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Eagles have no room for slow start vs. Patriots in Super Bowl rematch | Early Birds

Trying to play catch-up won’t cut it Sunday against the Patriots. The Eagles need to get off to a fast start offensively and defensively.

If the Eagles want to beat the Patriots, they'll need a big game from Jordan Howard.
If the Eagles want to beat the Patriots, they'll need a big game from Jordan Howard.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

The Eagles returned to work at the NovaCare Complex on Monday after some much-needed bye-week R&R. They signed a new old wide receiver, bringing back Jordan Matthews for the third time to replace DeSean Jackson, who was put on injured reserve. On Monday, they also signed Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks to a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the Eagles until at least 2024.

The Eagles have a big game Sunday against the 8-1 Patriots, which will be followed by another big game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles really need to win at least one of these next two games to solidify their playoff chances heading into the December homestretch of the season.

Since 2001, the Eagles are 14-4 in games right after the bye. But so are the Patriots.

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A slow start won’t cut it against the Patriots

The Eagles are going to have to do a lot of things right Sunday to beat the Patriots. One of the most important will be getting off to a strong start defensively.

The Patriots have trailed at halftime in just one game this season. That was their 37-20 Week 9 loss to the Ravens. In their eight wins, they outscored their opponents in the first two quarters, 140-31.

They’ve failed to score on at least one of their first two possessions just once this season. That was in their loss to the Ravens.

The Eagles, meanwhile, gave up first-possession points in six of their first seven games and second-possession points in five of their first seven before finally getting their act together in back-to-back wins over the Bills and Bears.

In both games, they forced three-and-outs on their opponents’ first two possessions. They held the Bears scoreless in the first half of a 22-14 Week 9 win, and gave up just seven first-half points to the Bills in a 31-13 Week 8 win.

“It’s very important to start fast in any game, but especially against a team like them,’’ Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill said. “You don’t want to be playing catch-up against them. Just getting out in front puts teams in a bind and forces them to alter their game plan.’’

The Patriots are just 15th in total offense (366.8 yards per game), but second in scoring (30 points per game). Their defense is one of the best in the league.

With the retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski, 42-year-old Tom Brady is not having a particularly impressive statistical season — he’s 17th in passing (93.1), tied for 13th in touchdown passes (14), 19th in yards per attempt (7.1) and 17th in completion percentage (64.8).

He is relying heavily on slot receiver Julian Edelman, who leads the Patriots with 63 catches, and running back James White, who has 44 catches and is averaging 9.2 yards per catch.

Brady has been sacked just 15 times in 370 pass plays.

“If I wake up in a sweat at 4 in the morning, a lot of the time it’s [because he dreamed] Brandon Graham missed him in the Super Bowl on that last play,’’ Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of the crucial strip sack by Graham that helped the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl two years ago.

“Brady’s a tough competitor and gives them a chance to win every week. He doesn’t make many mistakes.’’

It’s hard to gauge the legitimacy of the Patriots’ 8-1 record. They’ve beaten just two teams with winning records — Pittsburgh (5-4) in Week 1 and Buffalo (6-3) in Week 4. Their other six wins have been over teams with a combined record of 12-43.

But this isn’t college football. A win over 1-8 Washington counts every bit as much as a win over 8-2 Green Bay.

“Gronk was one of the best players to ever do it,’’ Grugier-Hill said of the future Hall of Fame tight end. “But they’ve won Super Bowls without Gronk. They always find a way to win.

"It doesn’t really change what they do or who they are. Looking at the film, it’s the same old Patriots. The same guy throwing the football. Instead of Gronk, now he’s throwing Edelman. They let him go in the middle and do his thing. He’s the key guy [Brady] is looking for. We have to keep him under control.’’

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Monday was a very good day to be Brandon Brooks, reports EJ Smith and Jeff McLane.

  2. Marcus Hayes has some more on Brooks after he signed his big contract extension.

  3. Les Bowen reports on Jordan Matthews’ return to the Eagles and what he might be able to contribute to an underperforming wide receiver corps.

  4. EJ Smith examines defensive end Genard Avery’s role in the Eagles’ pass rush.

From the mailbag

With this weekend being a rematch of Super Bowl 52, do you think we might see another high-scoring shootout like that game was? Asking for a friend who is thinking about betting the over. — @dannmaal via Twitter

Dan, the over-under for Sunday’s game is 45½. I don’t think it’s going to be another shootout. The Patriots have a better defense than they did in Super Bowl LII, and the Eagles don’t have the same kind of explosive offense they had two years ago. If there are more than 45 points scored in this game, it will be because the Patriots ran away with it.

The Eagles are hoping for a game that looks something like their 22-14 win over the Bears, when they ran the ball effectively (146 yards on 35 carries) and controlled the clock for more than 40 minutes. Is that a realistic expectation against the 8-1 Patriots?

Hard to say. The Patriots defense has been outstanding against the pass, but is only 26th in opponent rush average (4.7 yards per carry) and 25th in opponent rush average on first down (also 4.7). Bottom line: the higher the score, the less chance the Eagles have of winning.