Everyone is talking about it: The Rematch.
On Sunday, the Eagles host the New England Patriots in the teams’ first meeting (not counting a preseason game) since Super Bowl LII. That day, February 4, 2018 was the greatest day in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles. That is not to cast a slight at the NFL Championship teams of 1948, 1949, and 1960, but the Super Bowl was different. The Super Bowl was everything.
“Every day when I see somebody,” defensive end Brandon Graham told me during Training Camp in an Eagles Insider Podcast interview, “they want to talk about the Super Bowl and what it meant to them. That’s what made it so special, how much it meant to the fans who had been waiting all that time. It was a special day for everybody. But, you know, we have to move on and get ready for our next season. So, I get it from the fans’ standpoint, but for the team, you got to go about the next challenge.”
Graham said that in August as the Eagles prepared for the 2019 regular season. He knew, we all knew, that New England was on the schedule, but it was so far in the distance that nobody really paid it much attention. Now, it’s impossible to ignore. The fans and the media are all about The Rematch. The players and coaches know that Sunday against New England is a big game, a telling game, but it’s not the Super Bowl.
"We're a different team. They're a different team from then," head coach Doug Pederson said on Wednesday morning. "Their defense is different today than it was then. Their offense is different, personnel is different. ... It's not something that's a focal point at all going into this game."
The coaches are watching film from Super Bowl LII and the players are, too. For the coaching staff, that study began last week during the bye. For the players, it started on Monday.
“It’s the first time I’ve even really watched the game,” linebacker Nathan Gerry said. “I never went back and spent much time doing it. I was a rookie that year and so for me it was about preparing myself for the next season. This week, watching film from the Super Bowl, it’s just film study.”
Same for the coaching staff.
“It certainly is a resource. But they are two different teams,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “You look back two years ago, there's different guys that are playing for them, different guys that are playing for us. Different playcaller for them on defense. So certainly, the nuts and bolts of who they are, that stuff, they are never going to stray too far away from that. But they are playing a little bit differently now just like we are playing a little bit differently now. It's as much about understanding who we are and who they are right now in the moment, as going back and looking two years ago.”
When New England head coach Bill Belichick had his conference call with Eagles reporters on Tuesday, he was asked a few times about the Super Bowl and what he learned from it and what he’s studied from it. Belichick, not surprisingly, refused to take the bait.
“We’ve watched a lot on the Eagles,” is all Belichick would say.
For the Patriots, well, all they did was rebound from the Super Bowl loss and beat the Los Angeles Rams for their sixth Super Bowl victory last February. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked on his weekly show on WEEI Radio how long it took him to “get over” the loss to the Eagles. Brady, ever the competitor, didn’t disappoint with his answer.
“You assume I'm over it? Come on now," Brady said. "That's a lot of mental scar tissue from that year. That was a tough game. In a lot of ways, we learned from that year, and we came back stronger the next year. We won the Super Bowl in '18. I think everything is a matter of perspective, and when you play in that game and you play great teams, you're not going to win them all."
Later in the interview, Brady admitted that now, “It's totally different circumstances. Huge game for us. Big game for them. The better team is going to win.”
The circumstances are different. The stage is far different. The rosters have changed. It’s a gigantic game and it’s hugely critical to the Eagles as they mount the stretch-run drive to the postseason, and that’s what this week is all about. For the fans and the media, the sound bites and the video clips provide great reminders of what an incredible day that was, the best for any Eagles fan. It was a life-crowning moment. That game, honestly, feels long, long ago, and in football terms it is.
Enjoy it all as we lead up to Sunday’s kickoff. Soak in every moment of that day and of the Parade of Champions later that week. When the game begins, the Eagles have to find a way to defeat Brady and hang some points on Belichick’s NFL-best defense and win their third straight game.
A win on Sunday pushes the Eagles closer to their next best-ever day, hopefully coming on February 2, 2020 in Miami. That’s what this game means for the Philadelphia Eagles.