FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — No running up the score this week for the New England Patriots. This win came hard.
Asante Samuel returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and had a second pick to shut off a late Philadelphia drive as the Patriots beat the Eagles 31-28 Sunday night to run its record to 11-0.
It was only the second truly competitive game of the season for New England, which trailed 28-24 midway through the fourth period. A 69-yard drive, capped by Laurence Maroney’s 4-yard run, finally put the Patriots ahead of the 22-point underdog.
Then Samuel’s second interception finished the job. James Sanders added on in the final seconds to officially close it out.
This was a game in which A.J. Feeley, a career backup replacing the injured Donovan McNabb at quarterback for the Eagles, outplayed Tom Brady for most of the game.
And one in which Philadelphia cornerback Lito Sheppard turned Randy Moss, moving in on Jerry Rice’s single-season mark for touchdown receptions, into nothing more than ordinary.
Still the Patriots muddled through, largely because Wes Welker took advantage of the blanket coverage on Moss to catch 13 passes for 149 yards. And because of Samuel’s heroics, with the second interception coming in the end zone with 3 minutes and 52 seconds left after the Eagles (5-6) had reached the Patriots’ 29, within range of a tying field goal by David Akers.
New England (10-0) was trying to move one game closer to the first unbeaten season since the Miami Dolphins had one in 1972.
The teams met for the first time since the 2005 Super Bowl, when the Patriots won 24-21.
Even before the game, the Patriots clinched the AFC East title when Buffalo lost to Jacksonville 36-14. That tied an NFL record for the earliest clinching since 1978, when the 16-game schedule was introduced.
The other teams that did it in the 11th game were the Chicago Bears in 1985, the San Francisco 49ers in 1997 and the Eagles in 2004.
Feeley was making his first start since December 2004 because McNabb was out with ankle and thumb injuries.
Feeley threw three touchdown passes, two to Greg Lewis and one to Reggie Brown.
On the third play of the game, Feeley was intercepted by Samuel, who went 40 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Feeley then led a tying 77-yard drive capped by Brian Westbrook’s 1-yard touchdown run.