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Harrison fires back

Patriots safety responds to Eagles receiver's opening salvo

FOXBOROUGH -- Freddie Mitchell may have something for Rodney Harrison when he meets the Patriots safety in next week’s Super Bowl, but Harrison had some words of his own today for the Eagles wide receiver.

The Philadelphia Eagles' other loquacious receiver -- the one without the Pro Bowl pedigree and ankle injury -- offended some Patriots when he dissed their secondary in a television interview. In a segment taped yesterday on ESPN, Mitchell admitted he couldn’t name any of the Patriots defensive backs, saying he only knew their numbers. Except for No. 37 that is.

“I got something for you Harrison when I meet you too,” he said.

Preparing for the Patriots’ second-to-last practice at Gillette Stadium before heading to Jacksonville, Harrison said he had not yet seen the interview, but quickly got the gist of it from a group of reporters surrounding his locker.

“That’s pretty funny coming from a guy that doesn’t start,” he said. “This is his 30 seconds of fame. What Freddie needs to do is concentrate on what he needs to do.”

Mitchell started just nine games this season for the NFC Champion Eagles, but has been fairly instrumental for the team in the playoffs with the absence of injured Terrell Owens, most memorable in his circus touchdown catch that helped the Eagles beat the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs.

"It just shows he doesn't have respect for us," Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel said Friday, responding to Mitchell's comments from a day earlier.

After the divisional playoff game against the Vikings, Mitchell thanked his hands for being so good, and now has opened the initial war of words between the Patriots and Eagles, gearing up for Super Bowl XXXIX.

“You expect it from immature guys who haven’t experienced success on a pro level,” Harrison said. “Some guys are just immature and haven’t experienced things. When you go out there and play well, you don’t have to do these sideshows.”

The Patriots have a patchwork secondary that includes a rookie free agent (Randall Gay), a converted wide receiver (Troy Brown) and a guy (Hank Poteat) who was taking college courses before the playoffs started.

Starters Tyrone Poole and Ty Law have been sidelined with injuries most of the season, but the fill-ins shut down Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts in a second-round playoff game, and intercepted Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger three times in the AFC championship game.

"Freddie Mitchell is a guy who is getting time now because Terrell (Owens) is hurt," Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest said. "We don't worry about what he's saying. He will have to deal with that on the field.

"All I can say is, Rodney Harrison is the wrong guy to mention, especially if you're a receiver. He (Mitchell) is not humble. He hasn't done enough in this league to be on TV talking about that. Philly has a lot more class than that. It's just one guy."

Mitchell's response to the Patriots' reaction?

"I was joking. I don't care. It'll all be solved on Sunday," he said.

A first-round pick in 2001, Mitchell hasn't lived up to his potential in four seasons with the Eagles. He had five catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns, including one on a fumble recovery, in Philadelphia's second-round playoff win against Minnesota. But he caught just two passes for 20 yards in the NFC Championship game against Atlanta.

Mitchell and the rest of the Eagles' receivers clearly are tired of hearing about Owens, who had surgery to repair torn ankle ligaments on Dec. 22. and is trying to return for the Super Bowl despite his doctor's orders.

"We got there without T.O.," Mitchell said. "He's going to be a great addition if he comes, but we're going to stick with our guns. When he comes back, he'll be a huge help for us because he's one of the best receivers in the game. Until then, let's talk about Greg Lewis, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell, the receivers who are here and won the NFC championship."

Mitchell later grabbed a reporter's microphone and bombarded Lewis with questions in a mock voice.

"What about T.O.? Is he 80 percent? When is he coming back? How do the receivers get it done without T.O.?" Mitchell said.

Lewis replied: "Everybody said we weren't capable of winning without T.O., but we proved them wrong."

Mitchell has something to prove to the Patriots.

University road not taken
A few football pundits this week, including CBS Sports' Jim Nantz, wondered if after winning his third Super Bowl next week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick might hang up his whistle and retire to the front office. That's not going to happen, but when the topic of football on the college level was reached with the coach at his press briefing today, one reporter asked him if he would consider taking the new challenge of coaching at the NCAA level.

"Not this week," Belichick said.

There was, however, a time when Belichick, who has spent his entire professional coaching career in the NFL, was headed to college. In 1975, he was invited by Lou Holtz to join the staff at North Carolina State. "I was all set to go," Belichick said.

But in June of that same year, Title IX came into prominence, and that led to budget cuts for other programs in college sports, which in the end, made Belichick's presence expendable.

"He called me back and said, 'Look I know I've committed to it, but we just can't do it.' So, I was out. Fired."

Many of the years that followed in the NFL came side-by-side with former New England coach Bill Parcells, but when Belichick was asked about how the current Dallas Cowboys coach influenced him, he did nothing to dispel the general consensus that there has been a falling out between the two.

"I don't know. I really don't know," he said. "I've been influenced by a lot of people. I grew up in a football environment," he said. "I spent a lot of years with Bill and we won a lot of football games, but I've won a lot of games with other people."

Third and short of it
New England worked on first and second down situations yesterday that the Patriots coaching staff anticipates to see defensively from the Eagles, where Philadelphia boasts five of its nine Pro Bowlers.

"[Defensive coordinator] Jimmy Johnson has a great third down package," Belichick said. "It's very difficult to deal with. They're pretty good on those situations, so we'll have to do a good job when we have the ball on third down."

Belichick said the team would prepare for third and fourth down situations today.

Information from Boston.com's Eric Wilbur and the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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