SUPER BOWL XXXIX Patriots' receivers grab everything but attention
Eagles, even without T.O., talked about more than New England's fruitful five.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- It was so logical: Bring in T.O. and watch the offense soar.
And it worked so well for the Philadelphia Eagles that their other wide receivers barely got any notice -- from the media and even from Donovan McNabb, who connected with Terrell Owens 77 times through 14 games. The other regular Philly wideouts had 75 catches scattered among them.
Then Owens injured his ankle and broke his leg. Suddenly, it was all about Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston and Greg Lewis, hardly an all-star array.
Not that it should matter. The New England Patriots, who face the Eagles in Sunday's Super Bowl, don't have any All-Pros running pass routes. They have a solid corps of receivers and each contributes almost equally to an effective passing attack led by quarterback Tom Brady.
"To us, it's like we have four, five guys who can do the job," said one of those guys, third-year pro Deion Branch. "Any one of us can break it open."
Eagles receivers go without T.O.
The Eagles hope they will have a relatively healthy Owens to be their gamebreaker in their first Super Bowl appearance in 24 years. He practiced with the team Monday for the first time since the injury.
But Owens figures to be limited, placing extra emphasis on the contributions of the other receivers, who have done reasonably well in this postseason.
While adding some T.O. to the lineup would be a boost, Philadelphia's success in the air more likely will revolve around his supporting cast.
The no-star approach has worked for the Patriots, of course, so why not for the Eagles?
"He did make some big plays for us," McNabb said, referring to Owens, who scored 14 touchdowns and turned a mediocre group into a dynamic threat. "I did what I had to do to try to make sure we're all in a good position, and he did an excellent job of coming in and presenting a different type of feel for our passing attack. The rest of the guys have learned a little bit from him."
They showed that in playoff victories over Minnesota and Atlanta, finally getting over the NFC championship game hump. Mitchell excelled against the Vikings, scoring twice. Lewis, who has emerged as a deep threat, had a 52-yard reception against Minnesota and a 45-yarder vs. Atlanta.
Patriots show balance
Such performances come naturally for all of New England's receivers. The most accomplished of them, 12-year veteran Troy Brown, spent so much time filling in at cornerback on an injury-ravaged secondary that he managed just 17 catches this season. But Brown has been a major factor in his team's two Super Bowl wins in the last three years and very well could be again Sunday.
Branch has a 60-yard touchdown reception and is averaging 26.2 yards per catch in the postseason after a regular season interrupted by injury for seven games. David Givens was Brady's top target during New England's 14-2 season and has been even better in two playoff games with nine catches, two for TDs. David Patten had seven TD catches during the season.
Philly's guys, aside from Owens, haven't come close to those numbers. Yet they seem to get more attention in Owens' absence than New England's regulars have received in general.
"We've been overshadowed all year," Givens said, "and we don't really care."
Added Branch: "The only thing we think about is getting one of us into the end zone. Doesn't matter who."
Patriots stopped Colts, Steelers
A fully healthy Owens -- dream on, Philly -- might be the right player to undress the Patriots' undermanned secondary. Then again, Indianapolis' three 1,000-yard receivers were invisible in a 20-3 loss at New England in the second round of the playoffs. Pittsburgh's wideouts did better, particularly Hines Ward, but the Steelers couldn't handle Givens or Branch.
While the Eagles have the best secondary in the league, the matchup with New England's pass catchers shouldn't be one-sided because of the Patriots' depth at the position. Without a 100 percent Owens, Philly simply doesn't have that same depth to exploit any weakness in the Pats' coverages.
Which puts coach Andy Reid, his staff and the trainers in a quandary: How far should they push Owens to play?
"He's been such a big part of us getting here," said tight end L.J. Smith, who will start in place of Chad Lewis, sidelined by a foot injury. "You're happy to see a guy come back so fast from an injury like that. People weren't even expecting him to be here. If he happens to play, he knows all the plays and he knows everything that's going down.
"But we have to plan and practice like he's not going to be there."