By game time, many sports books had installed the Patriots as 25-point favorites at home over the Eagles, making Philadelphia the biggest underdog to ever take the field in an NFL game. But someone forget to tell the Eagles they weren't supposed to be competitive, as they went blow for blow with the Patriots all night long before falling three points short.
"That was about the way we expected it to go tonight. Philadelphia is a good football team and they played well," Bill Belichick began in his post-game press conference. "They did a good job and the game came down to a couple of plays and I was glad we were able to make them. We made a couple of big stops defensively at the end and we made a couple of key plays offensively at the end to get the ball in the end zone and that's what we needed to do. It was a good game, a hard-fought game."
Linebacker Tedy Bruschi said it was typical of late-season football in the NFL.
"I anticipate more games like this, to tell you the truth," he said. "You go down the stretch in December and teams start playing their best football and I anticipate all teams to play us hard and I anticipate good players on the other side of the ball to make good plays.
"I want the games to be close so we can win them in the fourth quarter because that's the way it has to be, that's the way it's going to be and that's the way we anticipate it. Let's take last week. Is it going to be like that every week? I doubt it. We're going to be in battles for the rest of the year. That's what I think."
Regardless of what was expected, the Patriots proved they could prevail even when things aren't rolling on all cylinders. It's not that they came out flat or didn't play well. To the contrary, they needed to be at their best down the stretch to stave off a potential go-ahead drive for the Eagles right after taking the lead with less than eight minutes to play.
First, Brady and Wes Welker turned the game-winning drive into a personal game of catch. Trailing 28-24 early in the fourth, the Patriots marched 69 yards for a touchdown that put them on top for good. Brady looked in Welker's direction four times and completed three of them, accounting for 39 yards.
After having a pass intended for Welker knocked away in the end zone, Brady (34 of 54, 380 yards, one TD) handed off to Laurence Maroney, who had barely been used to that point, for a four-yard touchdown that put New England in the lead. But with 7:20 remaining and the defense having loads of trouble dealing with Philadelphia's West Coast offense, the game was far from over.
A.J. Feeley, subbing for the injured Donovan McNabb, played brilliantly at times with three touchdown passes after an early mistake that resulted in a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by Asante Samuel. Feeley overcame that gaffe by methodically picking apart a Patriots secondary that appeared out of synch throughout.
The Eagles' ensuing possession looked much like most of their earlier ones with timing passes being completed to open receivers. Feeley moved from his own 8 to the Patriots 29, completing five of six passes for 57 yards before facing a second-and-four. That's when he got greedy and Samuel once again made him pay.
Feeley went for it all as Kevin Curtis tried to trick Samuel with a double move but the corner was ready and tracked down the errant toss in the end zone for his second pick of the night. Feeley said he was trying to throw the ball out of the end zone but didn't get enough on it. Instead of at least a tying field goal with the reliable David Akers already in range, the Eagles defense had to come up with a stop and didn't do so until there were just 19 seconds remaining. Feeley tossed another pick in desperation, this one to James Sanders, to seal the deal.
"Actually I was trying to throw the ball through the back of the end zone but I didn't get it far enough and he ran it down," Feeley said about the interception. "I felt some pressure and just tried to get rid of it. It's disappointing to come so close, especially the way it turned out in the end. I put it on my back. Those guys played their hearts out for me. I can't let them down like that. They deserved to win this game."
Behind a well-devised game plan put together by the coaching staff and a gutsy performance by the players, the Eagles almost shocked the world and made history. But in the end, they came up one play short.
"Nobody gave us a chance. Nobody thought we could hang with these guys," receiver Greg Lewis said. "I think we showed that we can play with any team in the league and we need to take this game and turn (it) into a positive moving forward. Three points though, man. That's tough to take. I don't think any of us are going to get much sleep tonight after this one."