It’s difficult enough to beat the New England Patriots on any given Sunday with what they bring to the field: The most accomplished quarterback and head coach tandem in the history of the NFL, a team that pays attention to detail and executes a top-notch game plan, and a roster that fits well with every player understanding his role.
It’s even harder when the opposing team plays down to the “mystique” of the Patriots.
Ask the Cleveland Browns. Following a 27-13 loss to New England a few weeks ago, Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens bemoaned the mistakes his team made – 13 penalties and three giveaways – rather than credit the Patriots for a job well done.
“Going in, I told our guys how (the Patriots) win is they don’t beat themselves,’’ Kitchens said. “We came in and beat ourselves.”
This “mystique” thing is real.
Teams that play New England go in knowing they have to be razor-sharp and, consequently, end up playing out of their normal element and make too many mistakes. This Eagles team, with so many veterans who were on the 2017 team that defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, understands that aura. Most importantly, these Eagles know that it’s not about the Patriots, it’s about Philadelphia going out and doing what it does best.
“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to go out there and play your game,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “Regardless of what’s happened in the past, it’s all about the now. You’ve got to stay in the moment and be present. You can’t allow what’s taken place in the past and who they’ve proved to be throughout history to affect your game plan and how you play as a team. It’s all about us and that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Said defensive end Brandon Graham: “I feel like they take you out of being you sometimes because the media, that’s all they talk about. ‘The Patriots, the Patriots, they’ve won this and they’ve won that.’ You go out thinking you have to play a perfect game against them. The one thing they do, they don’t stop playing. You’ve got to make sure that you match their intensity – or take the intensity to another level. They don’t make many mistakes. They’re not perfect. They take advantage of their matchups. They do a good job gameplanning people and then sometimes you get out of character because you give them too much respect. We respect them, but we gotta do us.”
From that epic Super Bowl battle on February 4, 2018, the Eagles have most of their players still on the roster. Of those projected to start or play significantly on defense this week, only cornerback Avonte Maddox and linebacker T.J. Edwards weren’t here for the Super Bowl. On offense, tackle Andre Dillard and running backs Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard weren’t yet Eagles. Of course, quarterback Carson Wentz was on Injured Reserve for that game as were left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles.
Wentz has buried himself in film this week and sees a Patriots defense that, above all, does an excellent job taking a certain something away from an offense. Wentz and the Eagles need to figure out what New England wants to take away and make the adjustment.
That’s the hard part.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but they come in with a certain plan of attack and you have to diagnosis it as fast as you can and then adjust,” Wentz said. “More than anything, that’s what they do well.”
The message from tight end Zach Ertz, who many believe could be double-covered in the passing game on Sunday, is to play with confidence. Play with aggressiveness. Play smart.
“You can’t go in there fearing failure. I think if you do that, you’ve already lost the game,” he said. “We’re going to go out there with the opportunity to succeed and excel on Sunday. Obviously, we understand that they’ve been a dynasty for years. Everyone knows that. At the same time, we’re NFL players, we’re professionals, and we have a lot of confidence as a football team.”
On Sunday, it’s coming down to two good teams playing toe-to-toe. The team that has the best ball security and the best execution is going to win.
That’s how it’s going to go down. The Eagles intend to be that better team.
“Whenever you’re playing a good team,” center Jason Kelce said, “there’s certainly an amount of respect there. I think whenever you’re playing a good team or a good player; you’re spending a lot of time preparing to beat them. I don’t know if that’s unique to the Patriots. We know they’ve been pretty good for a while, but right now, it’s just all about Sunday and going out and playing our best football, like we try to do every week.”