Poteat was cut by the Steelers, the Bucs and, in August, the Panthers. New England personnel director Scott Pioli worked him out twice this season and signed him on Jan. 10. Poteat was in all the dime packages against Pittsburgh and held up remarkably well while manning the right corner.
Last year injuries hit the Pats' offensive line hard, and the unit that started against Carolina in the Super Bowl included two veteran free agents and a rookie fifth-round draft choice. Brady wasn't sacked, and New England put up 481 yards of offense against reputedly the best defensive line in the league. This year the secondary is supposed to be the weak link, but the Colts' Peyton Manning couldn't go long against it in the divisional playoffs and Ben Roethlisberger couldn't put a dent in it on Sunday.
Now McNabb gets his shot. His weapons include a pair of starting wide receivers, Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston, who can be annoying but didn't have much impact against the Falcons on Sunday, plus a third wideout, Greg Lewis, who is dangerous downfield. The Eagles don't typically use a fourth one--they might if Terrell Owens returns from his ankle injury--but Philadelphia doesn't mind splitting tight end L.J. Smith, who has speed. The runners are McNabb and Brian Westbrook, a darter who's also valuable as a receiver.
Still, the Eagles can't show the Patriots anything New England hasn't already seen. The Pats' versatility on defense is stunning. Against Indianapolis they had to control the NFL's scariest team in space, and they did it in convincing fashion. Then on Sunday they faced an entirely different attack--football's most punishing ground game--and they displayed a short-yardage defense that combined muscle with quickness.
Offensively, coordinator Charlie Weis has plenty of options. He can pound with Corey Dillon, peck away with a talented array of wideouts (as he did against Philly in 2003) or go for the throat (as he did against Pittsburgh on Sunday). Two wideouts, bursting out of a double-tight-end, maximum-protection set, made quick work of the Steelers, with Givens occupying two defenders while Deion Branch ran a deep post for 60 yards and a touchdown. The Pats did the same thing in the second quarter, with Branch hauling in a 45-yarder from Brady.
Almost lost in the descriptives of Brady's competitiveness and big-game savvy is the fact that he is probably the NFL's most accurate and consistent deep passer. And Weis is not afraid to let him cut loose, at any time, from anywhere.
Philly is a proud team that has battled hard all year, but New England is just too street-smart, with too many ways to beat you. Patriots 31, Eagles 20
-- Paul Zimmerman