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O’Sullivan: Eagles may have the blueprint, but Patriots still have the G.O.A.T.

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates a catch by wide receiver Phillip Dorsett during the second half of the AFC championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. AP

  • New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (left) hugs coach Bill Belichick after Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will play in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4. AP

  • Fans hold up signs during Sunday’s AFC championship game between the Patriots and Jaguars on Sunday. AP


Monday, January 22, 2018

The euphoria may still lingering from the Patriots’ 24-20 comeback win in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. It was another playoff comeback that had to be seen to be believed, and it will be worth reliving for years.

But we’re going to follow Bill Belichick’s lead and move on to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Super Bowl. Did you see Belichick ditch the AFC trophy during the post-game presentation? The hoodie wanted no part of that semifinal hardware.

The Eagles, for their part, wasted no time looking ahead to the Patriots.

“Hey, Tom Brady. Pretty boy Tom Brady. He's the best quarterback of all time, so, nothing I’d like to do more than dethrone that guy,” Philadelphia offensive lineman Lane Johnson said to the media gathered around his locker after the Eagles 38-7 beatdown against Minnesota in the NFC Championship game.

Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins also had the G.O.A.T. on his mind.

“Greatest quarterback of all time, but that doesn’t mean that he’s unbeatable," Jenkins said. “We’ve got a destination that we’re geared to. No matter who's in front of us, we’ve got somewhere to go.”

Even Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie got in on the act.

“We’re not only going to Minneapolis," Lurie said as he accepted the NFC trophy, “we have something to do in Minneapolis. One more win.”

Good for them. Philadelphia should be excited. Maybe not excited enough to drive an over-lit dune buggy up the Rocky steps (seen here), but making it to the Super Bowl is a big deal.

Dune buggies aside, the brash talk is reminiscent of the Jaguars, who started mouthing off about the Patriots as soon they beat Pittsburgh the week before. Turns out the Jags had reason to be confident, and it turns out the Eagles’ similarities to Jacksonville run deeper than running lips.

The Jaguars were confident, and a trendy underdog pick to win (or at least cover the spread) in New England, because they could execute the blue print for beating the Patriots - pressure Brady with a four-man pass rush and drop the rest into coverage on defense, and keep him off the field with a short-passing, power-running, third-down-converting machine on offense. That’s the same strategy the Giants used to beat New England in two Super Bowls, the same one Baltimore and Denver used to win playoff games against the Pats, the same one Jacksonville used to build leads of 14-3 and 20-10 on Sunday in Foxborough…and the same one the Eagles will likely use in two weeks at Super Bowl LII.

Much like Jacksonville, Philadelphia’s strength is defense and the strength of the defense is the line - tackles Fletcher Cox (Pro Bowl selection this year) and Timmy Jernigan, and ends Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham. Also like the Jags, the Eagles also have quality d-line depth, which set the tone in Sunday’s NFC Championship with two game-turning first-quarter plays - pressure from veteran end Chris Long that led to a pick-6 and a strip sack from rookie end Derek Barnett that prevented points on one end and led to them on the other.

(If Long’s name sounds familiar it should - he played for the Patriots last year. There are also Eagles with tighter local ties - safety Corey Graham played at the University of New Hampshire, as did defensive quality control/assistant secondary coach Dino Vasso.)

While that defensive formula is the most important part of the blue print to beat the Pats, Philadelphia also has an offense that can bother New England. The Patriots will have to account for Philadelphia’s inside running game with LaGarette Blount (another familiar name) and Jay Ajayi, which will leave them vulnerable to quick throws to the edge. That plan made Blake Bortles effective for Jacksonville on Sunday and it could do the same for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles in the Super Bowl.

Yes, it’s a tough matchup for the Patriots, but there are also plenty of reasons not to overreact to the big margin in the NFC, the small margin in the AFC and the magic, Patriot-beating blue print.

The Eagles faced a Minnesota team that seemed spent from last week’s miracle win against New Orleans. Terence Newman, the 15-year vet, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “It was kind of like we had no energy.” Without energy, the Vikings defense lost its bite. And the offense still had Case Keenum, who used up all his bite against the Saints.

The Patriots had a quarterback with a dozen freaking stitches in his throwing hand. They had a tight end who was surely concussed. They faced a quarterback who played the game of his life.

Philly might catch the breaks in two weeks. The blue print might work again and it might help the Eagles build a late lead. But the the Patriots will still have the G.O.A.T., who will execute at the end, break your heart and stack another ring.

“The look, man. He got that G.O.A.T. look, man,” New England safety Duron Harmon said when asked about Brady’s demeanor in Sunday’s fourth quarter. “I’m trying to tell you. He just lets us know. If we get the stop, he’s going to do what he needs to do on offense to make sure we’re in good shape and that’s what he did. He kept telling us, ‘Let’s get stops. Get us the ball back. We’re going to be able to move this ball,’ and that's what they were able to do.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)