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Substance over style (cont.)

Posted: Monday February 7, 2005 1:09AM; Updated: Monday February 7, 2005 1:11AM
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Corey Dillon drags Eagles safety Brian Dawkins for extra yards. Dillon ended up with 75 rushing yards and a touchdown.
AP
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Just like they did in 2001 and again in 2003. But these Patriots always finish what they start, which is one of the truest marks of a champion.

On Sunday, anyone watching the game could see the Eagles had their chance to pull the upset and shock the Patriots. But like countless other teams before them, they couldn't finish the job and land the knockout blow against New England.

In the first half, Philadelphia looked like the hungrier, more aggressive team. The Eagles could sense the Patriots' vulnerability and seemed poised to pounce on a New England team that was uncharacteristically sloppy.

But with the Patriots, the window of opportunity they give you is always ridiculously small. Kick them when they're down or you're not going to kick them at all.

And the Eagles didn't. Philadelphia turned the ball over twice in New England territory in the first half -- not to mention two others giveaways that were wiped out by a replay challenge and a penalty -- and could only manage seven points despite clearly getting the better of things in the first two quarters.

New England woke up late in the second quarter and starting playing like the Patriots of old. Starting with their final drive of the first half, New England went touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, field goal on their next five drives, effectively ending the drama.

If the Eagles could have built on their early 7-0 lead and put the Pats into a deeper hole, maybe panic would have set in on New England's sideline. But we'll never know that now, will we? Because even though New England's first four possessions produced only four punts and one first down, the Patriots never wavered. Not this year, and not in the season's biggest game.

"Being down 7-0 in the Super Bowl, sometimes you can get tight and say, 'Oh, no, what do we do now?' '' Bruschi said. "But not us. We don't get tight. We don't get nervous. We've been in too many pressure games. If we weren't used to the pressure, we could have pushed the panic button. But we didn't. We just kept playing.''

With New England, the storylines are always sexier on the opposing sideline. The Pats didn't have a Terrell Owens saga to contend with during Super Bowl week. Or a Freddie Mitchell gab-fest to diffuse. Tom Brady didn't even generate as much attention that his first-time Super Bowl counterpart Donovan McNabb.

But when you check the bottom line, the story always ends the same way with these guys: The Patriots win. The other team loses. And New England adds another impressive chapter to its ever-burgeoning legacy.

"From the outside looking in, this is a great football team,'' said Patriots running back Corey Dillon, who contributed 75 yards rushing and a touchdown, and 31 yards receiving to New England's winning cause. "Three out of four? That's something. I don't know what to call it. I'm not going to say the D word (dynasty). I'm going to just call it my first Super Bowl win.''

This time receiver Deion Branch captured the game's MVP honors, not Brady. This time kicker Adam Vinatieri didn't have to make some ridiculously clutch field goal to win it in the final seconds. But only the particulars change with the Patriots. Not the important stuff. Not the outcome.

"It's beautiful, because before us, the last couple teams that won the Super Bowl, they didn't even make the playoffs the next year, like us in 2002,'' Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour said. "We had teams gunning for us all year long, and we met every challenge. We answered all the questions.''

So what else is new? After all, these are the Patriots we're talking about. They don't know any other way.

"I don't know how long it can go on, because every year is so different,'' Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light said. "It's tough to go out and do what we did. But with this team, and these guys, you can't rule it out.''

At this point, you'd think we all would have learned that much.

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