Superiority will shine through
How touching to see the Eagles end three years of postseason frustration and thus prevent the entire city of Philadelphia from plunging into mass depression. How nice to see a classy guy such as Donovan McNabb reach the Super Bowl at the peak of his physical powers. How nice it is for the Patriots to have an opponent in Super Bowl XXXIX. It will make the game marginally more interesting to have someone emerging from the other tunnel.
But it won't change anything. How can any rational person, after watching the AFC events of the past two weeks, envision any Super Bowl scenario other than one in which Bill Belichick receives a Gatorade bath in the final minute of football's most prestigious game?
The Eagles are good, and they clearly deserve to be representing the junior conference -- excuse me, NFC -- in the Super Bowl. Their 27-10 conquest of the Atlanta Falcons yesterday was decisive and unambiguous. They didn't allow the Falcons to run the ball, and they were never worried about Michael Vick beating them with that erratic arm of his. No, no, no, that just wasn't going to happen. C'mon now, Atlanta backers. Aren't you all sitting around this morning saying, "Geez, just what was I thinking?"
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now we can see that the Eagles never really had much to worry about with the Falcons. You just knew that as long as Vick was being placed in a position where he absolutely, positively had to throw the ball that one would get away, and that's what happened with his team hanging around in the third quarter. He threw that awful, awful pass intended for Alge Crumpler that wound up in the hands of the insufferable Brian Dawkins (his postgame act was possibly a new NFL low of the genre). David Akers made a 34-yard field goal to make the score 20-10 and that was that.
Terrell Owens or no Terrell Owens, this is a better Eagle team than the ones that lost NFC Championship games in 2002, 2003, and 2004. For one thing, the defense added a stud in Jevon Kearse, and the offense was buoyed by the presence of running back Brian Westbrook, who was unable to participate in last year's aggravating 14-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Westbrook may not be a top-tier player, but he is a good one, and he surely made a significant contribution yesterday at Lincoln Financial Field.
But the real story for Philadelphia is McNabb, who finally won the Big One. Always a class act off the field, he is now a superb, well-rounded, big-play quarterback worthy of immense respect. He gives the Iggles a chance Feb. 6 in Jacksonville.
A chance. That's all, a chance. But the Patriots will be favored to make it three Super Bowls out of four, and why not? I mean, what more does anyone need to know about this team?
These last two playoff games have showcased everything we have come to admire about these Belichick/Weis/Crennel Patriots. How about the exquisite symmetry of starting the game with an end-around to Deion Branch for a nice gain, and then, some 58 minutes later, putting a cap on the scoring with another end-around by Branch, this one for a 23-yard sundae-topping TD run? Thank you, Charlie.
And how about Romeo's defense coming up with an immediate big play, with Eugene Wilson acrobatically picking off a deflected Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Antwaan Randle El on the young quarterback's very first pass attempt in the biggest game of his career? Or how about Rodney Harrison cleverly setting up Young Ben for a devastating pick/TD return?
The Kid finally pulled himself together to engineer three consecutive scoring drives in the second half, but they began when his team already was trailing by 21. The Steelers can attempt to derive all the satisfaction they'd like out of those scores, but the fact is that overcoming a 21-point second-half deficit against a good team is tough. The Patriots ought to know.
Did we really learn anything from this game we didn't already know? Not really. Did we not know that Adam Vinatieri is football's gold-standard kicker? No, but his early 48-yarder at the NFL's toughest kicking stadium reminded us. Did we likewise need to know that Tom Brady has another gear in the Big Ones? No, but that 60-yard floating gift to Branch for the game's first touchdown reminded us. Did we need to be reminded that Belichick is undefeated (now 14-0) in rematches with quarterbacks? No, not really.
The Patriots are good, and I mean really good. They are amazingly well coached, and they are even more amazingly united. Whatever their individual private thoughts about team football matters, they simply come to play every Sunday. They embrace their game plans, and they do everything in all their individual powers to execute those plans.
Do not underestimate what you have seen during these past two weeks, for you may be waiting a long time before you see anything like it again. These were the two most anticipated non-Super Bowls in franchise history, and these games were against teams posing significantly different challenges. The Colts featured the apparently unstoppable Peyton Manning and perhaps the most potent offense the league ever has known. You saw what happened. The Steelers offered a great running game and a very rugged defense, and, again, you saw what happened. It wasn't easy to do what the Patriots did, to win the games, in either case, but they made it look that way.
Before the game Belichick said he was proud of his team because it had played its best football in its two biggest games (I'm guessing the second Jets game was the other one). Now he can say his team has played its best football in its three biggest games.
And can there be even a scintilla of doubt that in just two weeks Bill Belichick will be saying his team had played its best football in its four biggest games?
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.