Pat Ending

Patriots simply superior at doing it the hard way

Super Bowl

Patriots 24 - Eagles 21

February 07, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - They did it again. The Patriots got away with another one, made it look hard, made you want to say, "This is the dominant team of our time?'

Hey, dominate somebody if you're so great. Or, not.

They hadn't done it that way in the previous two Super Bowls. The only two Super Bowls ever won on the final play were won by the leg of Adam Vinatieri, and that fact is practically an afterthought with this team. Almost without exception, the Patriots do just enough to win, especially the last game.

They did it again last night. With less than two minutes left, it was, again, a one-possession Super Bowl. You could count the games like that in the first 35 Super Bowls on one hand, but this bunch is redefining the definition of "dynasty' game by white-knuckle game. If you"re a Patriots fan, you've got a commemorative ulcer to go with each of the three trophy ceremonies.

Everybody in New England will enjoy the latest ulcer as much as the other two. The Eagles will walk away asking the same questions the Rams and the Panthers have asked before: What if ?

If Terrell Owens had played on two healthy legs? If Donovan McNabb had thrown one or two fewer inexplicably bad passes?

If Andy Reid had brought a greater sense of urgency to the fourth quarter drive that cut a 10-point lead down to three?

If Deion Branch could have just been Deion Branch instead of Swann and Stallworth and Rice and Taylor all rolled into one unsung package?

The Patriots make every team ask that. Over and over again - three times in the last four years and each of the last two - they've sat back and let the questions pile up right along with the confetti.

So they dominate their era without dominating the ultimate game from kickoff to final gun - the way the Packers, Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys usually did. So they call themselves a "team' and back it up. So they nod along with the adulation heaped on Tom Brady, knowing how humble he is, knowing he's still just a piece of the glorious puzzle that only becomes a work of art when the last piece is in place.

Compared to the first two, last night's finish was a walkover. The Patriots had all of nine seconds to absorb the magnitude of their achievement after Rodney Harrison snared his second interception of the night, flung himself to the turf at Alltel Stadium, then jumped up in an explosion of pure glee and exultation, flapping his arms in exaggeration of Owens" reception celebration.

Too bad the focus of that reaction was Owens, who deserves all the respect we can muster whether we like his act or not, after the way he left his heart and soul and a couple of screws and plates on the field last night.

Still, Harrison and the Patriots had earned it, as usual, the hard way. As the Rams and Panthers had done before, the Eagles and their faithful will see it as one they let get away. More ifs ... if we"d made a couple fewer mistakes, that would be us up on the stage, our quarterback drenched in champagne, our city under martial law.

That, again, would be giving short shrift to Harrison; to Richard Seymour, who gritted through pain just as much as Owens had, and to the young New England secondary, which withstood the T.O. onslaught and the departure of yet another member, safety Eugene Wilson late in the first half.

To Vinatieri, who had the game-winning kick for the third time in three tries, albeit a little earlier in the game and with a little less pressure on his foot. To Mike Vrabel, a new-millennium two-way star, and middle linebacker partner Tedy Bruschi, a magnet for the ball like few at his position in our day.

To Bill Belichick, deserving of the "genius' label awarded far too liberally these days, and his soon-to-be ex-coordinators, who might really have been the game MVPs.

To Brady, who once again did just enough and did it artistically enough to overshadow the scattershooting that made him look incredibly ordinary at times.

And, last but hardly least, to Branch, who earned the MVP award that Brady owned two times in three years. Branch separated himself from the pack in every sense of the phrase - from the pack of otherwise anonymous Patriots wide-outs, from the aggressive Eagles secondary and, because of his 11 catches, from all but two receivers in Super Bowl history.

Branch's record-tying day did not come by design. No one decided he had to be the main target, and he certainly never decided he needed more touches. That's for other teams, the ones watching them last night.

"It doesn't make a difference who gets what." said Branch, forced into the spotlight almost against his will. "Our plans were just to come in and win the game."

Those are the Patriots. Great players at every position. Champions by the skin of their teeth. Dynasty, by any definition.

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