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Teams arrive in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The New England Patriots are too
well-versed in this Super Bowl stuff and far too classy to get
involved in a war of words a full week before the big game.

Well, maybe not.

The Patriots are angry about comments last week from
Philadelphia receiver Freddie Mitchell. The defending champions
made it clear Sunday when they arrived in Jacksonville that they
aren't about to ignore Mitchell dissing their secondary,
particularly star safety Rodney Harrison.

"When he says something like that," linebacker-lineman Willie
McGinest said of Mitchell, "he's disrespecting our whole defense.
Not only Rodney, but me and Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and all
the rest of us."

That Mitchell has been an underachieving backup for Terrell
Owens hasn't escaped New England's notice. Owens, sidelined since
Game 14 with torn ankle ligaments, still hasn't practiced but has
been running and no longer has a limp.

Considering how the Patriots might be gunning for Mitchell next
Sunday, maybe the Eagles need Owens more than ever.

But even if the All-Pro receiver returns -- coach Andy Reid said
he will be evaluated daily -- he isn't likely to be a focal point of
Philadelphia's offense. And he probably won't get nearly the
attention from the Patriots during their media sessions as Mitchell
will receive.

Or already has received.

"Maybe he was drinking before he started talking," Harrison
said, "because that was clearly a mistake. No one in this league
would attack somebody a week before the Super Bowl.

"I'm not really surprised because you're always going to find
one jerk out of the bunch, just like (Mike) Vanderjagt," added
Harrison, who also verbally feuded with the Indianapolis kicker
during the playoffs. "You're always going to find one guy like
that who wants some attention and wants to do something to try and
stir up the emotions of the game.

"I don't need any extra motivation; I need something to calm me
down."

Asked if he would speak directly to Mitchell, Harrison responded
sarcastically: "What would I say? I don't have much to say. It's
Freddie Mitchell."

It's also very early in Super Bowl week to be running at the mouth.
For the veteran Patriots to dive headfirst into such a fray is
almost astonishing.

Many of the Eagles recognize that. Even though this is the
team's first trip to the Super Bowl in 24 years, they came across
Sunday as the more experienced, resolute bunch.

"They were meaningless comments," Donovan McNabb said.
"Freddie didn't mean anything by them. It's sad that people have
to blow them up to make them into a story.

"Freddie apologized. If someone needs those comments to get up
for a game like this, they don't need to be here. This is the Super
Bowl, this is the ultimate."

The ultimate what? Both teams' first day in northern Florida
sounded like a buildup to a steel cage grudge match, not to the
most popular sporting event in America.

Maybe Mitchell, who was unavailable to the media on Sunday, will
take this WWE rank-out session further when he does speak.

Mitchell could be a key figure during the game itself, when
everyone hopefully will be paying attention to the actual play, not
the wordy by-play. Even with its banged-up secondary, New England
has shut down opponents, and if T.O. is MIA, Mitchell must produce
to give Philadelphia a decent chance for its first NFL crown since
1960.

The Eagles acquired Owens to get them over the hump of three
straight NFC title game losses. While they scaled that mountain,
they did so without the injured Owens, whose main role was as a
cheerleader.

While team doctors have not cleared Owens to be on the field
next Sunday, he's making every effort to play. Reid and his staff
have been close-mouthed -- isn't that refreshing? -- about Owens'
potential availability.

New England has its own health issues, with both starting
cornerbacks out, as they have been for months, and All-Pro defensive tackle Richard Seymour's status uncertain with a knee injury.

But the Patriots have treated those absences as a non-issue -- at
least until Mitchell insulted them.

"We have a pieced-together secondary," said Troy Brown, the
receiver-kick returner turned cornerback. "It's patchwork, but so
what? It's a team sport. It doesn't matter if you know our name or
not."