- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Thanks to his seniority, hard-hitting play and vocal personality, ninth-year free safety Brian Dawkins is the ringleader of the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense.

Even though the unit had a league-high four players voted to the Pro Bowl and was part of the NFC’s best team, Dawkins prodded his mates on defense into seeing themselves as the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFC Championship game. That “we don’t get no respect” attitude helped fuel the defensive passion critical to the 27-10 thumping of Atlanta that put Philadelphia in the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 years.

“For some reason we don’t get respect here,” four-time Pro Bowl pick Dawkins lamented afterward. “For some reason, we’re still a bend-but-don’t-break defense and that hasn’t been the case since the Pittsburgh game [a 27-3 defeat on Nov. 7 that was the Eagles’ only blemish except for the final two regular-season games in which many starters rested]. We stopped the run. We stopped the pass. We kept people out of the end zone. But yet we still get looked down upon.”

Emotional middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, the seven-year veteran whose re-insertion into the lineup at midseason propelled the run defense’s turnaround, became a devout Dawkins disciple.

“[The Falcons] talked all week about [how] they are going to run the ball and how they were the No.1 rushing team in the league,” said Trotter, who’s heading to Hawaii for the third time next month. “We said they weren’t going to go into [Lincoln Financial Field] and run on us. We know the kind of defense we have. [Elusive Falcons Pro Bowl quarterback Michael] Vick said that he was going to run it right at me and I really took that personally.”

Of course, Vick hadn’t said that, but after his offense had been held to 202 total yards (120 below its average) and just 99 on the ground (77 below its average), he didn’t have any answers.

“They didn’t do anything different,” Vick said. “They did a great job [of containing me] and they didn’t allow our receivers to get off blocks and get downfield. They were able to stop our run and drop back and wait for us to throw the football. This was definitely the game to the game. They just played a complete game. I’ve got to take my hat off to them.”

While Vick didn’t lose his helmet — as Pro Bowl tight end Alge Crumpler did after being crumpled by Dawkins — he was hit hard and hit often. End Derrick Burgess, who had been hurt for the championship game losses at home in 2002 and 2003, sacked Vick twice. End Jevon Kearse, signed from Tennessee in March to rev up the pass rush, got to him once; so did tackle Hollis Thomas, who missed all of Philadelphia’s previous three straight title game defeats with injuries. And Kearse, Dawkins and Thomas each delivered crunching blows to the quarterback before the game was 20 minutes old.

“Vick’s a great running quarterback, but when you take those type of shots you’re going to think twice before you take off,” Trotter said of Vick, who didn’t have any of his four carries after the first quarter. “Our primary goal was to stop the run because we knew if we [did], we make their team one-dimensional. We wanted to make Vick beat us with his arm. The front four kept Vick on the run and when he did take off, guys came up and tattooed him.”

Falcons coach Jim Mora, an ex-defensive coordinator, was impressed with the Eagles’ defense.

“They played aggressive, they played with poise, they played with passion, they played together, they swarmed,” Mora raved.

Next up, Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb.6 in Jacksonville against defending champion New England and quarterback Tom Brady, who’s 8-0 in playoff games. Dawkins said his defense is ready for the challenge.

“We’re hitting people, we’re covering people, we’re doing everything as a defense you’re supposed to do,” he said.

Except getting respect. At least the way the Eagles see it.

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