Frying pan to fire for Eagles

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

They have suffered every which way in losing the NFC title game the past three seasons.

And now this.

Now, perhaps the most daunting assignment of all for the Philadelphia Eagles, to stop (or even slow down) Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

Whatever the result, Sunday's NFC Championship will provide a solid enough storyline to fuel the hype machine as it chugs along to the Super Bowl 14 days later.

Will it be Vick -- the running, throwing, marketing machine -- making it to the Bowl for the first time?

Or, will Donovan McNabb finally break his maiden and lead the Eagles to the show after three successive near-misses?

Just what the Eagles need. They are solid and legitimate 4 1/2-point favourites to put the Falcons in their place. But with the crazy things Vick does and the ways the Eagles have found to lose, all bets should be off.

A year ago, it was a physical defensive pounding in a 14-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers, whose Super Bowl credentials were suspect.

The year before was the worst result, a 27-10 smashing at the hands of Tampa Bay. At least the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl, the only Philly-buster to do so.

So, besides trying to swat the ogre off their backs and listening to the moaning of their crusty fans, the Eagles now have to beat a guy who can appear to make the game unfair.

Face it, the Eagles could dominate both lines of scrimmage, move the ball well on offence and still lose.

Just three big plays by Vick could lead to three scores and a whole new ball game.

"It's not fun, but you do what you have to do," Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said yesterday on a conference call. "Michael Vick is a very explosive player. You need to get everybody running to the football.

"He has more speed than anyone else in the game. When you have that type of speed at quarterback ... this guy, he is definitely a guy that can change the game."

There is a sense that these Falcons are playing with house money this week. Just getting to the championship game was seen as a successful season for a franchise on the move and a superstar heading closer to his expectations.

So if bright young coach Jim Mora takes that house money and pushes it all Vick's way, a jackpot in Jacksonville may await should the elusive quarterback hit it big.

In terms of game strategy, however, the sense is the Eagles may be the ones doing the gambling. They may well send waves of blitzing defenders after Vick and try to get the lefty to beat them with his arm which, though formidable, is not his strong suit.

The Falcons find themselves in a spot not unlike the one the Eagles were in three years ago when their run of NFC Championship losses began.

Back then, McNabb was seen as the young, stud quarterback and nearly helped engineer an upset over the heavily favoured St. Louis Rams. In fact, the 29-24 road loss was the closest the current Eagles would get to the big game.

Philadelphia was supposed to have turned a corner in that game and, in terms of taking over the NFC, they did. The next three seasons, including this one, they built up expectations by earning the right to host the NFC Championship.

By the 3 p.m. kickoff on Sunday, those expectations will have been stewed into a state of mayhem.

"Man, they're just crazy," Trotter said of the living-large Eagles fans. "They've got playoff fever, Super Bowl fever and they're excited about everything that's going on."

That excitement, like Vick, could turn on a dime.


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