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Eagles’ rush could be key vs. Patriots’ Brady

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MINNEAPOLIS — Neither New England nor Philadelphia is a tropical paradise, so for the Patriots and Eagles, the Minnesota winter weather has been pretty normal for them. That’s a good thing as both teams head into their Super Bowl LII meeting on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium trying to treat it like just another 60-minute game.

After the media circus they endured Monday in St. Paul, the players for both the Patriots (15-3) and the Eagles (15-3) welcomed the opportunity to get back to some semblance of normal game week preparation and to focus on the football, even if it’s in a new place.

“We’ve got to go out and practice and kind of get away from the madness,” said Philadelphia defensive end Fletcher Cox on Wednesday after the Eagles practiced at the University of Minnesota. “I just treat it as a regular game week. Things I would do at the facility, I’m doing here.”

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

One thing the Eagles did successfully at home and on the road all season was pressure the opponent’s quarterback, and when the Patriots have faltered in two Super Bowl losses to the Giants in the past decade, a relentless pass rush has contributed. But the highly touted Eagles defense, which did not allow a point after the Vikings’ opening drive of the NFC title game, is wary about putting too much of their attention on Patriots star Tom Brady.

“It’s Tom plus 10 guys on the field. We can’t just focus on one guy, if we’re going to be real about it,” Cox said. “I think we have to focus on their whole offense, because they’ve got a lot of great players. We have to go out and be ourselves. We’ve got to go out and do the little things right and not beat ourselves in order to be victorious.”

New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the AFC title game win over Jacksonville due to a concussion, is slated to play.

“Rob’s a tough guy. Obviously, this isn’t something you can just fight through,” said Brady.

While the Patriots offense has revolved around Brady since their first Super Bowl win in 2002, the defense has been one of constant evolution, and the unit adopted yet another new look late in the regular season when linebacker James Harrison came on board after he was jettisoned by the Steelers.

“When you’re in a system for as long as he’s been, there are a lot of things that are habits that get ingrained, which they should be. Some of those things carry over. Some of them kind of don’t,” Belichick said of Harrison, who has played 178 of his 193 NFL regular-season games for Pittsburgh. “He’s done a great job of trying to separate them and do what we’ve asked him to do.”

While the Eagles will be looking for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title, having lost the big game after the 1980 and 2004 seasons, there may be more pressure on the Patriots, who will be seeking their sixth title and their second in a row, knowing that the coaching staff will look significantly different next season. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are both widely expected to be head coaches in Indianapolis and Detroit, respectively, next season.

“I realize and I understand and I appreciate the talent in the coaches in our building. I’m grateful for the opportunity to even be coached by them,” said Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, sounding very much like he was saying goodbye. “Whatever their opportunities are in the future, I’ll be excited for them.”

There’s one more opportunity for them on Sunday. And it sounds plenty exciting.

Eagles having fun on big stage, not intimidated by Patriots

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) Wrestling masks have replaced the dog masks.

The underdog Philadelphia Eagles are having fun with the media frenzy leading up to the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. They’re staying relaxed, loose and won’t be intimidated by their opponent’s incredible success.

Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson on Wednesday donned masks that resembled the ones WWE star Rey Mysterio and other luchadores wear in the ring.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

“This was a gift from Mexico so I can have super powers all week,” Cox said about the green mask featuring an Eagles logo.

“I’m just having fun right now. We know why we’re here. We can’t come into this all uptight. You have fun when it’s time to have fun and get serious when it’s time to get serious.”

Johnson and defensive end Chris Long pulled out German shepherd masks and wore them off the field and in their interviews after the Eagles beat Atlanta in the divisional round. The Eagles (15-3) were the first No. 1 seed to enter their first playoff game as an underdog.

The city, which has always had an underdog personality, embraced the masks. Johnson and Long then turned it into a charitable venture . They created underdog T-shirts that were sold with all proceeds going to the Philadelphia school district’s not-for-profit arm.

The Eagles were underdogs again in the NFC championship game and routed the Vikings 38-7. They’re in the same spot against the Patriots, who are 4+-point favorites on Sunday.

