Eagles try, try, try again in NFC

Finalists for third year in row hope they've solved secret of advancing

Analysis

NFL Playoffs

January 12, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Back for the third straight year, the Philadelphia Eagles will try to find the charm in the NFC championship game next week against the Carolina Panthers.

A pair of overtime survivors, the Eagles and Panthers will meet at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (6:45 p.m. kickoff) for the right to play in this season's Super Bowl.

The Eagles lost to the St. Louis Rams two years ago and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season in the penultimate playoff game. All season, they've talked about making amends for their past mistakes.

Now the opportunity is here.

"The experience of being in the championship game the last two years, it's a whole different mind-set," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "Not only for me, but for all the guys. There is a sense of urgency that is so serious right now that we want to play right now.

"We know we have a couple of days of rest. [But] most of us aren't going to rest. We are going to get at it on our day off."

The second half of the Super Bowl party will form in Foxboro, Mass., where the New England Patriots face the Indianapolis Colts. Indianapolis advanced yesterday with a 38-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Both championship games are rematches from the regular season. Both offer something special.

The key matchup in the AFC game is the Colts' suddenly ravenous offense against the Patriots' immovable defense. The Colts have scored 79 points in two playoff games and appeared unstoppable against Kansas City.

New England has a 13-game winning streak and is unbeaten at home this season. The Patriots barely beat the Colts in a Week 13 game, 38-34, in Indianapolis, when the Colts failed to score in four plays from the 1-yard line.

The Patriots are the AFC's top-seeded team, and the Colts are the third seed. History suggests the Colts have a shot. The road team has won four of the past six AFC championship games. And the No. 1 seed in the AFC has reached the Super Bowl only once in the past four years, twice in the past nine.

New England advanced with a 17-14 win over the Tennessee Titans in a raw Saturday night semifinal. The championship game will start at 3 p.m., which should make the elements more endurable.

Top-seeded in the NFC, the Eagles beat the Green Bay Packers yesterday, 20-17, in overtime. The NFC's top seed has gone to the Super Bowl in three of the past four years.

Philadelphia beat the Panthers in a Week 13 game as well, 25-16, in Carolina. McNabb threw for 182 yards in that game, while Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 216 with two touchdowns.

Stephen Davis was one of seven backs to rush for 100 yards or more against the Eagles this season (gaining 115), but his status for the championship game is in doubt. He suffered a strained quadriceps on a 64-yard run in Saturday's 29-23 overtime win in St. Louis. In his absence, DeShaun Foster rushed for 95 yards.

McNabb will be facing one of the league best defensive fronts, in Kris Jenkins, Brentson Bucker, Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker.

"They are known as the best front four in the NFL," he said. "I'll say the same, as well. They are four guys who create a lot of problems for all offenses. I think what we have to do is watch the film from that game, learn from that, feed off the energy of this game, and come out ready to go.

"Can we beat them? I am not making any guarantees; I know we are going to prepare to beat them."

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