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Eagles Are Close, Again

Times Staff Writer

For the citizens of Philadelphia, there is no success for their Eagles now except the Super Bowl.

So excuse their muttering fear and collective disappointment when the Green Bay Packers (11-6) defeated Seattle in overtime to advance to an NFC semifinal meeting today against Philadelphia (12-4) at Lincoln Financial Field.

Philadelphians were polled before last weekend’s playoff games about the team they would least like to see play the Eagles. By over 90%, Green Bay was the choice. History, karma, fate, pedigree, Brett Favre, sympathy, luck: According to Eagle fans it all conspires against their beloved team.

“On the team,” Eagle offensive tackle Tra Thomas said, “we’re not saying it, but we know. We’ve been here before. It’s nothing for us to celebrate anymore, just making the playoffs or being division champions. We have one major goal in mind and we haven’t made it there yet. Only got close.”

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For two years running the Eagles have lost in the NFC championship game. Two years ago they lost to the Rams in St. Louis. Young quarterback Donovan McNabb stayed on the field and watched the Rams celebrate their trip to the Super Bowl.

“I wanted to see what it must feel like to win and remember that feeling so I could want to do the same,” McNabb said after that game.

Last year the Eagles were set. They played at home in the final game at crumbling Veterans Stadium against notorious cold-weather-adverse Tampa Bay. The Eagles scored first, the stadium erupted, Tampa Bay went on to win and both the city and the team mourned for months.

“It was a bad feeling,” McNabb said, “and it’s not one I want to have again.”

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The Packers seem a team of destiny. Favre’s father died last month and the Packer quarterback has played emotionally and well. Still, the Packers needed a Minnesota collapse in the final game of the regular season against the horrible Arizona Cardinals to sneak into the playoffs.

Favre had one of his worst games of the season in November when the Eagles beat the Packers, 17-14, in Green Bay. He lost two fumbles, threw two interceptions and completed 14 of 22 passes for 109 yards. Running back Ahman Green gained 192 yards, though, and it is poor play against the run that seems Philadelphia’s biggest weakness.

The Eagle defense ranked No. 22 in the NFL against the run and it has been ravaged by injuries this season. All-Pro cornerback Troy Vincent missed practice all week because of a hip injury.

Linebacker Carlos Emmons broke his leg in the second-to-last game of the regular season, against San Francisco, and earlier this season defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson had to replace defensive tackles Paul Grasmanis and Hollis Thomas.

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During the nine-game winning streak that helped the Eagles gain home-field advantage during the playoffs, the defense gave up 160.8 yards rushing a game.


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