltel Stadium.

Overcoming an effort that was sometimes sloppy and stagnant, the Patriots became only the second team to capture three Super Bowl titles in four years, a run that established them as the first dominant franchise of the 21st century and the salary cap era.

"We've never really self-proclaimed ourselves anything," said quarterback Tom Brady, who is 9-0 in the playoffs. "If you guys say we're great, we'll accept the compliment."

Like the previous times it hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, New England won by three points. Unlike their other titles, the game was won not by the offense, but the defense.

After the underdog Eagles closed to within 24-21 late in the fourth quarter, erupting a partisan Philadelphia crowd, the Patriots foiled any comeback with a Rodney Harrison interception, their fourth turnover coming with nine seconds left.

New England's offense came through in the clutch, too, scoring four times in a span of five drives to put the Patriots up 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter.

Adhering to New England's team-first concept, its attack was spread out among Brady (23-for-33 for 236 yards and two touchdowns), receiver Deion Branch (11 catches for 133 yards) and running back Corey Dillon (75 yards rushing). Branch, whose 11 receptions tied a Super Bowl record, was named Most Valuable Player.

"It doesn't matter who gets what," Branch said of taking the trophy away from Brady, a two-time winner.

New England's ninth straight playoff victory tied the 1960s Green Bay Packers and placed stoic coach Bill Belichick onto an elite pedestal. His 10-1 postseason record is the best in history, moving him ahead of Vince Lombardi.

Belichick, who is known for his meticulous preparation, was caught off-guard when he was doused by his players at the end of the game.

"I hadn't had water dumped on me in a long time, but it felt good," said Belichick, the only coach to win three Super Bowls in four seasons. "When they dump water on you, that's a good sign. It's when they throw stuff at you" things aren't going well.

In fact, New England was far from perfect. The Patriots committed more penalties (seven) and more turnovers (one) than they had in their previous two playoff games.

But every time they needed a big play or big stop, they got it from either Brady, Branch, Harrison or linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

And mocking the Eagles by flapping their arms, the Patriots find themselves in rare air.

"Competition is the foundation of what made this country great," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "I'm grateful we could win a championship stressing teamwork instead of individuals."

The last team to accomplish the feat of three titles in four seasons was the Dallas Cowboys, who won each of their Super Bowls in the 1990s by double digits. The Patriots, though, have made it a trademark by pulling through at the end.

In the first Super Bowl tied after three quarters, the Patriots took a 24-14 lead. Philadelphia sliced the margin to a field goal with 1:48 left, when Donovan McNabb (30-for-51, 357 yards) hit Greg Lewis for a 30-yard touchdown. The Patriots recovered the onside kick, ran the clock down under a minute and then pinned the Eagles at their 4.

After two erratic plays, McNabb's final attempt sailed to Harrison to make New England the first team to successfully defend its championship in six seasons.

The Patriots' jubilation was tempered with the pending losses of their coordinators. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has already taken the top job at Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said last night that he has accepted the head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns.

"It's not our job to label ourselves," offensive tackle Matt Light said when asked about being a dynasty. "I will say that it feels awful good to have three rings on my fingers."

The third ring was earned by limiting Philadelphia's triple-threat attack.

The Patriots' defense kept versatile running back Brian Westbrook in check, quickly recovered receiver Terrell Owens out of the end zone and McNabb out of his comfort zone. With waves of blitzing linebackers, New England sacked McNabb four times and pressured him into three interceptions.

"We just had to keep guys coming at him," linebacker Willie McGinest said. "The key was confusing him."

He added, "I have all the respect in the world for the Eagles, but we were not going to be denied today."

New England's first challenge was not scoring first for just the second time in the past 27 games.

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