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When Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel stepped in front of A.J. Feeley's second pass of the game and ran it back for a touchdown, it looked like New England was on its way to another rout.
It wasn't until Samuel intercepted the Philadelphia backup for the second time, though, that the Patriots really put the Eagles away.
"Those two big plays, I don't know if we would have won without them,'' New England coach Bill Belichick said Sunday night after the Patriots improved to 11-0 with a surprisingly close 31-28 victory over Philadelphia. "Probably not.''
Tom Brady completed 34 of 54 passes for 380 yards, connecting with Wes Welker 13 times for 149 yards. Randy Moss, who had been accelerating toward Jerry Rice's single-season touchdown receiving record, caught five passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns.
In fact, Brady threw just one scoring pass, his 39th of the season _ the first time this season he has thrown fewer than three. The two-time Super Bowl MVP was matched for most of the game by Feeley, a journeyman backup who started because Donovan McNabb has a sprained ankle and jammed thumb.
The Eagles second-stringer was 27-for-42 for 345 yards and three touchdowns, two to Greg Lewis, picking apart a Patriots defense that looked invincible in a 56-10 victory over Buffalo a week ago and in eight other routs this season. But Feeley also threw three interceptions _ on the very first drive and on each of the last two, when the Eagles (5-6) needed just a field goal to tie it.
"It's not the way you want to start, but there's four quarters to play. It wasn't on my mind after that,'' Feeley said. "We put ourselves in position to win and, unfortunately, I lost it for us.''
Philadelphia came into the game as a 22-point underdog, a spread inflated by McNabb's absence and the remorseless efficiency of a team that averaged a 25-point margin of victory over 10 games to clinch the AFC East title before taking the field for its 11th.
But Feeley led the Eagles on a 78-yard drive, taking a 28-24 lead on an 8-yard pass to Reggie Brown with 1:34 left in the third quarter. Even after the Patriots regained the lead on Laurence Maroney's 4-yard run, Feeley moved Philadelphia in position for the win.
Taking over at their own 8-yard line because of an illegal block on the kickoff, the Eagles drove into Patriots territory and had a first down at the 35 with 4:37 to play. Potentially in range of a long tying field goal, Feeley chose to throw long for Kevin Curtis.
Samuel tracked the ball back toward the goal line and caught it, then ran out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.
"I'm thinking, 'Don't drop the ball. This could win the game,''' Samuel said. "That's all I tried to do.''
Samuel, who missed almost all of training camp because of a contract holdout, has six interceptions this season and 22 in his regular-season career. He has also returned six picks for touchdowns _ three in the regular season and three in the playoffs.
"He got us off to a good start and of course on the deep ball at the end there he just had good position on the receiver,'' Belichick said. "Asante has great hands, good instincts and he doesn't let too many get through his hands.
"That's what a good playmaker in the secondary does, is catch the ball well. And they're able to turn those mistakes by the quarterback into turnovers instead of just foul balls and batted-down balls.''
Samuels' second interception allowed the Patriots to milk most of the rest of the time off the clock before punting the ball to the Eagles 22 with just 18 seconds left. James Sanders picked off Feeley on Philadelphia's first play of its final possession.
"A win would have been great, but we can't talk about it,'' Feeley said. "It's tough. I take full responsibility for the whole deal.''
The three-point victory was the Patriots' smallest this season _ the Colts were the only other team to come within 17 _ and the same margin they held in their last game against Philadelphia: The 2005 Super Bowl, which New England won 24-21.
"Three points, man. Three points. The Patriots and three points,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They're killing me with it.''
The Patriots continue their quest for an unbeaten season in Baltimore on Monday night against the Ravens, who have lost five in a row.
"They're not all going to be easy, and we realize that,'' Welker said. "Sometimes you've got to fight to the end. Give credit to Philadelphia. They fought till the end, too.''
This program aired on November 26, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.
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