Brady and numbers point to another Patriots Super Bowl win
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) -- Even if numbers occasionally lie, most of them indicate the New England Patriots are in great position to hoist a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
The reasons begin in the only place they could: with Tom Brady.
Yes, at 40 years old Brady would be the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl if the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. He would dethrone Peyton Manning, who won at age 39 with the Denver Broncos to cap the 2015 season.
Brady has put up numbers in his 18th season unmatched by any player in NFL history. He led the league with 4,577 yards passing during the regular season and his five touchdown passes are tied for the most in the playoffs.
Brady's seven Super Bowl appearances are as many as the entire Eagles roster. He's faced a myriad of difficult scenarios in the championship game, including last year's 25-point hole the Patriots dug out of to beat the Falcons.
Brady won that one without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will be in uniform after being cleared late this week.
Close games have been no problem , for Brady and coach Bill Belichick either. The total difference in scoring in those seven games is 12 points: Patriots 169, opponents 157.
You want to talk about comebacks? No player in the Super Bowl era has more fourth-quarter comebacks in the playoffs in his career than Brady's eight. It's probably why Brady chuckled this week when he was again asked about how long he wanted to keep playing.
"Why does everyone want me to retire so bad?" Brady said. "I don't get it. I'm having fun. The team's doing good. I know I'm a little bit older than most of the guys, but I'm really enjoying it. ... I'm not thinking about retirement. I'm thinking about the Super Bowl and trying to win the most important game of the year."
As big as the Brady factor is, he's not the only advantage New England has.
The Patriots lost go-to receiver Julian Edelman in the preseason to a knee injury and linebacker Dont'a Hightower to a season-ending shoulder injury in October. After some early-season struggles, Belichick found a way to plug the holes, with contributions from several previously unheralded players like Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Ricky Jean Francois.
New England has also gotten a strong season from receiver Brandin Cook after acquiring him from New Orleans this offseason. He posted his third straight 1,000-yard receiving season (1,082) and was second on the team in receiving yards behind only Gronkowski (1,084). Running back Dion Lewis has also found new life just two seasons removed from a knee injury. He led the team with 896 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.
It's underlined the football savvy of Belichick, who with a sixth Super Bowl win would pass Vince Lombardi and tie George Halas and Curly Lambeau for most NFL championships by a coach.
Belichick will be taking part in his 11th Super Bowl as a head coach or assistant, the most among any coach in NFL history. That amounts to 21.2 percent of all Super Bowls in league history and 34.4 percent of all Super Bowls since his first appearance as the Giants defensive coordinator in 1986.
Though there have been reports of alleged friction this season between Belichick, Brady and team owner Robert Kraft, it's clear they are on the same page when it comes to the pursuit of championships.
"It changes every year. The venues are different, the teams are different, the matchups are different, and the road the team has traveled to get here is different, as is the road your opponent has traveled," Belichick said. "Each one is unique. Each one's special."
Eagles have the right formula to upset Patriots
By ROB MAADDI
AP Pro Football Writer
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) -- The best formula for success against the New England Patriots is to keep Tom Brady on the sideline and harass him when he's on the field.
That's not a news flash. But the good news for Eagles fans and everyone rooting against Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl is that Philadelphia has the ingredients to do it.
The Eagles (15-3) have a multidimensional, ball-control offense capable of chewing the clock and forcing No. 12 to be a spectator.
Jay Ajayi, former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement led the NFL's third-best rushing offense and the Eagles were first in time of possession.
"You have to stay patient and diligent there," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "That's something we've been able to do all season long. It's something we stay committed to."
This isn't an old-school, ground-and-pound offense, either.
The Eagles have a versatile passing attack with several receivers who create matchup problems. Carson Wentz threw for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdown passes before he tore his ACL in Week 14 and Nick Foles has eight TD passes, including playoffs.
Foles proved in the NFC championship game he can make quick-strike plays with three passes of 40-plus yards against the league's top-ranked defense. Two of those were TD tosses of 53 yards to Alshon Jeffery and 41 yards to Torrey Smith.
Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and slot receiver Nelson Agholor are other options. Tight end Trey Burton, who also lines up at fullback in certain short-yardage situations, had five TD catches this season.
"You can't just stop one guy," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. "You can't go out there and say, `if we just limit Jeffery or if we just limit Ertz that won't matter.' They have a lot of different guys out there that can beat you."
Foles has been adept at making the right calls on run-pass option plays, making it even more difficult for defenses facing Philadelphia.
"It's hard because you have to defend every inch of the field," McCourty said. "Each guy has to do their job on the play. We can't have guys doing things that don't fit the defense."
On the opposite side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has an aggressive unit. Nobody runs on Philadelphia's defense. It was No. 1 against the run and didn't allow a 100-yard rusher until Ezekiel Elliott had 103 in Week 17 against backups and third-stringers.
The Patriots (15-3) rely mainly on Brady's arm, even though Dion Lewis had 896 yards rushing and James White was a Super Bowl hero last year. But Brady can't throw if he doesn't have time and the Eagles have a dominant front four led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.
The line often generates enough pressure that Schwartz doesn't have to blitz much and there's enough depth with Chris Long, Vinny Curry, Tim Jernigan and Beau Allen that guys stay fresh in the fourth quarter.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is a physical presence in the secondary and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are solid cover guys.
"They have a great defense," Brady said. "It's as good any we've faced all year. They have a great scheme that mixes in well with their coverages."
If the game comes down to a field goal, rookie kicker Jake Elliott has a strong leg. He kicked a 61-yarder at the end of regulation to beat the Giants in Week 3 and is 6 of 7 from beyond 50 yards.
The Eagles shouldn't be tight and they're not intimidated by the Patriots. They're a loose, relaxed group that has embraced their underdog role throughout the playoffs and overcame injuries to several key players.
"Greatest quarterback of all time, but that doesn't mean that he's unbeatable," Jenkins said of Brady. "We're not worried. We match up well."