19. Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005: New England 24—Philadelphia 21
The defending champion Patriots entered this contest as a touchdown favorite over Andy Reid’s Eagles. With a nasty defense now featuring hard-nosed enforcer Rodney Harrison, this was arguably the moment when New England crossed the threshold from scrappy underdog to prickly bully. The tightly contested battle resulted in the Patriots’ third championship in four years.
Competitiveness: 8 out of 10. In a back and forth affair, the game was tied 14-14 after three quarters. Underappreciated Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb threw for three touchdowns and 357 yards, but his three interceptions ultimately doomed the Eagles’ chances. Aggravatingly perfect New England quarterback Tom Brady connected with Deion Branch for 133 yards on 11 catches.
Star Power: 8 out of 10. Brady and Belichick, of course, but also Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison for a splendid Pats defense. McNabb for the Eagles, as well as Terrell Owens.
Controversy/Intrigue: 8 out of 10. After the Eagles got the ball back down two scores with around five minutes left, much was made of Philadelphia’s lackadaisical approach. Teammates later complained that McNabb, suffering either from nerves or exhaustion, was barely able to breathe on the final couple drives. (In fairness he threw a thirty-yard touchdown to get them within three with just under two minutes remaining.) Just weeks after suffering a gruesome broken leg, weird but great wideout Terrell Owens rushed back against the advice of doctors and caught nine passes for 122 yards.
Aftermath: 8 out of 10. The Patriots’ third championship in four years cemented their legacy as one of the great teams in league history. McNabb’s legacy was badly damaged, and then Eagles – now Chiefs – coach Andy Reid continues to be one of the better NFL coaches to never win a championship.
Aggregate Score: 32 out of 40
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