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Looking Back

Wide Receivers Steal Spotlight in Jacksonville

Super Bowl XXXIX has come and gone, leaving football fans with six months of spare time until NFL training camps reopen in August. As they have three times in the past four years, the New England Patriots stole the show, earning the Lombardi Trophy with a typically narrow 24-21 defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles. The only wrinkle in the formula was that golden boy quarterback Tom Brady didn't walk away with the MVP trophy. That honor was bestowed upon wide receiver Deion Branch, who tied the Super Bowl record held by Jerry Rice and Dan Ross by catching 11 passes for 133 yards. But Branch was by no means the only noteworthy figure in the Big Game. Let's look back one last time and give credit (or, in some cases, discredit) to those who deserve it.

BIGGEST COMEBACK: Hands down, Terrell Owens. Let me be the first to say that T.O.'s childish stunts, sideline rants and stunning lack of accountability have always rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not a fan. But you have to respect what he and his doctor, the Good Lord, were able to do. Running on a leg still sore from a serious fracture and declared unfit to play by his mortal doctor, Owens caught nine passes for 122 yards, proving himself anything but a big-name decoy. On the biggest stage he's ever known, T.O. shone, and his efforts deserve high praise.

BIGGEST BUST: Freddie Mitchell. Before the game, Mitchell told reporters that he had something to show the New England secondary and safety Rodney Harrison in particular. Good job, Freddie. With a single catch for 11 yards, "FredEx" failed to deliver. Rubbing salt in his wounds, Harrison proved to be a superior receiver in Jacksonville, snatching two errant Donovan McNabb passes and single-handedly demoralizing the Eagles and their rabid fans in the process.

BEST GAME PLAN: Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel. Yes, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who defected to rejuvenate Notre Dame football after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy one last time as a Patriot, deserves accolades for his ability to pick apart Philadelphia's befuddling secondary. Yet it was Belichick and Crennel's defense that grounded the Eagles, stifling Brian Westbrook's running game (15 carries, 44 yards) and forcing McNabb to resort to an aerial attack. That effectively negated any chance that Philadelphia would pull off the upset, as McNabb was mostly mediocre (30-51, 357 yards, three TDs and three INTs) and unable to manage a two-minute offense, supposedly due to a mysterious case of the dry heaves.

WORST GAME PLAN: Andy Reid. Should Reid have ordered the onside kick with 1:48 left in the fourth? Perhaps not, but you know what they say about hindsight. Even so, Reid fumbled the ball as the final seconds ticked off the clock in ALLTEL Stadium. He has publicly accepted the blame for his team's vexing inability to execute an expeditious offensive game plan in the final minutes of the game, even as rumors swirl about McNabb's medical condition and frayed nerves. That's noble, but if his quarterback was incapable of performing, why didn't Reid call on backup QB Koy Detmer to lead the team on its final drive? Granted, Detmer's no Donovan McNabb, but at least he was healthy enough to call plays. (One last aside about this illness if McNabb was so sick, how was he able to lead his team into the endzone on the previous drive? Was this merely the most dramatic choke job in Super Bowl history, pawned off as a stomach virus? Is McNabb the anti-Brady? Only time will tell.)

MOST OVERLOOKED: Tom Brady. Yes, his famous smile has graced the cover of so many magazines and newspapers, and football commentators love to sing the praises of this generation's answer to Joe Montana. But in the rush to celebrate the performances of Branch, Harrison, Corey Dillon (106 all-purpose yards, one TD) and Tedy Brushi (one INT), many have overlooked Brady's sparkling numbers (23-33, 236 yards, two TDs) numbers made all the more impressive when you consider how Philly's secondary dominated the NFC throughout the regular season.