Only Eagles' best will do

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:23 AM ET

Brian Dawkins held the George Halas trophy in his hands and insisted that everyone of his teammates touch it. The Philadelphia Eagles safety roamed around the Lincoln Financial Field with the hardware in hand and the celebration raging following the just-completed victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game.

It was difficult not to get the feeling that this was their Super Bowl.

That feeling may well get a little stronger this evening at 6:30 p.m., kickoff time for the 39th edition of America's most-watched sporting event.

The opponent this time is not some less-accomplished team from the NFC, but the defending champion New England Patriots. The Eagles have said all the right things about unfinished business, but they'll have to mean it.

In New England, they face the most dominant team of the salary-cap era, one that shows its strength in many ways.

It starts on defence, with veteran linebackers such as Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson and safety Rodney Harrison. All three hit to hurt and will make life difficult for Eagles such as quarterback Donovan McNabb and receivers Terrell Owens and Freddie Mitchell.

On offence, the Pats are led by the most reliable big-game quarterback in more than a decade. Tom Brady never has lost in eight NFL post-game appearances and is the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

So what can the Eagles do?

If they are wise, they will try to roll the dice on the Patriots, something uptight opponents of the defending champs have shied away from doing these playoffs.

Unlike Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, Eagles coach Andy Reid will have to implore McNabb to test the Patriots deep. If New England is vulnerable anywhere -- and that is up for debate -- this could be the spot.

In the past, Reid has shown he doesn't mind gambling. The great mystery is how healthy Owens is and how much he will play. He was rested for the team's walk through yesterday and is listed as questionable for the game. Even though the Eagles have survived nicely while T.O. was on seven weeks injury leave with a broken foot, they likely need him now more than ever.

DOWNSIDE

The downside of the aggressive strategy, of course, is the Patriots proven ability to attack and force turnovers on opponents that attempt to get too greedy.

Defensively, if the Eagles can't find a way to slow down running back Corey Dillon, they can kiss the Halas trophy all they want but kiss goodbye to the Lombardi trophy.

With Dillon, the Patriots have become even more dominant in their ability to control the clock and win the battle of field position.

In their victory over the Colts, they had three separate drives in the eight-minute range as Dillon ripped through the Indy defence for 144 yards. If they can control the Patriots run -- Kevin Faulk is an efficient complementary runner -- then the Eagles can focus on bringing some heat on Brady.

For the Patriots, the fun is to see what new wrinkles coach Bill Belichick comes up with. Their defence is famous for false looks and changing alignments that confound offences to the point that they have no clue what they are facing.

The Patriots have been particularly effective in neutralizing big-name quarterbacks and will have several puzzling looks for McNabb.

On offence, Brady loves to spread the ball around to as many as 10 receivers per game, which makes them incredibly difficult to defend.

Although it goes against the grain of recent Super Bowl performances, this could well be a low-scoring affair as both teams have ball-control ability.

Look for the Patriots to seize control of the tempo, clock and scoreboard by halftime before continuing on to a comfortable, emphatic third Super Bowl win in four years.


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