Terrell Owens says he will be playing on Super Bowl Sunday.
It probably isn’t a surprise the New England Patriots will be as well.
The Patriots will try to cap off two seasons of dominance with a third Super Bowl title in four years when they face the Philadelphia Eagles in Jacksonville, Fla.
New England and Philadelphia have been two of the NFL’s premier franchises this decade. But while the Patriots won Super Bowls in two of the last three years, the Eagles dropped three straight NFC championship games in the same span.
So Philadelphia brought in Owens to boost a passing game that faltered so badly in the last two of those championship game losses. He more than did his part, catching 14 touchdown passes and helping the Eagles run away with the NFC’s best record before suffering a major leg injury on Dec. 19.
Though the injury was expected to need much longer to heal and he has not been medically cleared, Owens has left no doubt about his plans.
“I will play on Sunday,” he said. “I know the type person I am; I have a lot of faith in my ability.
“I told the guys in the locker room: You guys just get us into the Super Bowl and I’ll be there. They’ve done their job, now it’s time to do my job.”
Owens’ decision gives Philadelphia hopes of getting a contribution from one of its biggest stars. New England, on the other hand, seemingly wins because nobody acts like a star.
Relying on the team concept and depending on coach Bill Belichick and his staff to come up with schemes to expose the weaknesses of their opponents, the Patriots have gone 33-4 over the last two seasons. They are 8-0 in the postseason under Belichick, one game shy of the longest playoff winning streak in NFL history.
“No one cares about individual glory,” receiver Deion Branch said. “We’re a team, not a collection of individuals.”
This postseason run might be New England’s most impressive. Thought to be vulnerable because of injuries to starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, as well as star defensive lineman Richard Seymour, the Patriots instead shut down record-setting Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis offense, then went into Pittsburgh and forced four turnovers in a 41-27 victory over the top-seeded Steelers in the AFC championship game.
Philadelphia also has been rolling in the postseason, even without Owens. In easy victories over Minnesota and Atlanta, Donovan McNabb was 38-for-59 for 466 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
While Belichick and the Patriots are known for devising ways to stop top quarterbacks, McNabb’s athleticism could make their planning more difficult than it was for much less mobile QBs like Manning or Kurt Warner, the leader of the St. Louis Rams team New England stunned to win its first title.
“He’s the total threat,” Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said of McNabb. “He has a strong arm, he can throw the ball really well. He can hurt you with his feet, he’s smart, he reads defenses and he’s experienced. He’s won a lot of games and he has a knack for making plays when he needs to, especially in big games.”
McNabb had his best season, throwing 31 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions while passing for 3,875 yards. Booed on the day he was drafted by Philadelphia fans that preferred running back Ricky Williams, McNabb now has a chance to be embraced by the city like few athletes have if he leads the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title.
That has already happened for Tom Brady in the Boston area.
The sixth-round draft choice has led game-winning drives in both of his Super Bowl appearances, setting up field goals by Adam Vinatieri. Brady was named MVP of both games, leaving him one shy of Joe Montana’s NFL record.
”(Brady) is the key. He is the heart and soul of the team,” Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse said. “He doesn’t have really big numbers in any category. He just wins games. He’s got some pretty big numbers in the wins category. He just does what it takes.”
Both McNabb and Brady will face superb defensive teams. McNabb must find a way to solve the Patriots’ plans that frustrated Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, while the underrated Eagles defense has already limited the effectiveness of superstars Randy Moss and Michael Vick in this postseason.
To keep pressure off their quarterbacks, both teams will need strong performances from their running backs. Philadelphia’s Brian Westbrook is averaging 5.9 yards per carry in the postseason and added five receptions in each game, while Corey Dillon has rushed for 217 yards in his first two playoff games and gained a team-record 1,635 yards during the regular season after spending his first seven seasons in Cincinnati.
Philadelphia lost to the Oakland Raiders in 1981 in its only previous Super Bowl. New England, which lost its first two Super Bowl appearances, will tie the record for the longest postseason winning streak in NFL history with a victory Sunday. Green Bay won nine straight in the 1960s.
Their decided edge in big-game experience is the reason the Patriots are favored by a touchdown, but the players know it won’t matter much on the field.
“We’re not defending anything,” linebacker Mike Vrabel said. “We haven’t pretended that we own this title and that we carry it with us. We have put a lot of work in and won a Super Bowl, but you have to come back and start all over. You realize that when the season starts and everyone is gunning for you.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Patriots - AFC East champion; first-round bye; beat Indianapolis Colts 20-3, divisional round; beat Pittsburgh Steelers 41-27, AFC championship game. Eagles - NFC East champion; first-round bye; beat Minnesota Vikings 27-14, divisional round; beat Atlanta Falcons 27-10, NFC championship game.
PATRIOTS LEADERS: Offense - Brady, 3,692 yards and 28 passing TDs; Dillon, 1,635 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs; David Givens, 56 receptions and 874 receiving yards; David Patten, 7 receiving TDs. Defense - McGinest, 9 1/2 sacks; Eugene Wilson, 4 INTs.
EAGLES LEADERS: Offense - McNabb, 3,875 passing yards and 31 passing TDs; Westbrook, 812 rushing yards; Dorsey Levens, 4 rushing TDs; Owens, 77 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards and 14 receiving TDs. Defense - Kearse, 7 1/2 sacks; Lito Sheppard, 5 INTs.
PATRIOTS TEAM RANK: Rushing offense - 133.4 yards per game (7th); Passing Offense - 224.2 ypg (11th); Total Offense - 357.6 ypg (7th). Rushing Defense - 98.2 ypg (6th); Passing Defense - 212.5 ypg (17th); Total Defense - 310.8 ypg (9th).
EAGLES TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 102.4 ypg (24th); Passing Offense - 248.7 ypg (7th); Total Offense - 355.1 ypg (9th). Rushing Defense - 118.9 ypg (16th); Passing Defense - 200.8 ypg (12th); Total Defense - 310.8 ypg (10th).
LAST MEETING: Sept. 14, 2003; Patriots, 31-0. At Philadelphia, Brady passed for 255 yards and three touchdowns and the Patriots’ defense forced six turnovers and had seven sacks.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Patriots - Belichick is 9-1 as a head coach in the postseason, tied with Vince Lombardi for the best postseason winning percentage in NFL history (.900). … QB Brady’s two Super Bowl MVPs tie him with Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and Green Bay’s Bart Starr. … This is likely the final game for Belichick’s offensive and defensive coordinators. Charlie Weis will take over his new duties as Notre Dame head coach on a full-time basis, while defensive guru Romeo Crennel is expected to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. … DE Seymour went through a full practice Wednesday and is expected to play. Eagles - Philadelphia hasn’t won an NFL title since 1960. The Eagles also made three straight championship game appearances from 1947-49, winning the last two years. … Coach Andy Reid already owns a Super Bowl ring from a victory over New England. He was on Mike Holmgren’s staff when the Packers beat the Patriots in 1997. Belichick was New England’s assistant head coach. … The Super Bowl will mark the debut of TE Jeff Thomason, who was out of the NFL the last two seasons before the Eagles signed him to replace the injured Chad Lewis.