The conspiracy-minded can add biological warfare to the list of things to blame on the New England Patriots, as several starters on the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl LII squad have come down with illnesses just days before the big game.
Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and cornerback Ronald Darby missed media availability Thursday, and it seems Jernigan has been particularly floored by whatever it is that’s going around, because he missed practice Wednesday and was held out of drills last Friday as well.
Running back Kenjon Barner has missed time, and even head coach Doug Pederson got flattened by the bug.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks summed up the team’s situation, saying, “I’m getting over it right now. It’s like a cold, dude. I don’t know. The whole team has it, though. I don’t think it had anything to do with us being out here. I think it started sometime last week. Something we’ve got to get through. We’ll be fine. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Kendricks did go on to say that not everyone on the team is sick. That’s small comfort for a team that’s already an underdog against a Patriots team that has lost only one game since getting off to a shaky 2-2 start to begin the regular season, not radically dissimilar to New England’s second title team in 2003, which had a similar rough start and then ran the table en route to a win over Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
On the bright side for Philly, they have a clean bill of health from an injury if not illness standpoint; except for the under-the-weather Jernigan, the entire team was able to practice Wednesday. They may be outgunned in terms of talent, but they’re not outmanned in terms of health.
The Patriots, meanwhile, had Rob Gronkowski (concussion) on the practice field, and Thursday afternoon he was medically cleared to play in the Super Bowl. Defensive linemen Deatrich Wise (concussion) and Malcom Brown (foot) were not on the practice field.
That’s not to say all the Eagles are the kind of healthy you see on the first day of training camp; RB Jay Ajayi (ankle), DT Fletcher Cox (calf) and LB Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) are all battling minor injuries while still being able to practice.
Malcolm Butler, no stranger to Super Bowl glory with the Patriots (and infamous in Seattle because of it) was also sick this week but showed no sign of illness at Wednesday’s practice session.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick stayed focused on the game rather than the injury report.
“We’re getting there,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Every year is a little bit different because we’re a little bit different and the team we play is a little bit different. But I think we’re doing the best we can.”
The Patriots and Eagles have met in the Super Bowl before; New England won Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 24-21 after quarterback Donovan McNabb and coach Andy Reid ran the infamous “Six-Minute Drill,” inexplicably using four minutes of clock with six to go and down 10 points.
They scored a touchdown, but by the time they got the ball back, they had 46 seconds and no timeouts, and they were stuck on their own 4-yard line; three plays later, Rodney Harrison secured the game-winning interception and that was it.
Philly fans are hoping for better this time around, with Reid and his clock-management “skills” gone. Pederson has the unenviable task of trying to play football’s ultimate strategic battle with Belichick, a guy who’s done it seven times before as a head coach in New England and twice more as an assistant under Bill Parcells with the Giants, a guy with a total of seven Super Bowl rings on his hands in those nine championship appearances.
They just have to beat a microbial enemy first.
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