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Patriots Rodney Harrison (37) reaches down to check on Philadelphia Eagles L.J. Smith, following their collision in the second quarter Sunday.
Patriots Rodney Harrison (37) reaches down to check on Philadelphia Eagles L.J. Smith, following their collision in the second quarter Sunday. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
EAGLES NOTEBOOK

Small ball added to shortcomings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For the last three years, the Philadelphia Eagles had to deal with the disappointment of coming up short in the NFC title game.Last night, the Eagles moved up in class, but came up short again in dropping a 24-21 decision to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Stadium. And once again, Eagles coach Andy Reid was left to put the disappointment into words. "They're a good team," said Reid of the Patriots. "You can't turn the ball over as much as we did. We could have done a better job putting our guys in better position to make plays offensively."

The Eagles didn't do enough defensively, either. They made small mistakes, such as letting the Patriots pick up chunks of yardage on screen passes. "When you are an aggressive defense, a screen pass can beat that defense," said strong safety Michael Lewis. "They were effective in disguising the screen passes and completing the screen. We were not doing a great job in getting our hands up."

Cornerback Lito Sheppard agreed that New England used its short passes effectively. "It was a good game plan," he said. "They spread it out a little bit and ran the screens. We knew they were going to do that. We just didn't stop it."

On Tom Brady's 2-yard touchdown pass to Mike Vrabel in the third quarter, Sheppard said, "We had everybody accounted for. They just made the play." Reid said the disappointment will fade and be replaced by resolve. "I think the positive you get out of it is that the guys got a taste of it and I'm sure that they will want to come back. It's a great experience. It's a great feeling."

Sunday silenced
One Eagle who didn't have a great feeling was wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who caused a stir in the Patriots' secondary last week by saying he didn't know some of the players' names. Mitchell caught just one pass, in the second half, for 11 yards . . . Part of the Eagles' problem was a lack of running game. Their 45 yards on 17 carries was their lowest output since they were held to 23 yards in a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh Nov. 7. "They jammed the linebackers in there and were blocking up our guards so every time that we tried to chip the linebackers, we did not have too many faces there," said running back Brian Westbrook. "We knew that they have done that to teams in the past, like Pittsburgh." With the same result.

Star for stripes
Referee Terry McAulay, a seven-year veteran, was working his first Super Bowl and he got into the thick of things in a hurry, challenged by Reid on the third play of the game. McNabb fumbled, but after a review, McAulay ruled the quarterback's knee was down. Later in the first half, McAulay was sent off to review a challenge by New England. Again, he reversed the call on the field, saying David Givens did not fumble after a catch because his knee was down . . . You could perhaps hear a collective groan of despair from construction workers throughout New Jersey late in the first half. Jeff Thomason was called for holding, negating a nifty kick return by Roderick Hood. A former Eagle, Thomason had been out of football for two years before he got an emergency call two weeks ago, hours after Philadelphia beat Atlanta to win the NFC championship. In that game, starting tight end Chad Lewis was sidelined for the playoffs with a foot injury. The Eagles coaching staff thought Thomason was a safer replacement than someone who never had worked in the offensive system. Thomason played mostly on special teams, though he was in for a few plays on a double tight end set . . . Ike Reese, the Eagles' best special teams player, was tackled by Don Davis on a kickoff return. Unfortunately for Davis, Reese wasn't the ball carrier and he was penalized.

Return man
Westbrook had said during the week he wanted to return punts, but it was Reid's call. Well, it didn't take long to discover the answer -- Westbrook was back in that role and returned three punts for 19 yards. He was a standout in that capacity last season, but he became so valuable as an all-purpose running back Reid only had him return two punts during the regular season . . . When the Patriots went ahead, 14-7, early in the third quarter, it was the first time in the postseason the Eagles had trailed . . . The Eagles made a switch in their lineup that caused some problems for the Patriots. Jevon Kearse moved from left end to right end and it disrupted things for a while because Kearse is a ferocious pass rusher. But New England adjusted beautifully, throwing a pair of screens right at Kearse in the second quarter, both to Dillon, with one for 13 yards, the other for 16 . . . Reid saw an impressive streak come to an end. He had coached the Eagles to a 10-0 record when having more than one week to prepare for a game . . . The Eagles did appear out of sorts late in the game. Needing to run the hurry-up offense, they dragged noticeably and let an awful lot of time run down. "We were trying to run the hurry-up," said Reid. "It just didn't work out."

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