American Football: Patriots and Eagles fight for Super Bowl

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The Independent Online

The New England Patriots are threatening to join the élite teams in American football history. Following their 41-27 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Patriots qualified for their third Super Bowl in four years, and on current form they appear unbeatable.

The New England Patriots are threatening to join the élite teams in American football history. Following their 41-27 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Patriots qualified for their third Super Bowl in four years, and on current form they appear unbeatable.

The team in the way of their third title are the Philadelphia Eagles, who secured their first appearance in the championship game in 24 years with a similarly dominant 27-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The victors meet for the sport's ultimate prize on 6 February in Jacksonville, Florida, with the Patriots already installed as strong favourites - especially as the Eagles' tight end Chad Lewis, who scored two touchdowns against Atlanta, will miss the match with a foot injury.

The Patriots overwhelmed the Steelers, making life miserable for their rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. The youngster, who enjoyed a record-setting first season, was intercepted three times - and once returned 87 yards for a touchdown by the safety Rodney Harrison. That score made it 24-3 at half-time, and there was no way back for the beleaguered Steelers.

"Big games need big plays," said the Pittsburgh defender Clark Haggans of Harrison's return. "I guess that would be the key to winning today." Under their coach, Bill Belichick, the Patriots have won nine of 10 post-season contests, equalling the record of Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi, after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named.

There were never any serious doubts about the Eagles against the Falcons, however, and their joy at succeeding at the fourth attempt was palpable. "The gorilla has been lifted off our shoulders," said the tight end L J Smith, "King Kong is gone."

Philadelphia ensured victory by containing the threat of the Falcons' quarterback, Michael Vick. In contrast, the Eagles' Donovan McNabb mastered the weather conditions, throwing touchdown passes to Lewis.

While team-mates celebrated at the finish, McNabb was already looking ahead. "There's no relief for me," he said. "We set a goal of winning the Super Bowl, so that's where I'm going. We're excited, but we're not done yet."

AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots 41 Pittsburgh Steelers 27. NFC Championship Game: Philadelphia Eagles 27 Atlanta Falcons 10.

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