Playing on an injured ankle, Eagles All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens caught nine passes for 122 yards, but Philadelphia lost 24-21 to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

Owens defied his doctor's advice and was in the starting lineup just 6 1/2 weeks after ankle surgery.

Right from the start, he was no decoy.

Owens caught a 7-yard pass on Philadelphia's second play — his first action since he severely sprained his ankle and broke his leg in a game against Dallas on Dec. 19.

He had a 30-yard catch-and-run later in the first quarter, setting up a first down at the Patriots 8, which the Eagles failed to turn into points. After that catch, the flamboyant Owens flapped his arms along the sideline.

Owens also had a 36-yard reception in the fourth quarter, but didn't catch any of Donovan McNabb's three touchdown passes.

Owens was the target on McNabb's incomplete pass that started the game, and he hauled in a 9-yard reception on the second possession.

Owens appeared to have no trouble running his patterns, gaining several yards after his catches. He seemed out of breath early on when he went to the sideline, but didn't have to sit out plays.

He didn't have any receptions in the second quarter as McNabb spread the ball around and had better success moving the offense, but had two catches during Philadelphia's game-tying scoring drive in the third quarter and six total in the second half.

Two days after the Eagles won the NFC championship game, Dr. Mark Myerson, the surgeon who operated on Owens' right ankle in December, said he wouldn't clear him to play against the Patriots.

But Owens insisted he would be in the lineup — not just standing on the sideline leading cheers as he did in the NFC title game — when Philadelphia made its first appearance in the Super Bowl since 1981.

It was a fitting stage for Owens, the playmaking, showboating, brash-talking perennial Pro Bowl receiver.

In his first season with the Eagles after eight years in San Francisco, Owens led Philadelphia with 77 catches for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs. He invigorated the Eagles with his attitude, enthusiasm and exceptional play, adding a swagger to a team that desperately needed a personality.

Myerson inserted two screws in Owens' ankle and a plate on the outside of the ankle three days after he was injured. Owens was told after surgery that he had only an outside chance of returning for the Super Bowl. But he rehabbed vigorously, hoping to help Philadelphia win its first NFL championship since 1960.

With Owens, the offense was extremely potent, averaging 25.4 points in 14 games. After Owens was injured, the Eagles lost the last two regular-season games — but most starters hardly played and others were rested.

The Eagles scored 27 points in each of their two playoff victories without Owens.