JACKSONVILLE - He said God had cleared him to play, so what else should receiver Terrell Owens do but follow the wishes of the Big Man.
Owens, the Eagles' flamboyant playmaker, held true to his weeklong promise that his surgically repaired ankle would not keep him out of the biggest game of his career.
Despite not playing since spraining his ankle and fracturing his fibula Dec.19 against the Cowboys, Owens started Sunday against the Patriots and didn't seem bothered.
He finished with nine catches for 122 yards, an effort that should not be lost in the Eagles' 24-21 loss.
"The media made it a situation to where they thought I was grandstanding," Owens said. "But like I told a lot of people, in this situation other people like Brett Favre , they would have called him a warrior. For me, they said I was selfish. If I'm selfish, I'm selfish because I want to help my team."
Owens was the intended target on the first two possessions of the game. The first pass from Donovan McNabb was incomplete, the other a 7-yard reception.
"Nobody but me knew that I was going to play this game," Owens said. "A lot of people in the world didn't believe I could play."
Added Patriots safety Rodney Harrison , "He's amazing. To be able to come out there and do what he did. You could tell that he was still hurting a little bit, but he played tremendously."
Freddie Mitchell , who had stepped in admirably for Owens for the last two regular-season games and the two playoff games, returned to the bench and had one catch for 11 yards.
RESPECT EARNED: Perhaps Mitchell now knows a thing or two about the Patriots' defensive backs. After a talkative week highlighted by his comment that he couldn't name anyone in their secondary, Mitchell didn't produce.
The man who did was veteran safety Harrison, who called Mitchell's comments disrespectful.
"You know, Freddie probably bit off a little more than he could chew," Harrison said. "But I bet he knows our numbers now, huh?"
Harrison had seven tackles, two passes defensed and two interceptions, including a pick with seconds left to end the Eagles' hopes for a desperation play.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Twice in the first half, officials made the wrong call on fumbles, and twice they were corrected after replay.
On the first series, McNabb was stripped by Willie McGinest , and Tedy Bruschi recovered at the Eagles 34. Philadelphia challenged, and replays clearly showed McNabb's knee was on the ground before the ball was stripped.
In the second quarter, officials ruled Patriots receiver David Givens fumbled at the Eagles 32 after a 13-yard reception. The ball was recovered by cornerback Sheldon Brown . That call was also reversed when replays showed Givens' knee was down.
DOUBLE DUTY: Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel is earning quite the reputation for Super Sunday efforts.
In last year's Super Bowl win over the Panthers, Vrabel's 1-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter gave the Patriots a 29-22 lead.
The eight-year veteran delivered again, catching a 2-yard touchdown from Tom Brady to give the Patriots a 14-7 lead in the third quarter.
Matched against defensive end Jevon Kearse , Vrabel ducked inside the end, cut left, tipped the ball and caught it on a second effort while falling.
A SUPER FAREWELL: Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel accepted an offer to coach the Browns, his agent said. Joe Linta said Browns president John Collins called him "about two minutes" after the Super Bowl to offer Crennel his first head-coaching job.
SUPER BITS N' PIECES: Owens wasn't the only star to return. Patriots three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour started after missing the regular-season finale and his team's first two playoff games with an injured knee. He had a sack. ... After catching a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Givens stood with his foot on the ball and imitated Owens' "wing-flapping" touchdown celebration. Vrabel repeated it when he scored, and Harrison made it a three-peat when he intercepted McNabb near the end. ... Tampa native and University of South Florida product J.R. Reed had a 26-yard kick return for the Eagles in the first half and finished with four returns for 82 yards.
ELSEWHERE: Quincy Carter , the Jets' backup quarterback who was signed in the summer amid reports he had failed a drug test, left the team in the middle of its playoff run to enroll in a drug rehabilitation program, the New York Times reported. ... Giants linebackers coach Billy Davis was hired as 49ers defensive coordinator. ... Malcolm "Mal" Kutner , the NFL player of the year in 1947 and an All-Pro end in 1947-48 for the Chicago Cardinals, died Friday in Tyler, Texas, after an extended illness. He was 83.