By: Bob George/BosSports.net
February 07, 2005

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JACKSONVILLE -- Champs win when they have to. But they also win when they don't have their best stuff.

The Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots accomplished both Sunday night at AllTel Stadium, withstanding a tough challenge from the Philadelphia Eagles and claiming still another Super Bowl championship. The Patriots were able to stave off the Eagles and hang on for a 24-21 win, claiming their second straight Super Bowl win and third title in the last four years. They become the first team since Denver six years ago to win two straight, and the first team since Dallas nine years ago to win three of four.

Locally, the Patriots extend this incredible run of championship posterity. This is the third Boston area title in the last twelve months. It marks the first time a Boston area sports team has won two straight championships since the Celtics won consecutive NBA championships in 1968 and 1969. And it places the Patriots, once a woebegone NFL team everyone used to laugh at, into the highest pantheon of great teams in league history.

These last two paragraphs are what most of you will remember ten years from now. Prosperity. Distinction. And everyone's favorite word these days around here: Dynasty. The Patriots achieved something which few teams have been able to do, and the long-term fallout from this will be fodder for new DVDs, NFL Films productions and certain dates with Canton for several Patriots some day down the road.

The game itself was close, another exciting finish, but hardly an artistic achievement. The Patriots brought their "C" game (maybe "D" works better for some of you) to the table, while the Eagles were victimized by four turnovers and some horrid clock management late in the fourth quarter. As Super Bowls go, this one more closely resembled Super Bowl V's turnover slopfest than some of the classic contests that have gone down in the past few years. This one was close and exciting, but it was the product of some substandard play by the two conference champions.

Part of the problem was two of the best defenses in the league going at it, and unlike last year's shootout in Houston, the defenses came through as advertised. The difference in the game turned out to be the Patriots doing a little bit better job of exploiting the weaknesses in the Eagle defense than the Eagles did to the Patriots. The prime benefactor of this was Deion Branch, whose 11 catches (which tied a Super Bowl record for most catches in a game) for 133 yards earned him game MVP honors, the first wideout to win MVP since Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIII.

In his final game as Patriot offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis called generally an uneven game, going to Branch when he could but eschewing other areas of attack and making some questionable calls in key situations. Weis' crowning glory was the first drive of the second half, where Branch caught four passes for 71 yards before Mike Vrabel finished things off with a 2-yard scoring catch. But other times during the evening, Weis missed the mark on some of his calls.

The third drive of the game found the Patriots at their own 3. Corey Dillon ran for seven yards on first down, then called for a long bomb on second down to David Givens (Tom Brady overthrew him) and then ran Kevin Faulk for no gain on third down. Another Dillon run on second and three would have been a better option. Going further, throwing deep on second and short is a nice idea but better advised if you're not backed up practically on your own goal line.

In the second quarter, the Patriots had first and goal at the Eagle 7. Brady tried to hit Branch on a quick screen left, but Rod Hood stuffed Branch for only two yards (this play went for a touchdown two weeks ago against Pittsburgh). On second down, Weis called for a play fake to Faulk, but Brady muffed the fake and fumbled the ball. Darwin Walker recovered for the Eagles. Again, one has to wonder if Dillon was a better option, as a power run was needed and Faulk isn't that kind of runner. The botched play fake was perhaps inevitable, but a fake to Dillon in that situation might have been more effective.

The Patriots were trying to kill off the final 1:47, leading by three and Philadelphia having two timeouts left. Three runs were in order, and a first down was greatly desired. But Faulk was in there for the three runs, not Dillon. The Eagles held Faulk to just five yards on the three carries. The Eagles did burn their timeouts and got the ball back with 46 seconds left, but Dillon might have been able to eat up the rest of the clock.

Penalties also hampered the champs. The first two drives were killed thanks to false starts by Matt Light and Brandon Gorin. A first quarter end zone interception by Asante Samuel was negated thanks to an illegal contact penalty on Roman Phifer. A third quarter punt return of 44 yards by Troy Brown was wiped out on a holding call on Dexter Reid.

The last Eagle scoring drive also smacked of some questionable decision-making. Patriot defensive backs were told to play back and not give up the big play, or at least to hold the Eagles to a field goal with the Patriots leading 24-14 at the time. Donovan McNabb proceeded to lead the Eagles on a 13-play, 79-yard drive which culminated with a 30-yard scoring pass to Greg Lewis. Eugene Wilson was lost with a shoulder injury at the end of the first half, and Reid was put in a position to cover Lewis by himself. With Todd Pinkston out with leg cramps, cover-two would have been a better way to guard against this touchdown and to help extend the drive and take more time off the clock.

In the end, the Eagles did much to lose the game, almost more than the Patriots did to win it. McNabb was pressured into bad throws all night long, three of which landed into the hands of Patriots. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress went far too long with the run, as Brian Westbrook carried only 14 times for 22 yards (if you leave out a meaningless 22-yard run on the final play of the first half). But the lasting legacy of this game, from an Eagle standpoint, will perhaps be Andy Reid's handling of the clock coming down the stretch.

The scoring drive which McNabb hit Lewis to cut the deficit to 24-21 took 3:52 of the final 5:40. The Eagles had two timeouts, but never at any time showed any urgency despite being down two scores. No hurry-up, no sideline passes, no intentions of saving as much time as possible. The Eagles got the ball back with 46 seconds left, but still showed no attempts at sideline passes. The only passes McNabb attempted were tosses over the middle which would have consumed lots of time. The last of those passes was Rodney Harrison's second interception of the game, which sealed the game with nine seconds left.

History rang out all over the place for the victorious Patriots. Vrabel's touchdown catch, unbelievably his second Super Bowl catch in his career, put him tied for the lead in Patriot history with most Super Bowl touchdowns scored. Givens was the first with two touchdowns earlier in the contest. The previous ten Patriot Super Bowl touchdowns had been scored by ten different people. With 21 catches in two years, Branch is already the third leading career receiver in Super Bowl history. Brady is now 3-0 in Super Bowls, thanks to his 23 of 33 passing and a 110.2 passer rating. And with the win, Bill Belichick overtakes Vince Lombardi with the best record in NFL playoff history.

At game's end, Belichick, Weis and Romeo Crennel shared an embrace. The three will no longer be together, as Weis is off for Notre Dame and Crennel is going to Cleveland. What these men have done in their five seasons together in New England ranks among the finest work in league history. Belichick will now have to prove his genius all over again, as his coaching tree just sprouted a few new branches.

It's all about history with the Patriots. A most incredible dynasty has taken root. This is greatness which is hard to fathom and even harder to dissect and analyze. But the Patriots accomplished something which down and through the years will be held in the highest esteem by experts and scholars. This historic win by the Patriots is arguably the most significant of all the Boston sports championships; if not the most favorite (as opposed to the Red Sox World Series win), definitely the most impressive from an historical standpoint.

Forget all the analyzing. In the end, who won? That's all you need to know. The Patriots are one of the all-time greatest teams.

New England, you have a dynasty.


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