But these Eagles don’t fear Bill Belichick, Tom Brady or New England’s dynasty. Johnson called Brady a “pretty boy” and made it clear he’s not bothered by the hype.

“I definitely respect him and all that he’s done in this league,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “I’m not going to go into the Super Bowl worshipping this man and make him more than what he is. No disrespect.

“As far as bulletin-board material, they can put it on their nightstands for all I care, in their bathrooms, I don’t care. I don’t think you need any motivation to play in the Super Bowl. They know that.”

Brady and Belichick have led the Patriots to five Super Bowl titles, including two of the past three seasons. They beat the Eagles 24-21 in the big game 13 years ago.

Philadelphia players respect the duo’s accomplishments, but aren’t going into the game already defeated. Several players were part of a 35-28 upset win at New England in 2015. The Eagles were a losing team under Chip Kelly that season, but still went on the road and knocked off the 10-1 Patriots.

That won’t matter when the teams meet for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Still, it’s a confidence-booster for some guys.

“I think when you’ve been playing for a long time, you’ve had games where you’ve played unbelievable players and unbelievable coaches,” All-Pro center Jason Kelce said.

“To me, this isn’t any different. These guys have been more consistent throughout the years, but this is the NFL. You play good players every week. There’s good coaches you go against every week. I don’t think you look at this any different than the fact that this is just another game. You see what they do really well and how you can defend it.”

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Eagles’ Fletcher Cox set for 1st taste of any Super Bowl

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Fletcher Cox is playing in the first Super Bowl he’s seeing.

Or so he says.

The three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is a big reason why the Philadelphia Eagles are facing the New England Patriots next Sunday in Minneapolis for a chance to bring home the franchise’s first Vince Lombardi Trophy.

But the 27-year-old Cox isn’t much of a football fan. He insists he’s never even watched a Super Bowl.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

“I don’t watch sports,” Cox said. “You know that.”

If he spends the night getting in Tom Brady‘s face and helps the Eagles win their first NFL title since 1960, Cox may want to watch the highlights sometime.

First, all that matters is winning.

“We haven’t been talked about all year,” Cox said. “That’s our story. No one has been talking about the Eagles, the defense, or the offense. If you go back and look, we finished in the top five of a bunch of different categories. This team just keeps finding ways to win, and that’s our motto.”

Cox, the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, had 5+ sacks in 14 games, recovered two fumbles and returned one for a touchdown. He often faces two or three blockers, so that allows his teammates opportunities to make plays.

“Cox is as good as anybody in the league at his position,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s a very disruptive player, hard to block, run, pass, no matter what it is.”

Earning praise from Belichick doesn’t come easy. Cox appreciates it.

“It’s a lot of respect from a coach like Belichick, a guy that’s been around, a guy that’s seen a lot of great players in this league,” he said. “For him to say that that means I obviously must be doing something right. But at the same time, I’ve got three other guys besides me that’s helping me push that limit, that’s helping me get that recognition and I want to do the same thing for those guys.”

The Eagles have plenty of depth on their defensive line. Ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry and tackle Tim Jernigan start along with Cox. Chris Long, Derek Barnett and Beau Allen also played at least 40 percent of the snaps.

“I wish it was just four (linemen),” Belichick said. “It’s a very disruptive group. They have some edge rushers, a good interior pass rush. They come hard every play. You have to block them on every play. There are no plays off. To deal with that front down after down, they wear you down. It’s a great group and a huge strength for their defense.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has enough confidence in all the players to rotate them in and out for series at a time. Because they split reps, they still look fresh this late in the season. It showed in a pair of dominant performances against the Falcons and Vikings in the playoffs.

“To roll in that many guys and not see a drop-off, it’s great,” Cox said. “We’re pushing those guys to be on the same level as us.”

Cox knows harassing Brady is the key to success against the Patriots. The Giants sacked Brady five times in their stunning Super Bowl upset 10 years ago, spoiling New England’s perfect season.

Led by Cox and Graham, the Eagles generate a strong rush without having to blitz much. They’ll need to keep extra defenders in the secondary against Brady.

“It’s going to come down to the front four guys getting after the quarterback, making him uncomfortable in the pocket,” Cox said.

Easier said than done against Brady.

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi