Patriots Superlative!

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

At times last night, the scent of an upset drifted in and out of Alltel Stadium here in Jacksonville as the New England Patriots tantalizingly exposed their chin.

The defending champs sensed something else though, the opportunity to be remembered as one of the dominant teams in NFL history.

The Patriots let the Philadelphia Eagles dance around Super Bowl XXXIX just long enough to keep it interesting.

Then, smelling blood, they lived up to their heavyweight reputation and punched their way to a 24-21 victory.

Though they didn't dominate in what often was a sloppy game and their poorest effort of these playoffs, the Patriots left little doubt as to their legacy by winning a third championship in four seasons.

With a feat not thought to be possible in the salary-cap era, the Patriots now are a dynasty and will be remembered alongside some of the NFL's greatest franchises.

"They met all comers this year," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who is 10-1 in the post-season and passed the late Vince Lombardi as the coach with the best post-season winning percentage.

"Each one is special ... I'll leave the historical comparisons to everybody else."

That is easy now as the Patriots joined the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s as the only team to win three in four years. With the victory the Pats also are enshrined in a club that includes the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s .

The Eagles were just the latest of the top dogs the Patriots knocked off in what arguably was their most impressive post-season run.

They dropped Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Round 1 and slugged the team with the NFL's best regular-season record, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC championship game.

Last night it was the Eagles, the dominant team in the NFC for the past four years.

"We don't care about where we are in the grand scheme of things," said quarterback Tom Brady, who didn't have his best of three Super Bowls but easily outplayed rival Donovan McNabb. "It's just not important to us.

"We'll take one at a time and enjoy it for what it is."

Though they never threatened a blowout, the Patriots had enough to put away a tough yet rough-around-the-edges Eagles team.

Still, to the delight of the pro Philly crowd of 78,125, the contenders gave the champs everything they could handle.

They scored first, were tied 7-7 at the half and 14-14 after three quarters, the first time in 39 editions that a Super Bowl had been tied at that point.

But the Patriots also smelled the vulnerability of McNabb.

Making his first trip to the Super Bowl, he dazzled with three touchdown passes but infuriated with three interceptions, a lethal combination against the Patriots.

Though his star receiver Terrell Owens was able to make some big plays, catching nine passes for 122 yards despite breaking a bone in his leg seven weeks ago, McNabb struggled with errant throws and ill-timed turnovers.

OPPORTUNITY

The Eagles actually had an opportunity for a miracle recovery in the final minute when they got the ball on their own four-yard line.

But the Patriots finished them off when safety Rodney Harrison had his second interception of the game.

As is their way, the Patriots were just efficient enough on offence to overcome a determined, blitzing Eagles defence.

But it was the Patriots own, dominating defensive unit that confounded an opponent yet again.

It was a crushing loss for the Eagles, who made too many costly mistakes on offence to survive against such a savvy opponent.

"I think the positive we get out of it is the guys got a taste of it and they'll want to get back," said Eagles coach Andy Reid, whose team finally won an NFC championship after losing the previous three years. "They are a prideful bunch. This will drive them."

And in their opponent, they saw the gold standard.


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