Pats win keep away from Colts, Manning; Mitchell helps Eagles knock off Vikings

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 17, 2005

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) - The New England Patriots kept the ball away from Peyton Manning most of the game and shut him down when he had it.

The Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts 20-3 on Sunday behind Corey Dillon's 144 yards rushing in his playoff debut and a dominant defense that was missing three key players but not many tackles.

''I think our defense is what made this game successful,'' Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. ''Three points to one of the best offenses in the history of football is incredible.''

Email newsletter signup

The outcome was all too familiar for Manning.

For the second year in a row, his path to the Super Bowl ended on a snowy New England field where once again his MVP brilliance was eclipsed by a punishing defense.

For the defending champions, one more win in Pittsburgh and it's on to Jacksonville, Fla., for their third Super Bowl trip in four years.

Manning is now 0-7 in Foxboro. Brady is 7-0 in the postseason.

Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and coach Bill Belichick's defense spent the day frustrating Manning, who was 27-for-42 for 238 yards. In a stunning failure for the NFL's most prolific passing attack, the Colts managed only a field goal.

The conditions were just right for the Patriots' strategy: run the ball, throw short passes and watch the clock tick down, putting together their three most time-consuming drives of the season.

The cold temperatures couldn't have helped Indianapolis, which plays home games in the 72-degree warmth of the RCA Dome. Last year in Foxboro, Manning threw four interceptions in a 24-14 AFC title game loss.

Eagles 27, Vikings 14

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - There was no rust, even though most starters barely played for nearly a month. There was no lack of big-play offense, even with All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens watching from a luxury box.

Thanks to the best clutch performance of Freddie Mitchell's four-year career, the Philadelphia Eagles advanced to their fourth straight NFC championship game, routing the Minnesota Vikings 27-14 Sunday.

Donovan McNabb and the Eagles (14-3) got plenty of help from the self-destructing Vikings (9-9), who showed exactly how they lost seven of their last 10 regular-season games to back into the playoffs. Minnesota's high-powered offense couldn't handle defensive end Jevon Kearse and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter - neither of whom was with the Eagles last season.

Philadelphia, which has lost three consecutive conference title games, the last two at home, hosts Atlanta next Sunday.

The angst level this week in Philly will be off the scale as the Eagles attempt to get to their first Super Bowl in 24 years.

It's the first time a team has hosted three straight conference title games.

The inept Vikings didn't exactly provide a test, but Michael Vick and the Falcons should be a more formidable hurdle, especially with Owens sidelined with a severe ankle injury.

But Mitchell and the other receivers picked up the slack Sunday.

''We stayed together as a group,'' Todd Pinkston said. ''I don't think it was a matter of stepping up, but just continuing to do what we can do.''

While Philadelphia was getting two touchdowns from Mitchell - and one takeoff of Moss' simulated mooning as Mitchell pretended to pull up his pants after his first score - it also benefited greatly from Vikings' errors:

- An offensive lineman remaining on the field instead of Moss for a fake field goal, leaving no receivers to catch Gus Frerotte's pass.

- Several costly defensive penalties, including three pass interference calls totaling 78 yards.

- Two damaging interceptions thrown by Culpepper, who had 39 TD passes and only 11 picks during the season.

Mitchell finished with five catches for 65 yards, and each one was a key play. He also got lucky on his second TD, catching a fumble by tight end L.J. Smith in the end zone.

Under coach Andy Reid, the Eagles never have lost after a bye, and the regulars basically had three weeks of nonaction. It didn't hurt, and Philly led 14-0 44 seconds into the second quarter.

Mitchell caught a 2-yard pass from McNabb midway in the opening period, then did his reverse moon. Greg Lewis' graceful catch of a 52-yard throw set up Brian Westbrook's 7-yard TD reception, Westbrook's first postseason score; he was injured for last year's playoffs.

Moss, who was fined $10,000 by the NFL for his simulated mooning of the Green Bay crowd last weekend, was held to three catches for 51 yards. Culpepper was sacked three times and befuddled nearly the entire game.

The Vikings gained more on one second-quarter play, a 40-yard pass to Marcus Robinson, than they managed in total before that. It sparked a drive that culminated in Culpepper's 7-yard scramble to make it 14-7.

But Minnesota immediately messed up again. J.R. Reed returned the kickoff to the Vikings' 46, then Minnesota was hit for two pass interference calls. From the 14, McNabb found Smith over the middle, and Smith fumbled at the 4 when hit by Antoine Winfield. The ball shot directly to Mitchell, who caught it in the end zone for his second score.

''Freddie was hustling to the play and had the opportunity to make a block,'' Reid said. ''It put him in great position and then, there was the ball.

''We always emphasize on offense and defense to make sure you finish the play and that's what Freddie did.''

Only Mitchell's fourth-and-26 reception in the playoffs against Green Bay last January was more meaningful. That catch pretty much got the Eagles to the NFC title game, where they lost to Carolina.

Mitchell didn't mock Moss this time, and Moss caught his first pass on the Vikings' next offensive play, a 15-yarder. That sparked a drive to the Philadelphia 3, where Minnesota botched the fake field goal with Tice and his staff screaming for a timeout they didn't get.

The Vikings damaged themselves again moments later. Chris Claiborne recovered Josh Parry's fumble at the Philadelphia 41, but he had stepped out of bounds and only got one foot back in when he picked up the ball. Philadelphia won a replay challenge, but didn't score on the drive.

On Minnesota's opening drive of the second half, third-string linebacker Ike Reese tipped Culpepper's pass to himself for a brilliant interception. That was the way it went nearly all day: stars, supporting cast members and backups made plays for the NFC East champions.

David Akers kicked two field goals, Westbrook had 117 total yards, Kearse and Trotter made stops all over the field.

Minnesota got a 32-yard TD reception by Nate Burleson with 1:59 remaining. By then, Philly's thoughts had turned to Vick and the Falcons - and whether the Eagles finally have what it takes to get to the Super Bowl.