Posted at 7:18 p.m., Sunday, November 25, 2007
NFL: Patriots rally past Eagles, 31-28, remain unbeaten
By DAVE GOLDBERG
AP Football Writer
Asante Samuel returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and had a second pick to shut off a late Philadelphia drive as the Patriots beat the Eagles 31-28 tonight to run their record to 11-0.
It was only the second truly competitive game of the season for New England, which trailed 28-24 midway the fourth period. A 69-yard drive, capped by Laurence Maroney's 4-yard run, put the Patriots ahead of the 22-point underdog.
Then Samuel's second interception finished the job. James Sanders added an interception in the final seconds to officially close it out.
"Asante has great hands, good instincts. He doesn't let too many get through his hands," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "That's what a good playmaker in the secondary does. He's been very good at that since he's been here."
This was a game in which A.J. Feeley, a career backup replacing the injured Donovan McNabb at quarterback for the Eagles, outplayed Tom Brady for most of the game.
And one in which Philadelphia cornerback Lito Sheppard turned Randy Moss, moving in on Jerry Rice's single-season mark for touchdown receptions, into nothing more than ordinary.
It was also the Patriots smallest margin of victory this season, and it comes just a week after a huge blowout of the Buffalo Bills and their largest victory margin.
"Three points, man. Three points. The patriots and three points," said Eagles coach Andy Reid. "They're killing me with it."
Still the Patriots, who clinched the AFC East when Buffalo lost earlier in the day, muddled through, largely because Wes Welker took advantage of the blanket coverage on Moss to catch 13 passes for 149 yards. And because of Samuel's heroics, the second interception coming in the end zone with 3 minutes and 52 seconds left after the Eagles (5-6) had reached the Patriots' 29, well within range of a tying field goal by David Akers.
"You got to give it up to Philadelphia, they played their hearts out and laid it out there," Welker said.
The Patriots, on a quest to become the first unbeaten team in the NFL since the 1972 Dolphins, go for 12 in a row next Monday night in Baltimore, against the Ravens, then come back to Foxborough in two weeks to play Pittsburgh, which enters Monday night's game with winless Miami at 7-3.
The only time New England's streak was in more jeopardy than Sunday night was three weeks ago in Indianapolis, when the Patriots rallied from 10 points down with under 10 minutes left to beat the Colts. That game was sandwiched between two routs 52-7 over Washington and 56-10 over Buffalo in which Belichick kept trying to score well into the fourth quarter.
Feeley finished 27-of-42 for 345 yards, with three touchdown passes, two to Greg Lewis and the three interceptions. Brady completed 34-of-54 for 380 yards and one touchdown, the first time this season he has been held under three TD passes in a game.
When Samuel picked off Feeley's pass for Brian Westbrook just 1:38 into the game and took it back 40 yards, it looked like another rout was on.
But the Eagles marched right down the field on their next possession, Westbrook scoring on a 1-yard run at the end of a 77-yard drive. For the rest of the first half, they matched the Patriots score for score, finally taking the lead at 21-17 on Feeley's 18-yard TD pass to Lewis with 3:01 left in the half.
New England, however, restored order on a 19-yard TD pass to Jabar Gaffney with 12 seconds left in the half after a nine-play 54-yard drive. Gaffney made the catch on the end line, just getting his feet in, making the halftime score 24-21, the same score by which the Patriots beat the Eagles in the 2005 Super Bowl.
The Patriots struggled again in the second half.
A 42-yard completion from Brady to Welker gave them a first-and-goal at the Philadelphia 4, but Moss, who had five catches for just 43 yards, was called for offensive pass interference on Sheppard, who blanketed him all game, negating a touchdown. Then Stephen Gostkowski ended up missing a 32-yard field-goal attempt.
The Eagles went 80 yards after that, scoring on an 8-yard TD pass from Feeley to Reggie Brown.
But the Patriots finally made the big play at the end.
"That's what it's about in the NFL, making plays," Samuel said. "That's how you get here and you stay around."