Pats’ dynasty now appears inevitable

Sometimes you can try and try to convince yourself of something, but in the end, reason usually wins out and the truth becomes oh-so-obvious. Whether it be the childhood conviction that it really was Santa Claus who put the bike under your Christmas tree, or the more current belief that you can always study tomorrow, in the end, you usually realize that — like it or not — some things cannot be avoided.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been telling myself that the New England Patriots aren’t as good as advertised, have a few weaknesses, will fall in a big game and won’t be mentioned among the great football dynasties of all time.

Well, reality has set in. No, there is not a Santa Claus. If you don’t study today, you’ll end up not studying tomorrow. And yes, the Patriots will win their second-straight Super Bowl and their third title in the last four years. Quite simply, reality bites.

I harbor no hatred toward the Patriots. I honestly do admire what they have been able to do. They’re fundamentally sound, physically tough and lacking in huge egos or annoying personalities. And yet, like the San Antonio Spurs (who exhibit these same traits on the basketball court) New England just annoys me. I don’t want every play on the football field to be so mechanical. I can’t stand watching dropped pass after dropped pass just because the opponent knows they’re going to get beat down like a red-headed stepchild. I like my football with a little pizzazz, a little high-steppin’, Sharpie-signin’, trash-talkin’, “Primetime”-in’ that disgusts Joe Buck and angers Paul Tagliabue but makes me laugh, cheer and want to run into the end zone and do a Lambeau Leap, Mile-High Salute or Dirty Bird dance of my own.

That is not the New England Patriots. At the same time, I won’t say that they’re boring. The Patriots play smart football, but it’s not boring football. It’s not the Packers of the ’60s running the sweep every play. This is a team that can be very innovative and very smart. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis doesn’t shy away from calling an end zone pass to a linebacker, a defensive coordinator readily switching from a three-man defensive line to a two-man line to, on occasion, a no-man line. The hooded demon that is head coach Bill Belichick is boring, but even that is a self-imposed boredom. He’s boring because he wants to be boring, because he doesn’t want to be a story like his former mentor Bill Parcells was (and still is). Belichick has done what no other salary-cap-era coach has been able to: construct a team where the only goal, the only issue, the only item that the media is ever able to pry out of them is the game at hand.

It wouldn’t be right to overlook the other team in the Super Bowl, because Coach Belichick, his matinee-idol quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots certainly will not. The Philadelphia Eagles are a team that, if not for a late-season injury to wide receiver Terrell Owens and the subsequent resting of many starters in the last couple games of the season, might have been coming into this game at 17-1 and as a favorite over the 16-2 Patriots. But at 15-3, and with Owens probably able to play only as a third option, the team comes in as the underdog. There is no doubt that this is a strong team, definitely worthy of the Super Bowl appearance that has eluded them in the last three years. The defense is as fast, strong and equipped as that of the Patriots, featuring a secondary with three Pro Bowlers that will be the best Brady will have faced all year.

For the Eagles on offense, many see Owens’ diminished speed as a weakness. However, even had Owens remained in Baltimore before the season and not caught a single touchdown, quarterback Donovan McNabb still presides over the best offense he’s had since being drafted as an Eagle. While lacking the depth at running back they had last year with Duce Staley (now a Steeler) and Correll Buckhalter (on injured reserve all year), the team still has the best and most versatile of that group with the speedy Brian Westbrook. Tight end L.J. Smith, who was an early favorite of McNabb in the end zone; Freddie Mitchell, he who hilariously “thanked” his hands after his two-touchdown performance in the playoffs against the Vikings; and underrated Greg Lewis have all come up with the catches when they matter most, and the offensive line has been giving the time to allow things to happen. Of course, the key for the offense, whether Owens gets on the field or not, is McNabb. The quarterback is almost always the offensive position that makes the others work, but for the Eagles, McNabb’s performance means more to his team’s success than any other player in the game not named Vick. This is the year where McNabb was fully able to show his understanding and capability for the task at hand, not just on the field, but off of it as well. While Philly fans feared another Conference Championship collapse, McNabb remained confident throughout the playoffs, was masterful in the game against the Falcons and, even more remarkably, stayed nonchalant after the victory. Eagles fans might have been happy then with just playing in the Super Bowl, but it is quite apparent that McNabb is not satisfied.

If there is one quarterback whose head Bill Belichick might not be able to get into, it might be Donovan McNabb. Then again, at one point I thought it might have been Ben Roethlisberger, or this year’s incarnation of Peyton Manning before that. In the end, even if McNabb is able to make things happen, even if Owens comes out and gives the Eagles a Willis Reed-type emotional lift, even if Jim Johnson is able to game plan the Eagles defense as well as Belichick and Crennel will game plan the Patriots’, even if Freddie Mitchell is able to “Fred-Ex” a score into the end zone, and even if head coach Andy Reid is able to out-bore his coaching counterpart, reality will set in for the Eagles and bite them on their feathery tails.

My pick: Patriots 17, Eagles 10