Originally created 01/24/02

Underdog role sits well with Eagles



PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles are used to being underdogs.

Not many people outside their own locker room thought the Eagles would reach the NFC championship game this season. Even fewer people give them a chance against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

"We've been the underdog all year so it's nothing new to us," quarterback Donovan McNabb said Wednesday. "Going into this game where many people aren't even bringing up the fact the Eagles have a good chance of winning makes it even sweeter to us. We're going to a hostile environment, we're playing against a tough team, we know it's going to be a dogfight and we're just excited about the opportunity."

The Rams, who won the Super Bowl two years ago, are 12-point favorites over the Eagles, who haven't advanced this far in 21 years. But the home team is just 3-5 in conference title games over the last four years.

The Atlanta Falcons were double-digit underdogs on the road when they beat the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game three years ago. Baltimore and Tennessee each won on the road in the last two AFC championship games.

The Eagles already overcame heavy odds by beating Chicago 33-19 in last weekend's divisional playoff game. Before that victory, NFC teams playing on the road in the second round of the playoffs were 1-21 since 1990.

"A lot of people didn't think we'd beat the Bears, but we went out there and showed we are the better team," rookie wide receiver Freddie Mitchell said. "We just have to play our game. We don't worry about point spreads."

The Rams certainly aren't overlooking the Eagles.

"You don't get to this point of the season - nobody does - and think that anybody is going to kill anybody," St. Louis coach Mike Martz said. "That just doesn't happen. This is an outstanding team we are about to play, and I think it will be much the same as the first time we played them. It will be nip and tuck down to the wire."

St. Louis beat Philadelphia 20-17 in overtime in Week 1 at Veterans Stadium. But both teams are much different than they were in the opener.

The Eagles made great strides on offense late in the season, capped by a 33-point performance against the Bears - the NFL's stingiest defense.

The Rams' overhauled defense - there were eight new starters in the first game - improved dramatically over last season, when it allowed the most points in the league. The defense even showed it could be as dangerous as Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and the rest of the offense, scoring three touchdowns in last weekend's 45-17 victory over Green Bay.

"It's going to be very important for us to sustain drives, and make sure we attack them straight ahead and take advantage of what they do," running back Duce Staley said.

While the Eagles are a young, rising team with a franchise quarterback, a strong defense and an excellent salary-cap situation, there is no guarantee that they'll again be within a game of the Super Bowl in future years.

"We have a lot of guys that are mature on this team," middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. "They know the magnitude of this game and they know you could never get back to this point so you have to take advantage of it now."