Pat Ending

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

Super Bowl

Patriots 24 - Eagles 21


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After a week in which the New England Patriots dodged questions about becoming a dynasty, they delivered their answer last night, one that placed an indelible mark on NFL history.

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.

The Patriots became only the second team in the NFL to capture three Super Bowl titles in four years, a run that established them as the first dominant team of the 21st century and the salary cap era.

"We"ve never really self-pro claimed 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, the Patriots foiled Philadelphia's comeback with a Rodney Harrison interception, their fourth and final turnover coming with nine seconds left in the game.

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 amongst 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 the Most Valuable Player.

New England's ninth straight playoff victory tied the 1960s Green Bay Packers for the longest in the NFL 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.

The last team to accomplish the feat of three titles in four seasons was the Dallas Cowboys, who won each of the 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 moved to a 24-14 lead last night on a Dillon 2-yard touchdown run and an Adam Vinatieri 22-yard field goal.

The Patriots" jubilation was tem pered with the pending loss of their coordinators. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has already accepted the top job at Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said last night he was offered 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 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 at all times." linebacker Willie McGinest said. "The key was confusing him."

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

At the start, the game was dictated by two of the NFL's top three defenses in points allowed.

In his first Super Bowl, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb reverted back to his early, erratic days, rushing throws in the face of a constant blitz and missing open receivers.

The inconsistency of the 28-year-old quarterback was evident on the Eagles" first trip inside the Patriots" 20-yard line.

One play after having an interception negated by penalty, McNabb was picked off by Harrison at the New England 4-yard line.

McNabb bounced back in the second quarter, when he slipped around the blitz and found Todd Pinkston for a 40-yard strike. Tight end L.J. Smith finished off the 81-yard drive by fighting through a double team and catching a 6-yard pass in the middle of the end zone.

Like they usually have in past Super Bowls, the Patriots responded and did so behind Brady. After failing to cash in on a McNabb interception and a fumble by Smith, New England capitalized on Dirk Johnson's 29-yard punt.

Taking over at the Philadelphia 38, Brady was 5-for-6 for 34 yards as the Patriots erased their first playoff deficit to tie the game at 7 with 1:10 left in the first half. He threw a difficult, 4-yard pass across the field to the right side of the end zone, where David Givens made the touchdown grab and then imitated Owens" celebration by flapping his arms.

It marked the first tie at halftime in 16 Super Bowls.

New England kept the momentum by going the length of the field to open the second half. On a drive in which Brady played pitch and catch with Branch, it was outside linebacker Mike Vrabel that finished it.

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