PHILADELPHIA — Tom Brady talked up the Philadelphia Eagles more than Vince Young.
Brady and the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (7-3) visit Philadelphia on Sunday in their second meeting since the Super Bowl in February 2005. The Patriots beat those Eagles 24-21 for their third NFL title in four seasons.
Listening to Brady and his teammates discuss the upcoming game, you would think they’re getting ready to play Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins again.
“They’re very talented, there’s no question about that,” Brady said. “You look at their defensive stats and their offensive stats, they’re as good as any team in the league. They can play with anybody. They’ve had two pretty significant blowout wins and then the rest of the games have been very close. It’s not like teams are running away from these guys; they’re in every single game. They’re a tough team in all phases.”
As usual, Brady was echoing his coach’s thoughts.
“They’re good across the board, they’re well-coached, they’re a hard team to get ready for because of the number of things they do and they do them at a high level,” Bill Belichick said. “They are good in all phases of the game. They have a lot of outstanding players.”
That’s a lot of praise for a team that’s 4-6 and one loss away from being all-but-mathematically eliminated from playoff contention in a season that began with enormous expectations.
It was Young who put a bull’s-eye on the Eagles when he called them a “Dream Team” after signing a one-year contract to be Michael Vick’s backup. By now, Young and his teammates have heard plenty of jokes regarding how this “Dream Team” is a nightmare and so on.
“I didn’t think anything of it when I first heard it,” cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “I just thought it was Vince talking about how he felt and how he was excited and how it was like a dream come true, something like that. Then it turned into us just being cocky and us being over confident and saying way too much, etc. etc., which we were never doing. No one ever took it like that when he said it. It was just something like that he’s always looked forward to or he’s happy to be in this situation.”
Despite adding a slew of high-profile players — Asomugha was the prize of the free-agent market — to a group that was coming off an NFC East championship, the Eagles haven’t lived up to the hype. They’ve lost four of five home games, blowing fourth-quarter leads in each loss at the Linc. Overall, the Eagles are 1-7 at home since beating Houston last Dec. 2.
“They’re talented,” said Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, a former Eagle who leads the NFL with seven interceptions. “By no means does their record reflect their talent.”
All that talent hasn’t helped Philadelphia in the standings. The Eagles are third behind Dallas (7-4) and the New York Giants (6-4) in the NFC East. However, they’re 3-1 against division opponents and have a chance to win the East if they win their last six games.
Young saved the Eagles’ season by leading them to a 17-10 win at the Giants last Sunday. He may have to fill in again for Vick, who broke two ribs in a loss to Arizona on Nov. 13.
The Patriots have the worst-ranked defense in the NFL. Those numbers don’t mean much to Young.
“You’ve just always got to have respect for Belichick and for his team,” Young said. “They’re going to always try to have a package for you and try to take some of our guys out of the game. You’ve just got to be patient with these guys. You got to just take your time and drive down the field and try not to turn over the ball and all these types of things, and convert on third down.”
There might be plenty of scoring in this game. New England has the league’s second-ranked offense and the Eagles are No. 3. While the Patriots are last on defense, Philadelphia is tied for 11th, but has been vulnerable all season.
Brady likely will try to exploit the Eagles’ inability to cover tight ends by relying on two of his favorite targets: tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The duo have combined for 1,223 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns.
They could be in for a big day against the Eagles.
“That’s going to be a challenge for us this week,” linebacker Moise Fokou said. “With the way they like to spread the ball out, hopefully we’ll get some of our secondary to help us out with that, but we look forward to that challenge, and that’s something we’ve got to key in on.”
One advantage for the Eagles might be that the Patriots had a shorter week. They are coming off a dominating 34-3 win over Kansas City on Monday night.
Maybe that’s why Brady and his teammates are being extra cautious.
“I think that we need to play really well, certainly better than we’ve played the last few weeks,” Brady said. “There’re a lot of people on our team and our offense that have really taken the challenge that our coaches have given us and are going to out there and try to play our best. I think we need to do that. This is the time of year when it’s most important. There aren’t a lot of games left. When you play a tough team, on the road, that came off one of the biggest wins of their season, we have everything we could ask for. We’re going to go out there and try to play our best.”