JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tom Brady doesn't have the strongest
arm, but it was strong enough on a pivotal touchdown pass. He
wasn't perfect Sunday night, but he was awfully close.
And for the first time in New England's three Super Bowl titles,
he wasn't even the MVP.
But he made all the difference in a title game that ultimately
was decided by the quarterbacks.
Brady led the Patriots on touchdown drives at the end of the
first half and the start of the second half that gave them control
against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 24-21 victory.
And he left the mistakes to Donovan McNabb, who threw three
interceptions and had to rely on great plays by his receivers to
keep the Eagles moving.
"I felt I was very prepared tonight, more so than ever
before," Brady said. "I wish we had gotten things going a little
quicker, but I knew I was looking in the right places."
McNabb acquitted himself well in his first Super Bowl by going
30-of-51 for 357 yards and three touchdowns, including a 30-yard
shot to Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone that kept
Philadelphia's hopes alive.
But that's not what he will take away from this game.
"I don't look at the touchdowns. I don't look at any of that,"
McNabb said. "I look at the three interceptions. As the
quarterback, you want to make sure you take care of the ball.
Turnovers kill you. And they hurt us today."
If there was a moment that defined the magic of Brady it came
late in the first half, on a play that easily could have put the
Patriots in a 14-0 hole at intermission.
On second-and-goal from the 4, Brady dropped back and looked to
his right, then back over the middle. With the Eagles' pass rush
closing in, he saw David Givens standing on the far right side of
the end zone. Cornerback Lito Sheppard relaxed slightly, perhaps
not believing anyone could get the ball to Givens.
That was all the hesitation Brady needed.
He slung the pass sidearm, some 20 yards across the field, and
it arrived just before Sheppard did.
"Tom threw it right where he had to throw it," Givens said.
"I looked up and it hit me exactly where I wanted it. Tom placed
the ball right on the money."
It had to be. Anything less, and Sheppard had an easy pick -- and
100 yards of grass ahead of him.
"The touchdown to Givens, that was about his third read on the
play down there," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "That
was an outstanding play, because he just read his progression all
the way out and made a great read and a throw to Givens."
Equally impressive, but not nearly as picturesque, was the
Patriots' next drive.
With the score tied at 7, the Patriots needed to establish
control and set the tone for the second half. They had struggled
against the Eagles' defense to start the game, picking up only one
first down on their first four possessions.
Then came three more good throws to Branch, one of them on
third-and-10. The drive ended with a great read, and another great
throw, to linebacker Mike Vrabel, who had lined up as a tight end
and fought through a hold by defensive end Jevon Kearse to make a
Brady's favorite play?
Taking a knee to clinch New England's third Super Bowl in the
last four years. Brady now joins Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and
Troy Aikman among quarterbacks with at least three NFL titles;
Bradshaw and Montana won four.
McNabb will want another chance to atone for this performance.
The only time he ran was when a screen pass failed, and McNabb
was tripped up for a loss of a yard. He got away with a bad
interception in the end zone -- it was nullified by illegal contact
on the Patriots -- but threw another ball up for grabs that Rodney
Harrison intercepted in the first quarter.
McNabb's second interception was badly underthrown to L.J.
Smith. And his final pick came in desperation, again by Harrison,
that set off the Patriots' celebration.
Brady made only one mistake.
With the Patriots trailing 7-0, he drove them 82 yards in seven
plays to the 5. But on a play-action fake to Kevin Faulk, the ball
bumped into Faulk's hip and hit the ground, and Brady failed to
secure it in the pile for New England's only turnover.
Still, Brady was flawless when he had to be.
First came the daring throw at the end of the first half that
gave the Patriots a tie at halftime. Then came the opening drive to
start the second half.
Along the way, Brady simply made all the right moves.
When the Eagles started to blitz, he dumped back-to-back screen
passes to Dillon that covered 29 yards and slowed Philadelphia's
pass rush. Brady finished 23-of-33 for 236 yards and two
touchdowns, and no interceptions.
McNabb was scrambling, not for rushing yards, but for a chance
to make a big play.
Ultimately, he didn't make enough.