Super Bowl LII: 13 Years Apart, Same Hurdle Awaits Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's been 13 years since the Eagles were in the Super Bowl and amazingly the same hurdle is in front of them, the New England Patriots.
Since losing to the Pats 24-21 back in 2005, Philadelphia has finished the Andy Reid regime and experienced the highs and lows of Chip Kelly before reversing course and moving toward a Reid protege in Doug Pederson as its head coach.
Back in Super Bowl XXXIX Donovan McNabb was the on-field leader of the Birds and there have been pit stops on Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz in the ensuing decade plus.
For the Patriots, however, the DNA has remained the same with the best coach-quarterback tandem in NFL history: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Since that agonizing loss in Jacksonville to the Patriots, New England has marched forward like a machine, making the postseason in 12 of the past 13 seasons, reaching nine AFC Championship Games and now set to appear in their fifth Super Bowl when things kick off in Minneapolis.
To call New England a dynasty is probably underselling things. When it comes to roster turnover, however, the Patriots are like everyone else in the NFL over the past decade-plus with the exception of that coach and that QB.
And that's why the test that awaits Pederson, Foles and the rest of the Eagles a week from Sunday is essentially the same one Reid and McNabb failed all those years ago.
The current Patriots began preparations for the 15-3 Eagles this week in Foxborough.
"Every year is not the same but in this particular case, [Tuesday] is very much of a major working day, and I would say kind of a catch up day for us because we just don't know very much about Philadelphia," Belichick said. "You know, other years when we had played a team more recently like Seattle, who we had played two years before but in a regular season game, but there was some carry over from that or in the [New York] Giant years where we had played those teams in the regular season, there was a little bit less of an acclimation to the opponent this week because we had some background with them."
Belichick will be trying to formulate a plan for dealing with a well-rounded Eagles team which can beat you in a number of ways.
"In this case we really don't know very much about Philadelphia. They're obviously an outstanding team and we have a lot of work to do," the legendary coach said. "We have a lot of ground that we need to cover, so we're at it hard trying to catch up so when we bring the players in we'll be ready for them and we can do a good job of presenting the information to them efficiently and accurately because, again, there's a lot of information to digest."
The Eagles coaching staff has generally outperformed its counterparts this season and Pederson and Co. put together a game plan that had Minnesota completely off-balance in the NFC Championship Game.
That's probably not going to happen in Minneapolis against what might be the greatest coach in the history of football, the man who has written the book on preparation and giving his team a leg up.
"There's 16 regular season games, and then there's playoff games, and then maybe some additional other things that get kind of tossed in there as well," Belichick explained. "But the bottom line is it's a lot to sort out and then pull together pretty concisely because, again, for all those games that we look at – let's call it 18 games, just to pick a number – I mean that's probably 2,500 plays in all three phases of the game and there's just going to be 160. So they can't do everything that we've ever seen them do any more than we could run everything that we have experience running so we have to whittle down our side of it."
Pederson's aggressive and somewhat unorthodox nature as a play-caller could make that more difficult than usual but Belichick tends to be able to fight through the weeds and ignore the bells and whistles of any offense, boiling things down to the substantive.
"We know that they're going to have to only be able to run so many plays and so the idea is to not – we have to be prepared for a lot of things but at the same time we can't be overly distracted by things that either have a low percentage chance of coming up or probably wouldn't be the type of thing they would do against us," Belichick said. "We try to eliminate some of those and make sure we work on the things that we feel are most problematic or may be most likely to occur."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen