Sometimes it is hard to say goodbye, and with the completion of Super Bowl XXXIX, I must bid you all adieu. Thanks for reading this season, hopefully you will all be back again next year. Even though it hasn’t even been a day since the final gun sounded in Jacksonville, I know I can’t wait to get geared up for another season of football. Let’s just get right into the recap of this year’s pentultimate game…
At Jacksonville…New England 24, Philadelphia 21
Much was said and written about the supposed disparity between the level of play in the two conferences, but let’s be honest, this was a matchup of the NFL’s top two teams. Philadelphia came into the big game having finally won the Conference Championship game, and New England made it’s way here beating the league’s top defense on the heels of freezing the league’s top offense. After an extra week of hype, it was finally game time.
The Eagles offense would be first to show off its wares, and the opening series was an indication of how the entire first quarter was going to be played. Donovan McNabb (357 yds, 3 TD, 3 int) fired incomplete on first down, but on second down he hooked up with Terrell Owens (122 yds) for the first of his 9 catches on the day. The seven yard gain set up a third and short, where things got a little hairy. McNabb was again back to pass and appeared to be sacked on the play, however, the officials did not blow the play dead, and seconds later McNabb fumbled the ball away to New England. Andy Reid quickly challenged the play, and the call was reversed since McNabb’s knee was down. This short series was an indicator that the Eagles offense was going to have its hands full with the Patriots D.
New England then got its first shot on offense, but they too found difficulty. Tom Brady (236 yds, 2 TD, 0 int) hooked up with Deion Branch (133 yds) for the first of his record tying 11 catches on the day for a 16 yard pickup to get things rolling. This would end up being the Patriot’s only first down of the entire quarter as they too were finding out that the Eagles defense was going to be stingy on this day. After an exchange of punts, the Eagles were able to get something rolling. Starting at their own 26, this was a drive that was going to be pass on every down but one. And while McNabb wasn’t looking great, he had them moving down the field, key play being him finding Owens for a 30 yard gain, helped out by a New England unneccesary roughness penalty tacked onto the end of the catch and run to the Patriot 8 yard line. After a sack, McNabb’s luck started to change for the worst. He threw poorly to the right side of the endzone looking for Owens, but instead two New England defenders converged, Samuel ending up catching the ball batted by Rodney Harrison. However, illegal contact on New England nullified the interception, and gave the Eagles a first down. On the next play, McNabb looked left and threw left trying to hook up with Brian Westbrook (104 total yds, TD), this time Harrison got a clean pick, and there would be no penalty to bail out Philly this time.
New England would not get a first down, and Philly would go back to work. McNabb was passing again, but when he hooked up with LJ Smith over the middle, he was held up fighting for more yards, and the ball was knocked loose for another Philadelphia turnover. The quarter was winding down, and again New England could not move the ball. Zeros showed on the board at the end of fifteen minutes of play, and everyone knew that this was going to be a close ball game from start to finish.
The start of the second quarter was the emergence of the Eagles running game, as Westbrook began finding some nice chunks of yardage. Philadelaphia once again moved close to the goal line, and this time they would cash in as McNabb found LJ Smith in the end zone from 6 yards out for the games first score. The Eagles had the lead! This time, the Patriot offense would respond. Starting from their own 13, Dillon picked up 13 yards thru the air, then 16 on the ground and they were starting to click. Brady would then hook up with David Givens, but after the catch he would fumble the ball way. Bill Belichick was on the spot this time, and his challenge that Givens’ knee was down before the fumble was reversed and the Patriots drive was still alive. Dillon broke off a 24 yard gain to the Eagle 7 and it was looking like the Patriots would tie things up. Dillon appeared to be hurt on the play, he would leave in favor of Kevin Faulk. Two plays later, Brady lost the ball on a play action fake, and though he was the first on the ground to try and get the ball, the Eagles defense swarmed him, and they emerged from the pileup with the ball.
But the Eagle offense could not get a first down, and New England got the ball back at the Eagle 37 yard line. Working with the short field, seven plays later Brady found David Givens from 4 yards out for the points that would not only tie the game, but shift the momentum that Philadelphia had been building back to New England. With only a minute left in the half, Philadelphia would not get anything going and the teams would head into the break knotted at seven.
