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Philadelphia puts the past behind it

Eagles focused on correcting mistakes, not continued domination of Bucs, as they prepare for NFC Championship.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- The old stadium has one more football story to tell.

Though the characters are familiar, the plot is slightly different.

The Eagles now know they must clear the Bucs on Sunday at Veterans Stadium if they are to advance to the Super Bowl.

But rather than focus on continuing their dominance over Tampa Bay -- four consecutive wins -- Philadelphia appears more intent on correcting its mistake of losing the NFC Championship last season, giving up 16 unanswered points in the second half and falling 29-24 against the Rams.

"Those scars hurt, cut deep, but we've got something going here right now that we're going to try and take advantage of," Eagles Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins said. "I'm pretty sure they're going to come in here jacked up with the revenge factor and all that stuff.

"It's going to be a good game."

That would contrast to recent games between the two.

Philadelphia, the NFC's top-seeded team, has eliminated Tampa Bay from the playoffs the past two seasons by a combined 52-12 and has won five straight at home against the Bucs.

"I think every game stands on its own merits," Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "It's been a mix of things in the playoffs the last couple of years.

"But last year and earlier in the season (a 20-10 win by Philadelphia at the Vet) have nothing to do with playing Tampa Bay now. This is an elevated field of competition."

The Bucs' 329-yard, 31-point offensive outburst, led by a healthy Brad Johnson and a steadily improving running game, combined with their brutally tough defense left the Eagles impressed.

"They took advantage of turnovers," coach Andy Reid said. "They made plays offensively. Their quarterback played well. The receivers played well. They did a nice job."

Added Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent: "They moved the ball extremely well with Brad Johnson in the lineup and threw the ball extremely well in the red zone. Johnson looked a little rusty, but that comes with being away from the game the last three weeks. Their defense is playing at just an awesome level. We're going to have to try to match their intensity next week."

Expectations of a defensive game cannot be argued.

The Bucs were first and the Eagles fourth in total team defense during the regular season, and each has four defensive Pro Bowl players.

"I'll put our defense up with anyone," Dawkins said. "But we're not playing their defense. We're playing their offense."

Philadelphia's defense, which sacked Falcons quarterback Michael Vick three times and didn't allow a touchdown in Saturday's 20-6 win, has outperformed Tampa Bay's in recent meetings.

In their meeting this season, the Eagles limited the Bucs to 207 yards. The Eagles intercepted Johnson four times in their 31-9 wild-card win last season.

"That was last year. This is a whole new year," Philadelphia defensive end Hugh Douglas said. "The stakes are a lot higher, and we have to come to play.

"That doesn't mean a thing. That doesn't make us feel good. We still have to play the Buccaneers, and we know what kind of football team they have down there."

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