FOXBORO - Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins got a lot of attention locally for declaring Philadelphia wasn’t “worried about what’s in front [of them]. We’re going to run through what’s there,” shortly after his team won the NFC title game over Minnesota in decisive fashion.
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In Philly, they loved the confidence. Here? Not so much. Those words were read as Jenkins disrespecting the Patriots. How dare he? Doesn’t he know the Pats won the Super Bowl last year? Two of the past three? Five in the Belichick/Brady era? What a dope.
You know what's gotten a lot less attention since that the Eagles earned their spot in the Super Bowl opposite the Pats? How much respect they have for the franchise that is the standard-bearer in the NFL.
“I think everyone in the league sort of envies their success to some extent,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson. “Rightfully so. They’ve been there and done that many times that’s something that every other team would love to have.”
Chris Long played for the Pats a season ago. He wasn’t used the way he would have preferred but subjugated his ego for the greater good of the team. It worked. Long earned not only his first ever playoff win in a long and storied career but his first Super Bowl title. Now a member of the Eagles, playing a style much more in line with his skill set, Long's pleased with his decision to leave New England for Philadelphia. He also knows first-hand the challenge the Eagles now face.
“Everything runs through number 12 [quarterback Tom Brady] and 87 [tight end Rob Gronkowski]. In my opinion, those are two of the greatest to ever play at their positions. You can make an argument that they are the greatest,” he said. “They work well as a team. Everything they do, they do on the same page. They have four or five really good running backs. Their offensive line, they’ve got one of the best-coached units in the league...they just have a ton of weapons. You have to do everything well to beat them.”
Brady will be there on Super Sunday. He’s already been removed from the injury report after that bizarre and scary injury from practice last week - an injury that compelled owner Bob Kraft to cut a trip to Florida short and get on a plane so he personally could check on the franchise quarterback.
“Anybody is defined by wins, particularly a quarterback. He has a lot of them,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “Go one layer above. You’re defined by championships. He has a lot of those too.”
“What makes him so unique is he gets rid of the ball fast and is not going to take many hits,” said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. “He knows what he’s doing when the ball is snapped. It’s going to come down to guys getting after him and making him uncomfortable.”
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As for Gronk, he still in the concussion protocol. Every indication we’ve gotten so far is that he’s progressing and the expectation is he will play, but there will likely be some trepidation until we see the big fella doing what he does on game day.
“He’s the top tight end in this league for a reason,” said Jenkins. “He does a great job of creating contact and using his body to separate the defender from the ball. He catches contested throws, he’s faster than most people think and Brady puts it in a spot only he can get it. He’s a great player, tough to get down. I’m looking forward to that matchup. Whoever’s got that on any given snap has got their hands full.”
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz concurs.
"He's set pretty much every tight end record out there," Ertz said Wednesday. "The guy is a physical specimen, a freak...He's a beast after the catch. He's able to use his body whenever he wants to get open. Even if he's not open, he's open with his frame and the ball skills he has...He's an unbelievable player."
But while the focus is almost always on Brady and Gronk, Schwartz warns that just worrying about those two is a recipe for disaster.
“In the NFL, in general, particularly the Patriots, you can’t scheme for just one player. If you do, they have plenty of other players that can make plays,” Schwartz said. “You have to do a good job against their entire offense. You really can’t make it about one person.”
See? The Eagles aren't stupid. They know how hard beating the Patriots will be. It's just that they aren't cowering either. I got news for you: that's as it should be when the top two teams in football meet on the game's biggest stage.