Philly sick of losing

ROB LONGLEY, in Philadelphia

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Safety Brian Dawkins felt sick. And that was before his Philadelphia Eagles had their most recent turn-your-stomach moment. Fans in the City of Brotherly Love have been left feeling queasy ever since.

So, while Dawkins and his teammates insisted yesterday that they were "loose" in advance of the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons here tomorrow, a cynical city isn't buying it just yet.

The Eagles, a five-point favourite, will have to show it to the home-field crazies at Lincoln Financial Field, skeptical as they may be. The Eagles, after all, are burdened by the added angst of trying to avoid a fourth consecutive loss in the NFL's penultimate step.

"I was way too tight and way too tense for that game (last year)," Dawkins said yesterday at a downtown Philly hotel, where a handful of Eagles tried to look cool at their final pre-game news conference.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb was there, too, in full 'fro and cracking jokes. Coach Andy Reid tried for the dry humour approach while Dawkins seemed to be talking for therapy.

"To be able to perform at a high level, you can't be wound up and I know that's how I was," Dawkins said. "I'm pretty sure some other guys were the same way."

"Last year I went into that game and I could barely eat because I was anxious."

It turned to agony as the Eagles were shut down 14-3 by the Carolina Panthers. Pile that onto losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the previous year and the St. Louis Rams 12 months before that and the Eagles have no choice but to be anxious again.

Anxious not to become the poor man's Buffalo Bills. At least the Bills made it to the big game in their four-year run of futility.

The Eagles also are anxious to please their merciless fans. With a massive winter storm expected to hit today, no one wants to become a moving target for a snowball, which have been known to be tossed from the stands in these parts.

"As a team that already has lost three, we've felt the wrath of the city," running back Brian Westbrook said. "Everyone in the city has been mad at us. For us to play uptight, we'll never win like that."

That's a novel approach, turn a negative into positive. For the most part yesterday, the players were talking about reasons they will win, not lose.

They insisted they were confident and, yes, loose.

They believe that a healthy and more mature McNabb will get them over the hump, even against a sack-happy Falcons defence.

They believe that Westbrook, who missed last year's game with a torn triceps, will make a big difference.

And mostly, they have convinced themselves that this is just another game, a mere stepping stone to the ultimate goal in Jacksonville.

CONFIDENT

"I think they are confident," said Reid, who has the best winning percentage of active NFL coaches but never has touched a Super Bowl sideline. "They are a good football team so they should be confident."

As a first-year Eagle, defensive end Jevon Kearse wasn't subjected to the recent misery. He says that the past has been buried and seems to believe it.

"Right now we have a pretty nice swagger going on," Kearse said. "Just being around the locker room and the players, you would have never known that they last lost the past three NFC Championship games."

Kearse was just tooting the company line and good on him. No amount of swagger and yukking it up will cloud the grim reality, though. Only an Eagles win against a team that has every reason to be loose will do that.


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