JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dynasties don't have to be perfect or pretty. They just have to win — like the New England Patriots.
The Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years with a dominant second half Sunday night, wearing down the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21.
It wasn't overpowering, and at times it was downright ugly. But it was more than enough to match the Dallas Cowboys' run of the 1990s and certify the Patriots of Bill Belichick (search) and Tom Brady (search) as the NFL's latest dynasty.
With MVP Deion Branch (search) tying a Super Bowl record for receptions with 11, Brady efficiently running the offense and Rodney Harrison sparking a smothering defense, the Patriots won their ninth successive postseason game. That ties the record of Vince Lombardi's Packers of the 1960s, and there's hardly any better company a team can keep.
The difference once again was an Adam Vinatieri field goal, this one a 22-yarder with 8:40 to go. New England won its other two Super Bowls by the margin of Vinatieri's kicks.
Philadelphia (15-4) got the ball back at its 4 with 46 seconds remaining. It was hardly enough time and far too much territory to cover against such a formidable foe.
Harrison got his second interception with 9 seconds remaining to end it.
Playing before a sea of mostly green jerseys in the crowd of 78,125, the Patriots made sure Philadelphia would not get its first pro sports title since 1983. Indeed, it's been 45 years since the Eagles won the NFL crown. And even though they made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 seasons — after three straight conference championship flops — their season still ended in disappointment.
Corey Dillon, a newcomer to the championship game, scored the go-ahead points on a 2-yard run early in the fourth period. And when Branch wasn't running free and catching passes, the Patriots flaunted their versatility by again using linebacker Mike Vrabel to find the end zone. Vrabel has caught TD passes in two straight Super Bowls and has five TDs in as many career catches, not bad for a linebacker — or anyone else.
Brady wasn't as fluid as he was when he won the MVP awards in the 2002 and 2004 games, but he was on-target much of the time, finishing 23-for-33 for 236 yards and two TDs.
When the offense bogged down or turned over the ball, Harrison and his mates forced four turnovers, including a goal-line interception by the veteran safety. The Patriots (17-2) also had four sacks, making Donovan McNabb look ordinary, even skittish at times.
And while Terrell Owens' return from a seven-week injury layoff was an individual success — he had nine catches for 122 yards — it was not nearly the star turn that Branch made.
Branch's 11 catches covered 133 yards as he victimized one of the league's best secondaries. He was most instrumental on the opening drive of the second half, which set the tone for New England's 57th victory in its last 74 games.
While New England handled frequent blitzes, Branch caught four passes for 71 yards on the series that ended with Vrabel's TD.
The Eagles showed resilience by responding with a 74-yard drive on which Brian Westbrook accounted for 39 yards, including the 10-yard score. McNabb whipped a pass over the middle between two defenders for the TD.
Still, as winners always do, the Patriots reasserted themselves, effectively using screen passes against a tiring defense. Even when Eagles defenders shouted to each other to watch for the screen, New England made it work, particularly on Kevin Faulk's 14-yarder that preceded Dillon's 2-yard run to make it 21-14.
Vinatieri, who made last-second kicks to win the previous two Super Bowls, hit his chip shot to make it 24-14. When the Eagles came back on Greg Lewis' 30-yard TD reception with 1:48 remaining, things got tight.
Not that it bothered the Patriots. Not that anything ever bothers these Patriots, who were outgained 369 yards to 331, had fewer first downs and committed twice as many penalties.
Their victory gave New England its second team championship since the fall. This was hardly as dramatic as the long-suffering Red Sox winning the World Series. Still, Boston is the hub of champions.