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BOB RYAN

Sound of boo-birds a welcome one

PHILADELPHIA - When it's five minutes to go in an Eagles home game, and the remaining crowd looks like something at a Temple intra-squad scrimmage, then every visiting player has that warm glow of accomplishment.

Oh, let's not forget the booing: very symphonic to your ears.

``Any time you can win on the road, it's huge,'' reminded safety Rodney Harrison, veteran of 125 NFL regular-season games, ``but when they're booing, you love it even more.''

Now let the record show that Rodney is a man of compassion.

``It's a tough town here,'' he added, ``but the people here have got to remember they have a very good football team. I'm glad we won.''

Bill Belichick said much the same thing. ``Philadelphia is a very good team. I do know that last year the Eagles scored 415 points and set a new franchise record.''

OK, then. If the Eagles really are a good team, what does that make the Patriots? Or the Bills? For this game almost bordered on farce in the last three quarters. The Philadelphia Eagles really did do their best Temple Owls imitation. The Patriots beat them, 31-10, in a game that was utterly noncompetitive in the final 45 minutes.

``We just wanted to put last week behind us,'' said guard Joe Andruzzi. ``We wanted to come out and prove that last week wasn't us.''

It may be too soon to ascertain if yesterday was ``us,'' either. There are some real questions concerning the Eagles, who have scored 10 points in 120 minutes at their new $500 million playground, and whose celebrated quarterback was ludicrously ineffective yesterday. Donovan McNabb completed 18 of 46 passes for 186 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 33.4.

``Please don't point the finger at him,'' pleaded Eagles coach Andy Reid. ``We all need to do better. It's not just Donovan. It goes around to everybody.''

Fine. The Eagles' problems are the Eagles' problems, and if the Patriots ever see them again before the next exhibition season it will constitute good news for both teams. The issue in Foxborough was getting beyond the tumultuous events of 10 days ago, and that's what the Patriots were able to do yesterday, as they were the better team in all three phases of the game.

First, that business with You-Know-Who is dead and buried. The players can think what they think and feel what they feel about the supposed injustice of it all, but they all knew they had to put all that back business on the shelf and return to the matter of playing proper football. They were allowed one mulligan - one.

``I think that Lawyer Milloy stuff was overrated anyway,'' growled Richard Seymour, who was part of a posse of linemen and linebackers that applied constant pressure to McNabb, who spent much of his time running, shall we say, undesigned plays. The official sack tally was seven, although it's always wise to be wary of renegade statisticians, since one of those ``sacks'' came about when McNabb simply dropped the ball as he was preparing to throw. But whether it was six, seven, or 107, what matters is the constant Patriots pressure.

Were there accompanying drops? Yup. As Reid said, there was plenty of blame to go around. The summation of it remains that when you harass McNabb into such an abysmal performance (96 yards passing at the end of the third quarter), you are more than likely going to win the game, for he is their resident playmaker.

Tom Brady plays an entirely different game. He is, at his best, a highly competent game manager, and the coach was immensely pleased at his decision-making yesterday as he passed for 255 yards and three touchdowns. ``I think Tom was well-prepared and he did a good job of reading the different coverages and blitzes that the Eagles ran,'' said the mentor. In case you're new around here, that constitutes a gush in Belichickese.

The coach emphasized such words as ``execution'' and ``reads,'' and there's no way of avoiding that. That, of course, does not fully account for the complete Patriots transformation from the team that offered no competition whatsoever for the Bills last week into a nice professional unit that walked into the home of a team that is expected to be a serious NFC contender and slapped it around.

``When you play in the National Football League, you can't come out flat,'' said Harrison. ``You have to come out with some sort of emotion. These teams are too good, especially on the road. We came out flat last week. From a player standpoint, that's what we emphasized this week. We knew we needed to come out fired up from the very first play.''

You get the idea that the Patriots would have been ready to play this game last Sunday night. They stunk up the joint in Buffalo. ``Guys were probably licking their chops to get the opportunity to come out and play this game,'' Harrison suggested. ``That was the difference between this week and last week.''

Not to rain on the old parade, but giddy Patriots fans must remember that their heroes were fortunate to catch the Eagles shorthanded. They were missing half their normal starting secondary, with safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Bobby Taylor out with injuries. Three touchdown passes could easily have been two, one, or even none with them in there. ``Dawkins is the best in the league,'' confirmed Brady. ``He just adds so much to their team.''

So Charlie Weis, Brady, and his receivers did what had to be done. Weis made some great calls and Brady executed three play-action passes for touchdowns, the first two to tight end Christian Fauria and the final one to wide receiver Deion Branch. Tedy Bruschi added a cherry-on-the-sundae score with a fourth-quarter, 18-yard interception runback and Adam Vinatieri added a 27-yard field goal.

Admit it. You thought they'd start out 1-1. You just thought it would be the other way around. The 2003 Patriots are God's way of telling you not to bet on National Football League games.

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