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NFC Championship: Panthers At Eagles, Sun., 6:45 P.M. (WRAZ FOX 50)

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PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Somehow, with a 13-4 record and on the verge of their third straight NFC championship game, the Philadelphia Eagles have convinced themselves they are not getting enough respect.

Yep, the team with the NFL's best record this decade feels underappreciated. Disrespected. Dissed.

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Sounds like a defensive mechanism, or a means of motivation for Sunday's meeting with the surprising Panthers (13-5). Regardless, the Eagles don't feel they receive due credit, particularly from their opponent.

"I think it started first off from the head coach," cornerback Bobby Taylor said of Panthers coach John Fox, "when he said Green Bay is going to beat us, and they are going to be hosting the NFC championship. He was wrong about that."

Actually, Taylor is a little off on his facts, but no matter.

Fox said after the Panthers' 29-23 double-overtime victory at St. Louis that a Packers win against the Eagles would benefit Carolina by allowing it to stay home for the conference title game.

"There have been some other things that have been said," added Taylor. "I don't necessarily want to bring it up right now, but we know all about that. We don't need that as far as fuel to our fire because I, me personally, I already had a certain anger as far as the way I wanted to try to approach whoever we play.

"But coming from the head coach, and then particular players saying different things -- if that can't get you ready to play, you don't need to be there Sunday."

Fox claims ignorance about any predictions and senses there are some outside forces at work.

"I'm not sure where that quote came from," he said. "My team is aware that it could be somewhat fabricated. I don't know if their team is aware of that.

"Our approach is it's just words, and it will be answered Sunday."

Answered with action, not verbiage. Still, it is odd that the more-experienced Eagles, who already beat Carolina this season in Charlotte and are favored to reach their first Super Bowl since the 1980 season, are annoyed, even angered, by what might have been said by the other side.

At this time of year, aren't there enough distractions for a playoff team, particularly one that got this far in 2002 and '03, only to lose?

Isn't there enough hype in Philadelphia, a city desperate for a championship in any sport -- the last came from 76ers in the 1982-83 season?

Plus, after Rush Limbaugh's comments about Donovan McNabb and the way the star quarterback responded with class on and off the field, taking the Eagles on a nine-game winning streak, the team often has been venerated, not dismissed.

At least McNabb seems to be dismissing the issue.

"There are players who are still upset about the comment," McNabb admitted. "I can't let that bother me. I have a game to play, and a dream to fulfill."

As do the Panthers. Despite having an inferior record to the Eagles this season and being in only the second year of Fox's rebuilding job, they aren't claiming to be unappreciated.

Instead, they sense they can do something singular. Safety Mike Minter points to the 2002 finale as proof.

"We went down to New Orleans, and New Orleans had to win the football game to go to the playoffs," he said. "We went down there, and we took them out.

"Them needing to win, we got that playoff atmosphere that week, and so I knew at that point this team is very special, and we were going to do something special the following season."

Which would be now. Nothing could be more special than a Super Bowl.

Getting there means beating the Eagles. The disrespected Eagles.

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