/

New England likely motivated by close call against Eagles

by Jim Litke

The Eagles seemed content with a moral victory and anybody brave enough beforehand to take Philly and the spread — 22 points, one of the largest lines in NFL history — had to be downright ecstatic.

But all that happy talk late Sunday about how the Eagles had handed the rest of the league a “blueprint” for how to beat the Patriots was just that: talk. Seriously, who’s kidding whom?

Philadelphia did throw a scare into New England before falling 31-28, no doubt about that. But so did the Colts, who are much better and were just as well-prepared, and wound up on the same short end of the score.

The Eagles’ defense ran a variety of stunts and blitzes devised by ever-inventive coordinator Jim Johnson, stuffing the Pats’ ground game and rendering the league’s most potent offense surprisingly one-dimensional. Then they effectively took Randy Moss out of the contest and dared quarterback Tom Brady to beat them without his favorite target.

On the other side of the ball, Philadelphia preyed on New England’s aging, aching linebacking group with a string of quick slant passes across the middle. Backup quarterback A.J. Feeley looked so composed in the pocket for most of the night that it made you wonder why the Eagles kept him under wraps all this time. Keeping with the audacious theme, Eagles coach Andy Reid even threw in an onside kick.

“We had some mistakes and they forced us into some,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “But I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all about us. That was a good football team out there.”

Maybe so, but like all of New England’s other opponents so far, not good enough. And to think the Ravens, Steelers, Jets, Dolphins or Giants — the remaining speed bumps on the Patriots’ road to perfection — are going to be able to exploit the same weaknesses is downright silly.

Belichick is not just smarter than the rest of his fraternity brothers, he’s more motivated, too, and never more so than during this funky season. The Patriots were the best team in the league by a wide margin when they got caught stealing signals against the Jets in the opener. While Belichick was his usual bloodless self about the incident, at least in public, his players have taken up the insult for him.

They’ve worn their emotions on their sleeves — like some kind of scarlet letter (“C” for “cheaters”) — and last week in an interview, Brady finally admitted what everybody else already knew; namely, that the Pats weren’t going to be satisfied simply beating opponents.

“We’re trying to win — we’re trying to kill teams, to blow them out if we can. You want to build momentum for each week. You don’t want it to be 42-7 or 35-7,” he told WEEI radio in Boston, “and then all of a sudden you look up and it’s 35-21.”

Belichick’s relentless preparation and incessant scheming are the very reasons the Patriots are running roughshod over the NFL and into the record books.

“There are lots of things we need to work on,” he said afterward, in a detached, eerily calm voice. To make it clear he wasn’t exempting himself or his staff, Belichick added, “We’ve got to coach ‘em better.” Bet the house on that, since Belichick gets outflanked about as often as Brady is outplayed by someone like Feeley, which only happens once or so every couple of seasons. There’s going to be some hellacious practices in the Patriots’ camp this week and the staff, from Belichick on down to the guy who sharpens the pencils, will be working even harder to make sure New England won’t be surprised again.

That’s a bet you can take without worrying about the point spread.