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Patriots put it all together against Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- On one hand, you have Bill Belichick downplaying a 24-12 win over the Philadelphia Eagles with every ounce of coaching psychology in him. On the other, you have players coming away with a good feeling, though not one of invincibility or giddiness. There were no celebrations at Lincoln Financial Field's football debut last night, for it is only preseason, as Belichick pointed out.

"It's just good for us to get the feeling of winning," said Ted Johnson. "You can't just dismiss these games. It has to be important to play well and win and know the feeling of winning."

Belichick did acknowledge that the Patriots played a "solid game." He did not care for the fumbles by Kevin Faulk or Tom Brady, but what else was there not to like? He watched his new nose tackle, Ted Washington, draw double-teams and tie up blockers so his linebackers could make plays. He watched his defense as a whole, fly around and make plays. On his first play, Washington stuffed Correll Buckhalter for no gain. Later he sacked Donovan McNabb and stripped the ball, forcing a fumble that led to a Patriots score.

What was it like for this very confident Patriots defense to have a wide load in the middle of the defense?

"You can show a movie on that thing," said Johnson of Washington's backside. "You can see his talent, his quickness, his stamina. You can see he's been doing this a long time. Just the fact he's going to take up two blockers. That's going to make our job easier."

On offense, Brady threw for three touchdowns and David Patten reinforced the idea that he will be a major part of this team after all. After connecting on an 85-yard bomb vs. Washington last week, Brady and Patten were on again. Patten caught five passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Daniel Graham caught the other TD pass from Brady, from 5 yards.

"The Patriots sure do take these preseason games seriously," said one scout. "They look like they're going to be a top team in the league."

The Patriots outgained the Eagles, 309 yards to 240, and converted 11 of their 19 third-down plays. They had 23 first downs to the Eagles' 14. The only area in which they didn't make much headway was the running game; they managed 108 yards on 43 plays for a 2.5-yard average. Kevin Faulk ran for 39 yards on 10 carries and Antowain Smith had 26 yards on 14 carries. The long run of the night was Faulk's 13-yard burst in the third quarter, but he also fumbled (when stripped by cornerback Bobby Taylor) in the first quarter, one of four Patriots turnovers.

The down note of the stadium opening was a serious injury incurred by Eagles receiver James Thrash, who was carted off the field after hurting his neck and head. X-rays on Thrash were negative.

The Eagles didn't find their new nest especially pleasing from the outset. After a 37-yard pass interference penalty on Troy Vincent gave the Patriots the ball at the Eagles' 22, Brady found Patten in the end zone two plays later on a well-timed fade with 4:58 remaining in the first quarter.

After the Eagles stopped the Patriots in a three-and-out series late in the first quarter, punt returner Lito Sheppard signaled for a fair catch -- but didn't catch the ball. It rolled around for a while before the Patriots recovered at the 14, but they could muster only a 27-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, making it a 10-0 lead.

Brady (14 for 24, 148 yards) moved the Patriots downfield late in the first quarter and into the second, connecting with Patten for 15 yards to the 34 on the longest play of the drive. But on first down from the 23, he was sacked by linebacker Nate Wayne, who stripped the ball. It was recovered by Mark Simoneau at the 30.

After a long delay as the medical people attended to Thrash, the Eagles settled for a 38-yard field goal by David Akers, putting them on the board.

Brady dinked and dunked the Patriots nicely in a two-minute drill near the end of the half. He drove them to the 12 with 19 seconds to go. The Eagles brought an all-out bltiz, but Brady was able to dump it off to Patten, who made Sheppard miss and walked into the end zone, making it a 17-3 Patriots lead. The drive went 74 yards in what was a shining moment for the Patriots' offense.

In third quarter, Brady led an impressive 61-yard, 12-play drive that ate up 5:39 and culminated in a 5-yard TD pass to Graham.

With wins in each of the first three exhibition games, Belichick was asked what it all meant. He said, "It means we're 3-0 in the preseason."

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