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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.”

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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.

Patriots, Eagles tackle the serious and silly at media night

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Tom Brady wore a black wool stocking cap and a big smile. Bill Belichick wore a full suit.

The guy in the shark costume, well, he was just trying to not wear out his welcome.

The New England Patriots were the first team on stage Monday at Super Bowl opening night, the kickoff to the week of buildup to the big game. They gathered at Xcel Energy Center, the hockey rink and home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, for their first on-site media obligation after landing in Minneapolis in the afternoon.

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The Philadelphia Eagles, whose charter flight arrived Sunday, had the second half of the NFL’s annual assembly of hundreds of reporters, camera operators and just-for-fun “journalists” surrounding players and coaches with a ticketed crowd looking on from the seats.

Brady led his team out of the tunnel made out of the set designed to resemble a giant glacier in honor of the host state’s wintry climate. Swarmed by a 12-deep pack of media at his podium in advance of his eighth career Super Bowl, Brady was asked often about his family ties to the area and his desire to keep his children from criticism and scrutiny. He fielded a query about his most attractive teammate, nodding to Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

And, of course, he fielded a few football questions.

As the Patriots filed out, Belichick met his Eagles counterpart, Doug Pederson, for a handshake and a photo op that produced a jarring juxtaposition of their wardrobe selections. Pederson had on a white polo shirt with jeans and a cap.

Belichick even flashed some smiles during his interview session, including questions from former figure skating star and lifelong Patriots fan Nancy Kerrigan. Working the room as a special correspondent for “Inside Edition,” Kerrigan later asked Amendola about his favorite Super Bowl party food.

“Nachos,” he quickly responded.

The guy in the shark costume, wearing a credential for TYT Sports, was trying to dive into center David Andrews‘ deepest fears. Andrews readily called himself a “scaredy cat” and acknowledged a fear of clowns.

“Clowns are out,” he said. “Birthday parties. Circuses. Clowns are a no go.”

In the thick of the throngs of media on the floor was 39-year-old linebacker James Harrison, the oldest active defensive player in the league. He wasn’t interested in reflecting on that or much of anything else.

“I’m just blocking this out,” Harrison said, after declaring the questions from reporters the most annoying part of his Super Bowl week. “Football is always the focus in my head. I’m running through defenses right now. I’m not really listening to what you’re saying.”

Wait, why such malignant thoughts about media night?

“Because it’s unnecessary. It’s useless,” Harrison said. “You ask me questions that don’t matter, that don’t have any consequence or nothing about the game.”

Teammate Shaquille Mason was more of a willing participant in the silly side of the event. Asked what precious metal Harrison reminds him of, Mason replied, “some kind of iron.”

Up in the seats was bushy-bearded defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, in blue jeans, a leather jacket and a Patriots cap with a pencil stuck behind his ear. Leaning back in a seat as if he were a hockey fan watching a game, Patricia complimented a reporter for his focus in asking a repeat query about his impending hire as Detroit’s head coach. Patricia predictably declined to entertain any questions about the Lions.

“I am very concerned right now about making sure our players have the best possible experience,” Patricia said.

He meant the Super Bowl itself. Media night, well, that’s one to get over and get through.

“Can we go home now, coach?” one player playfully yelled to Belichick as he walked by his podium.

To which Belichick replied, “I don’t know. We haven’t heard the whistle yet.”

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Patriots enjoy big Super Bowl experience edge over Eagles

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) The Eagles are playing some of their best football heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup with the Patriots.

One thing Philadelphia can’t contend with is New England’s huge experience advantage in the big game.

On the 53-man active roster the Patriots brought to Minnesota, 32 players have a combined 60 games of Super Bowl experience.

Tom Brady alone has been to the Super Bowl seven times during his 18-year career, winning five.

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

By comparison, the Eagles have seven players on their active roster who’ve won a Super Bowl. Two of those players, LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long, won their rings last season with the Patriots. The others are Torrey Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Dannell Ellerbe and Will Beatty. An eighth player, Chris Maragos, is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

It’s a huge gulf. By comparison, the 2015 Panthers that lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl that season had three players who had won a ring: Ed Dickson (Baltimore), Roman Harper (New Orleans) and Michael Oher (Baltimore).

But the Patriots say it’s nothing they will spend time talking about this week.

“I think it’s overrated,” said special teams captain Matt Slater, who will be appearing in his fourth Super Bowl.

Defensive end Trey Flowers said the coaching staff hasn’t mentioned last year’s Super Bowl win since it came up in film study prior to their regular-season meeting with Atlanta back in October.

“It’s a brand new team, so I wouldn’t say last year’s experience will have anything to do with the outcome of this game,” Flowers said. “This team has a lot of different guys from a year ago, so it’s something you’ve got to do all over again as far as experience goes.”

Yes and no.

New England actually returns 31 players who were on last year’s Super Bowl roster against the Falcons. That doesn’t include injured linebacker Dont'a Hightower or receiver Julian Edelman.

Two of the Patriots’ additions since then both played in the Super Bowl with other teams. Linebacker James Harrison won two rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois played on the San Francisco 49ers team that came up short against Baltimore in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season.

“We know what to expect, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to perform,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “So there’s really no upper hand. You’ve got to just play the game and get ready for it and play at a high level.”

He said that is because there is respect across the board for what backup quarterback Nick Foles has accomplished since Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14.

“Everyone wants to hate on Nick Foles, but he’s done a great job,” Van Noy said. “He’s still a high-caliber quarterback, like Carson Wentz. Nick Foles is a great quarterback who’s done a great job. They distribute the ball really well and their run game is at a high level.”

More than experience on either side, linebacker Elandon Roberts said the biggest challenge is not getting caught up in the emotions that come with playing in a Super Bowl.

“Obviously it’s all the marbles right here, but it’s everything you work for,” Roberts said. “So you’ve got to think back to what got you here: doing your job, not getting overwhelmed and what not. As long as we do that that takes away most of it.”

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower