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new england has been the NFL's premier team over the last four years, but Philadelphia isn't far behind. Their records, including playoffs, since the start of the 2001 season: Pats 56--16, Eagles 54--19. Like Belichick, Reid gives his coordinators and assistants plenty of authority. On Tuesday mornings, when Reid and his staff devise the passing game plan, 39-year-old quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur has as much of a say as the more experienced Childress, 48, and assistant head coach Marty Mornhinweg, 42, the former coach of the Detroit Lions. "We've all coached quarterbacks, so we're all opinionated," Childress says. "But if we want to use a play and Pat says Donovan's worried about the backside blitz on it, no problem, we'll change it."
That confidence is passed on to the players. Early in a December road game against the Washington Redskins, Eagles wideout Todd Pinkston, who has a reputation for not making the tough catch, appeared to get alligator arms on a catchable ball in traffic. Pinkston told Reid he lost the ball in the lights, and the coach accepted his explanation. Later in the quarter Childress suggested that Reid call 94 Seal X Slant and Go, a risky play-action pass with only one wideout, Pinkston; he would have to run hard at the safety, then sprint downfield. Pinkston caught a strike from McNabb, and the play went for 80 yards. "Todd practices hurt, he plays hurt," Reid says. "I never doubted him. If he says he lost it in the lights, he lost it in the lights."
After Belichick, the most admired coach in the NFL may be Philly defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Belichick doesn't gush about many opponents, but he says Johnson is difficult to prepare for "because you don't know what you're going to get, and then, when you see it, he'll adjust to what you're doing pretty quickly." Johnson is known for calling exotic blitzes from all angles, but he has concentrated more on containment and coverage in this postseason, holding quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper of the Minnesota Vikings and Michael Vick of the Falcons to one touchdown pass combined. Over the last 47 minutes of the NFC title game, a frustrated Vick didn't run with the ball once. "The thing about a Jim Johnson game plan," says Eagles defensive end Derrick Burgess, "is when you look at it, you don't think you have to do anything special. If everyone does his job, there's no doubt in our minds we should win."
so how will these teams attack each other? Last year stopping Carolina Panthers running back Stephen Davis was viewed by the Patriots as the key to winning Super Bowl XXXVIII; Davis was held to 49 total yards. This year containing the mobile McNabb will most likely be their primary focus on defense. Look for Crennel to have one of his fast linebackers (Bruschi or Mike Vrabel) stay home to make sure McNabb doesn't run far. "The one thing you can count on is, McNabb won't have time to ad-lib," Ryan says. "I'm sure he's not going to beat them."
But McNabb has been unflappable in and out of the pocket all season. He has completed 64% of his passes, up dramatically from his 57% career mark. Philly will probably continue to play Where's Waldo? with running back Brian Westbrook (box, page 48), who will be even more effective if Owens can contribute.
The New England offense will have to stave off two aggressive and quick defensive ends, Burgess and Jevon Kearse, as well as run-stuffing middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. This could be a game in which Weis turns Brady loose because the Patriots can attack Philadelphia's corners more effectively than they can the front seven.
All of which means that the Eagles will probably run it 45 times, and New England running back Corey Dillon will butt heads with Trotter all night. That's the beauty of both the Patriots and the Eagles. You just never know.