American football: Three out of four ain't bad

JACKSONVILLE - Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes to lead the New England Patriots to victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and their third Super Bowl title in four years yesterday, cementing a place among the NRL's great teams.

The build-up to Super Bowl 39 had centred on New England's credentials as an NFL dynasty.

The debate ended as the Patriots joined the Dallas Cowboys as the only other team to win three Super Bowls in four years, and Brady confirmed his place as one of NFL's greatest playoff quarterbacks, improving his post-season record to a perfect 9-0.

"We never self-proclaimed ourselves anything," said Brady, who completed 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards.

"We just love playing football. I know it sounds cliched. We keep saying we are just a team but we are.

"If you guys [the media] say we're great then we accept the compliment, but we still worked hard."

Judged the most valuable player in the Super Bowl wins last year and in 2002, Brady missed out on a third award, which instead went to wide receiver Deion Branch, who hauled in a title game record-equalling 11 catches for 133 yards.

The victory also earned Patriots coach Bill Belichick a special place in the game's history, making him the first coach to win three Super Bowls in four years and improving his playoff record to 10-1, surpassing the legendary Vince Lombardi.

"We started at the bottom of the mountain with everyone else and we're happy to get to the top," Belichick said.

"I'll leave the historical perspectives to everyone else.

"We're just thrilled to win - it was a very tough year."

As in their two previous NFL championship wins, the difference was again an Adam Vinatieri field goal, this time a 22-yard effort with just over eight minutes remaining.

For the first time in Super Bowl history the teams entered the final quarter tied, but the 14-14 deadlock did not last long, Corey Dillon bulling his way over from the two-yard line to put the Patriots back in front at 21-14.

Vinatieri then had the luxury of coming onto the field without the game on the line, and his field goal gave the Patriots a 24-14 lead.

But that 10-point cushion was needed after Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb found Greg Lewis with a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1m 48s to play, setting up a thrilling finish.

Back in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1981, the Eagles got the game off to a jittery start, losing the ball four times and turning it over twice in a scoreless first quarter on a fumble and a Rodney Harrison interception on the four-yard line.

But the Eagles grew in stature and drew first blood with their first possession of the second quarter, when McNabb capped off an 81-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to LJ Smith.

Trailing for the first time in this post-season, the Patriots came back, Brady marching his team down to the Philadelphia 10, only to fumble away their first good scoring chance.

Displaying the poise of two-time Super Bowl MVP, Brady took command the very next possession, hitting David Givens with a four-yard touchdown strike to send the teams into the break tied at 7-7.

After an opening half dominated by defence, sloppy play and mistakes, the Patriots and Eagles opened the third quarter with displays of precision, trading touchdown drives.

The Patriots seized the early initiative, marching 69 yards in nine plays to take a 14-7 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass to Mike Vrabel.

The Eagles answered with a 10-play, 74-yard march, capped off when McNabb hooked up with Brian Westbrook for a 10-yard touchdown strike, but were unable to get into position to attempt a game-tying field goal

McNabb finished with 30 completed passes from 51 attempts for 357 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.

After Janet Jackson's controversial "wardrobe malfunction" last year, the halftime show went off without incident as former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney entertained the crowd with a range of songs.

Super teams
2005: New England 24 Philadelphia 21
2004: New England 32 Carolina 29
2003: Tampa Bay 48 Oakland 21
2002: New England 20 St Louis 17
2001: Baltimore 34 NY Giants 7
2000: St Louis 23 Tennessee 16
1999: Denver 34 Atlanta 19
1998: Denver 31 Green Bay 24

- REUTERS

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