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SUPER BOWL XXXIX Eagles have much to prove



Published: Thu, February 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



History in clutch situations is shaky, unlike two-time champ Patriots.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- With the game on the line, the New England Patriots hardly lack for clutch players -- Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Rodney Harrison.

With the game on the line, no one is sure if the Philadelphia Eagles have the kind of performers who could lift them past the defending champions in Sunday's Super Bowl.

Though Philly's track record before this year wasn't promising -- three straight NFC championship game flops -- the Eagles insist past failures were erased when they finally won the conference title.

They'd better be correct, because the Patriots simply don't get stressed out, particularly in the Super Bowl, which they've won two of the last three seasons.

"We haven't been to the Super Bowl, but we're battle-tested," said All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins, the leader of a defense that includes one starter who has played in the big game -- end Jevon Kearse with Tennessee in 2000. "We've been tested in championship games. We feel pressure year after year and we know how to win in those situations."

Not a disadvantage

They hadn't won in crucial situations, though, until beating Atlanta to avoid becoming the first franchise to lose four straight NFC title games. The Patriots have won eight consecutive postseason games with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach, and they are seven-point favorites over Philadelphia.

"I don't feel we're at a disadvantage," coach Andy Reid said. "They go in and think they are as good as anybody in the NFL, but they understand they have to prove it every Sunday."

Especially this Sunday, against a team on the verge of being considered a dynasty. Not only are there questions about how the Eagles might perform on such a stage, but there are no questions about how the Patriots will deal with it. They've already successfully displayed their steely nerves and skills under the burning spotlight -- twice.

Which presents Philadelphia with yet another challenge: treating the Patriots with too much respect.

If that happens, they're beaten before they take the Alltel Stadium field, and Vinatieri won't need to match his two, last-second, Super Bowl-winning kicks. Nor will Brady have to stage any late heroics. Matters will be decided much earlier.

"It's a slap in the face" to hear such criticism, the Pro Bowl quarterback said. "But they are the champions. And we have made it; we are here in the Super Bowl. No one can take that away from us.

"Can we win this game? How can you ask anybody that?"

Belichick wary

So are the Eagles up to winning Philly's first championship since 1960, seven years before the Super Bowl existed?

No less an expert than Belichick knows they can if his team isn't careful.

"They are a very complete team," he said. "They led the NFC wire to wire. I don't think you could do much more.

"They have been running out the clock since the end of November waiting to get it over with, because they had everything wrapped up. They came back and played well against Minnesota and shut down Atlanta.

"There's no question that they not only deserve to be here, they've done about as much as you could possibly do this year as a football team."




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