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.

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“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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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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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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