JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)—The whole thing must have seemed routine to the New England Patriots: confetti fluttering across the field, fireworks brightening the night sky, a carefully choreographed championship trophy presentation.
Downright ordinary, right?
The Patriots became a full-fledged dynasty with their third Super Bowl victory in four years, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 Sunday night.
A team for the decade. A team for the ages.
“We’re champions now. That’s it,” safety Rodney Harrison said. “I don’t know about dynasty.”
Trust us, Rodney, this group fits the definition in every respect. New England becomes just the seventh franchise to claim back-to-back titles. The Cowboys are the only other team to win the championship three times over a four-year period.
Typically, the Patriots didn’t leave themselves much room. All three of their Super Bowls have been decided by three points—the previous two on last-second field goals by Adam Vinatieri. By comparison, only two of the first 35 Super Bowls were within field goal range at the end.
But what they lack in style, the Patriots more than make up with their steely determination to do whatever it takes to win. When the Eagles jumped to a 7-0 lead, New England responded with a touchdown of its own late in the first half.
When Philadelphia tied the game at 14 late in the third quarter, the Patriots marched right down the field for Corey Dillon’s 2-yard touchdown. And, in a fitting bit of synergy, Vinatieri booted a 22-yard field goal with 8:40 remaining that provided the margin of victory.
Donovan McNabb threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Greg Lewis with 1:48 remaining, but the Patriots recovered the onside kick and ran off all but the final 46 seconds. When Harrison picked off McNabb’s last pass at the Philly 28, it was time to party.
Sure, the NFL-planned celebration is virtually impossible to distinguish from one year to the next, but that didn’t lessen the Patriots’ remarkable accomplishment—especially in the era of salary caps and free agency.
“This is the best ever,” offensive tackle Matt Light said. “We have more heart than anyone in the world. This is unbelievable. I love this confetti.”
The Eagles got a huge lift from Terrell Owens, who defied his doctor to play in his first Super Bowl. Just 6 1/2 weeks after surgery, T.O. had nine catches for 122 yards. Not bad for a guy who was playing with two screws and a metal plate in his right ankle.
“He’s amazing, to be able to come out there and do what he did,” Harrison said. “You could tell he was still hurting a little bit, but he played tremendous.”
But Owens was outshined by New England’s Deion Branch, who claimed the MVP award with 11 catches—tying a Super Bowl record—for 133 yards.
“He epitomizes the way the Patriots win,” NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Monday. “He has great individual talent … but all within the context of the team.”
It wasn’t a flawless game by any means. McNabb (30-of-51 for 397 yards) threw three interceptions, was sacked four times and had a fumble overturned by replay. Tom Brady botched a handoff with Kevin Faulk, leading to a fumble deep in Philly territory.
For the most part, though, the Patriots followed a familiar routine—run the ball (28 carries, 112 yards), limit mistakes in the passing game (Brady was 23-of-33 for 236 yards, with no interceptions) and rely heavily on their defense (the Eagles managed just 45 yards on the ground).
The loss extended Philly’s excruciating championship drought. The city’s last football title came in 1960. The last title of any kind came 22 years ago, when the 76ers won the NBA championship.
“I was proud of the effort,” coach Andy Reid said. “But we came up just short—too many turnovers—and against such a tough football team you can’t do that.”
Now, it’s time to start sorting out the historical significance of another Patriots’ Super Bowl title. They have won nine straight postseason games, equaling Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay teams. And coach Bill Belichick improved his playoff record to 10-1, one-upping the great Lombardi.
“As I give you the Lombardi Trophy, I suspect that coach Lombardi would have a deep admiration for how your team played today,” Tagliabue told Belichick after the game.
The Patriots had a bumpy road to their latest championship, and in many ways the Super Bowl mirrored those struggles. But, as always, New England found a way to persevere.
Maybe it’s their versatility: For the second year in a row, linebacker Mike Vrabel caught a touchdown pass. He’s got five receptions in his career—all TDs.
Even though the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1981—after three straight conference championship flops—their sparkling season ended in disappointment before a sea of mostly green jerseys in the crowd of 78,125.
“We were too sloppy to win,” Owens said. “It was great to get back, but we made too many mistakes. We could have won and that hurts.”
Brady didn’t stand out like he did while winning the MVP award at his first two Super Bowls, but he threw two TD passes. Branch stepped in to fill the void, making off with a new car and an additional piece of hardware.
“It doesn’t matter who gets what,” Branch said.
McNabb looked ordinary, even skittish at times. Maybe it was the four sacks, the persistent pressure and the lack of help from the running game. He threw three touchdown passes, but also made some crucial blunders.
In a precursor of what was to come, McNabb caught a break when a first-quarter interception in the end zone was nullified by a defensive penalty. But he wasted the second chance, throwing another errant pass that Harrison picked off near the goal line.
After Harrison’s second interception in the waning seconds, Belichick sought out offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Both are leaving for head coaching jobs: Weis at Notre Dame, Crennel with the Cleveland Browns.
“He grabbed me and Romeo at the end of the game and said, ‘Hey, it’s over,”’ Weis said.
What a ride it’s been.
One for the ages.