The Patriots were first to act in the second half, and they were able to quickly build upon their previous scoring drive. Brady to Branch was a popular call on a 9 play 69 yard drive that ended with Mike Vrabel making a tremendous catch from two yards out. Javon Kearse was hanging all over him, but Vrabel made the catch and if it were a basketball game he’d have gone to the line for a possible three point play as Kearse was flagged for holding. New England had taken its first lead of the game.
The teams would exchange punts, and the Eagles would do well on their second possession of the half. Again it was a drive dominated by pass plays, Westbrook’s 10 yard catch and run over the middle tied the game back up at 10. The excitement would continue to build as New England would start to drive as the third quarter was coming to a close. Brady would alternate between finding Deion Branch, handing off to Corey Dillon, and throwing short balls to Kevin Faulk, who was appearing to get some regular playing time to due Dillon being shaken up earlier. The alternating was working very much in New England’s favor. Though the third quarter would come to a close still tied at 10, the Patriots were well withing field goal range for a possible go ahead score. Faulk caught the last pass of the third for 8 yards, then opened up the fourth with plays good for 12 and 14 yards, where Corey Dillon (104 total yds, TD) came back onto the field and punched it in from two yards out.
New England’s defense would again rise to the occassion, forcing the Eagles to punt without a first down. The return put the Patriots on the Eagles side of midfield, where New England was looking for an insurance score. After a run for a loss of three, Brady connected with Deion Branch, who made an unbelievable catch. Surrounded by two Eagles, he rose above his closest combatant, and the catch can only be described as one of those “NO WAY” catches that you see on a video game. It was that good, as if he stole the ball from the other guy’s hands. Brady was roughed on the play, and after some tough running by Dillon, New England would enjoy first and goal from the four yard line. With the game on the line, Philadelphia responded, forcing Adam Vinatieri to boot a 22 yard field goal for the ten point lead, eight and a half minutes in regulation remained.
Much as the Philly D rose, so too did New England’s, forcing the Eagles to punt without a first down. Yet New England was punting three plays later, after only running two minutes off the clock. Starting from their own 21, Philadelphia still didn’t appear to be playing with any urgency, but they got things moving, again by air. Twice McNabb converted third and long, once to Owens, once to Mitchell (his only catch of the day, eleven yards on third and ten). New England’s defense was giving up the short pass, and while it was gaining yards, precious time was ticking off the clock…and still Philly was in no rush. After the two minute warning, McNabb clicked with Greg Lewis for a 30 yard score, the result of this game was very much still in doubt!!
With a shade under two minutes, Philadelphia went for the on-sides kick, and it was unsuccessful. All New England needed was one first down. Philly still had two timeouts, so they were still very much alive. The Patriots went the conservative route, running Kevin Faulk up the middle three times, chewing thru the rest of the Eagles’ timeouts, and running the clock down to under a minute. From the Eagle 36, the Patriots would punt the ball back to Philadelphia. In what has perhaps been one of the most overlooked key plays of the game, Patriot punter Josh Miller lofted his kick high enough where his teammates were able to down the ball at the four yard line.
So the scene is set, 46 ticks on the clock, Philadelphia on their own 4 yard line, a lot of “green” to go thru to get into range to either tie or win the game. The Eagles opened up the drive with a curious pass to Westbrook at the line of scrimmage that gained one yard, and kept the clock moving. McNabb then was incomplete to Owens forcing a third and long. Seventeed ticks now remained, and McNabb went back to pass one last time…he lofted the ball for LJ Smith but it was overthrown, Smith did get a hand to it, but he tipped it into the open and waiting arms of Rodney Harrison. Harrison immediately went to the ground and the celebration was on in New England.
As Tom Brady took a knee to officially end things, Deion Branch was named the game’s most valuable player for his record tying eleven catches. And the game was over. Philadelphia proved themselves a worthy representative of the NFC, and they have nothing to be ashamed of. The game was tied heading into the fourth quarter, both teams had a chance to win, and in this game, the New England Patriots were able to prevail. On the Patriot sideline, Bill Belichick had an emotional moment with his two coordinators that are leaving next year. What a way to go out for Charlie Weis (Notre Dame head coach) and Romeo Crennell (Cleveland Browns head coach).
So who knows where it will go from here. The Patriots are a good team that won it this year, and they have all the ingredients in place to get themselves back here for a possible third championship in a row. Are they the best team ever? Are they a dynasty? To be honest, those are terms that I don’t like to use. Right now, like most of the fans in New England, I’m just enjoying the ride. It was a great Super Bowl no matter what your affiliation. That’s why it’s the greatest event every year.