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Ticking down to game time

Bill Belichick appeared ready for Super Bowl XXXIX when he met with the media for the final time this week. It's a good bet his team is also ready for the Philadelphia Eagles.

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. -- It was his final words before Super Bowl XXXIX and Bill Belichick was on his game just as he hopes his team will be two days from now. He looked sharp, dapper even. Belichick lost the signature gray hooded sweatshirt with the cut off sleeves and donned a gray suit with a pink shirt and gleaming pink tie.

He was Mr. GQ-smooth and rather than facing tired questions about an alleged lack of personality, Belichick instead found himself faced with answering about his sense of humor.

He thanked Jacksonville and Bartram Trail High School, the Patriots practice site this week. He also joked about T.O. and the fact that he won't be playing on crutches, and his own sideline behavior, while paying homage to the men that helped him earn the Friday morning Super Bowl stage in Conference Room C of Jacksonville's Prime Osborn Convention Center.

"This team has been a hard working team," he said. "We've demanded a lot from them from the very beginning, from training camp, preseason games, the duration of the 16-game schedule. They've stood with a lot of adversity. They've hung together, played well in some different conditions and I'm proud to be a coach of this group of men. They've proved to be an outstanding team."

Nothing that happens Sunday will change that. Granted, nobody associated with the Patriots organization will be satisfied with anything but a win Sunday, especially after sipping the championship champagne twice in three seasons, but the results of one game, while huge in every sense, would not change the fact that the 2004 Patriots have "proved to be an outstanding team."

Of course, losing is not something the Patriots can allow themselves to think about. Most of this group hasn't been on the sideline for a Super Bowl loss -- the one that gets roped off as if the players have the plague while the winners party into Monday starting with an on-field celebration and trophy presentation.

Winning this championship is all they can think about. They are not talking about a dynasty. They are not talking about three titles in four years. They are not discussing their status as the favorite or any respect factors. They are talking about Sunday. They are talking about the Philadelphia Eagles.

"The team that is best prepared and can execute on Sunday, that's what it comes down to," Belichick said Friday for about the 20th time this week. "It doesn't matter what anybody thinks is going to happen before the game. It's going to depend on what happens on the field Sunday night."

After nearly two full weeks, the teams have done everything they can to maximize Sunday's performance. It would be presumptuous to assume the Patriots are better prepared for Super Bowl XXXIX, but it's safe to assume they are well prepared. They are always well prepared. This we know. Of this we can be confident.

Make no mistake, the Patriots are ready to play the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night. They are ready to put a season's worth of work on the line for the chance to dance with Lombardi again and to kiss his Tiffany-made sparkling silver football.

We know this because we know this team after 18 games. We know that Belichick would not shower praise upon a team that didn't work to prepare every week and even more so in the postseason when the intensity climbs upward with each win until climaxing at the Super Bowl kickoff.

So while the plan is in, and the players are ready to perform, their Sunday execution is all that's left. That is the unknown. How will they handle Donovan McNabb's unique skills? How will they deal with T.O.? How will they handle executing their offense under the pressure the Eagles apply? Will they do it as they practiced it?

There is no reason to think otherwise. They've performed so consistently over the last two years. There is no reason to think they will suffer one of their rare slip-ups this week.

They are also well coached. Not just leading up to the game, but on game day when the pressure is highest and decisions need to be made. That's when Belichick's calm and even-keeled demeanor take over and serve him well.

"I think that as a coach, a big part of my job is decision making throughout the course of the game," Belichick said. "I make better decisions when I try to stay even-keeled and try to think about the next situation rather than jumping up and down about a play that's already over, good or bad, although sometimes that does happen and you get caught up in it. But I focus on what's coming ahead.

"My job is to be in position to do what I need to do and make the decisions I need to make because that's what people are counting on me for. The worst thing is for them to be waiting for me to make a decision, and me not making it because I'm out doing cartwheels because we just made a first down."

He hopes to be doing cartwheels for another reason on Sunday. He hopes he can stand in front of his men and congratulate them for another championship while he passes Vince Lombardi as the winningest postseason coach in history. He hopes his team is more prepared and executes better on Sunday.

And maybe he's hoping for the cover of GQ. Maybe that's why he walked to the podium decked out in pink on pink Friday. Or maybe Ty Law used his free time to shop for Belichick. Maybe if he wins another championship, he'll have the pink suit to top it off.

It's almost game time. It can't get here fast enough. Belichick is ready. The Patriots are ready. Game on.

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