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Patriots hold off Eagles to win Super Bowl XXXIX

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Dynasty? Definitely. The
New England Patriots don't have to proclaim greatness. The NFL record book does
it for them.

The Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years Sunday,
24-21 over the Philadelphia Eagles, and now they are challenging
history.

It was their ninth straight postseason victory, equaling Vince
Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. It was coach Bill Belichick's 10th
playoff victory in 11 games, one better than the great Lombardi.
And it matched Dallas' run of three championships in four years in
the early 1990s.

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

This one wasn't overpowering, and at times it was downright
ugly. But not even Belichick seemed to care about that.

"To me this trophy belongs to these players," Belichick said.
"They met all comers this year, a very challenging year. We're
thrilled to win. These players played great all year, their best in
the big games and they deserve it, they really deserve it."

With MVP Deion Branch tying a Super Bowl record for receptions
with 11, Brady efficiently running the offense and Rodney Harrison
sparking a smothering defense, the Patriots (17-2) didn't need a
last-second field goal from Adam Vinatieri this time.

But his kick -- a 22-yarder with 8:40 left -- provided the points
that made the difference.

This time, the Patriots sealed it with a stop.

Philadelphia (15-4) got the ball back at its 4 with 46 seconds
remaining. It was hardly enough time and far too much territory to
cover against such a formidable foe.

Harrison got his second interception with 9 seconds remaining to
end it.

Playing before a sea of mostly green jerseys in the crowd of
78,125, the Patriots ended Philadelphia's chance of heading north
with its first pro sports title since 1983. Indeed, it's been 45
years since the Eagles won the NFL crown. And even though they made
it to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1981 -- after three
straight conference championship flops -- their sparkling season
still ended in disappointment.

"We were too sloppy to win," receiver Terrell Owens said. "It
was great to get back, but we made too many mistakes. We could have
won and that hurts."

Corey Dillon, a newcomer to the championship game, scored the
go-ahead points on a 2-yard run early in the fourth period. And
when Branch wasn't catching passes, the Patriots flaunted their
versatility by again using linebacker Mike Vrabel to find the end
zone.

Vrabel has caught TD passes in two straight Super Bowls and has
five TDs in as many career catches, not bad for a linebacker -- or
anyone else.

Brady wasn't as fluid as he was when he won the MVP awards in
the 2002 and 2004 games, but he was 23-for-33 for 236 yards and two
TDs.

"It doesn't matter who gets what," Branch said of taking the
MVP away from his quarterback.

When the offense bogged down or turned over the ball, Harrison
and his mates forced four turnovers, including a goal-line
interception by the veteran safety. The Patriots also had four
sacks, making Donovan McNabb look ordinary, even skittish at times.

And while Owens' return from a seven-week injury layoff was an
individual success -- he had nine catches for 122 yards -- it was not
nearly the star turn that Branch made.

Branch was most instrumental on the opening drive of the second
half, which set the tone for New England's 57th victory in its last
74 games.

While New England handled frequent blitzes, Branch caught four
passes for 71 yards on the series that ended with Vrabel's TD.

"We did a great job of adjusting during the game," Branch
said. "It was physical; a lot of guys were bumped and bruised."

The Eagles responded with a 74-yard drive. McNabb whipped a
10-yard pass over the middle between two defenders to Brian
Westbrook for the TD.

Still, as winners always do, the Patriots reasserted themselves,
effectively using screen passes against a tiring defense. Even when
Eagles defenders shouted to each other to watch for the screen, New
England made it work, particularly on Kevin Faulk's 14-yarder that
preceded Dillon's 2-yard run to make it 21-14.

Vinatieri hit his chip shot to make it 24-14. The Eagles came
back on Greg Lewis' 30-yard TD reception with 1:48 remaining.

Not that it bothered the Patriots, not that anything seems to
bother the Patriots. Here's a team that's losing offensive
coordinator Charlie Weis to Notre Dame and defensive coordinator
Romeo Crennel to become Cleveland's coach.

"When you're in the middle of it, you're not thinking about
what you're doing," Weis said. "Dynasties are talked about 10
years later."

Sorry, Charlie, the Patriots are the talk of the league now.

The victory gave New England its second team championship since
the fall, though this was hardly as dramatic as the long-suffering
Red Sox winning the World Series. Still, this certifies Boston as
the hub of champions.

Philadelphia's title drought goes on, but Owens certainly did
his best to end it. The All-Pro receiver fulfilled his vow to start
the Super Bowl, defying his doctor and playing with a metal plate
and two screws in his right ankle.

"T.O. did a heck of a job," coach Andy Reid said. "I was
proud of the effort and they battled, but we came up just short --
too many turnovers -- and against such a tough football team you
can't do that."

Replay played a significant role on the first series. McNabb
dropped the ball when he was hit by Willie McGinest and New England
recovered at the Philadelphia 34. But Reid challenged that McNabb's
knee was down when hit seconds before by Tedy Bruschi.

Replay showed McNabb, indeed, was down.

Philly put together the first good drive late in the opening
period. Owens got open on a crossing pattern and gained 30 yards on
third down, with a roughing penalty adding 9 yards, but a 16-yard
sack by Mike Vrabel set back the Eagles.

Then McNabb threw a poor pass that Asante Samuel intercepted in
the end zone, only to have it overturned because of illegal contact
by linebacker Roman Phifer.

No matter. McNabb again threw a duck, which Harrison picked off
at the 3.

But the Eagles got the ball again at the New England 45 after a
punt. Three plays later, another turnover: Randall Gay knocked the
ball loose from L.J. Smith and Samuel recovered at the 38.

Once more, the defense held, and when the Eagles got the ball
back at their 19, they finally finished off a drive.

Todd Pinkston, often overshadowed by Owens, looked like his
illustrious teammate on receptions of 17 and 40 yards. On the
longer one, he soared high for yet another misthrow by McNabb and
took it away from Gay.

On third down from the 6, McNabb hung in the pocket and waited
for Smith to get free in the end zone for the game's first score
with 9:55 left in the half.

It was the first time New England trailed this postseason.

Brady then made a rare mistake, fumbling at the Philly 13.
Darwin Walker recovered New England's first giveaway of the
postseason.

It didn't lead to anything for the Eagles, and after a 29-yard
punt by Dirk Johnson, the Pats drove 37 yards to tie it at 7. Brady
found Givens behind Lito Sheppard in the right corner of the end
zone for a 4-yard score, and Givens mocked Owens' wing flap after
the touchdown with 1:10 remaining.