Ea­gles well aware what Saints can do

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - SPORTS SUNDAY - Com­bined Wire Reports 4:40 p.m. Sun­day, FOX

NEW OR­LEANS — Sean Pay­ton dis­misses the premise that the Ea­gles could de­rive ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion from the wide­spread per­cep­tion that the Saints ran up the score on them when they met in Novem­ber.

“My ques­tion would be: We're all playing hard in these di­vi­sional play­off games, right?” the Saints coach be­gan, re­fer­ring to today's re­match in the di­vi­sional round of the NFC play­offs.

“Are you go­ing to play harder” be­cause of a per­ceived slight?

Still, Pay­ton ex­pects a more com­pet­i­tive af­fair than the Saints' 48-7 blowout Nov. 18, which gave the Ea­gles the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­com­ing the first reign­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pion to lose by that wide a mar­gin in the fol­low­ing reg­u­lar sea­son.

The Ea­gles (10-7) ap­peared to be sink­ing fast when their loss in New Or­leans dropped them to 4-6.

But they've ral­lied to win six of seven since, in­clud­ing a road vic­tory against the Rams that helped the Saints (13-3) cap­ture the con­fer­ence's top seed.

“They've kind of been in a play­off role re­ally go­ing back to those games, need­ing to win to get in,” Pay­ton noted.

“So it's im­pres­sive.”

Now the Ea­gles, who opened as 10-point un­der­dogs this week, can ruin the Saints' Su­per Bowl dreams with a second straight road upset.

“We're look­ing for­ward to it,” Ea­gles tight end Zach Ertz said.

“We're a com­pletely dif­fer­ent team than we were seven weeks ago.

“I don't think the team that showed up on that Sun­day is even re­motely close to the team that we are right now.”

Such a lop­sided loss in New Or­leans could have re­sulted in fin­ger-point­ing and a frac­tured locker room, Ertz sug­gested.

In­stead, Ertz said, “It was ral­ly­ing point for our sea­son.”

The Ea­gles sur­vived last week's wild-card round with a 16-15 vic­tory in which quar­ter­back Nick Foles — who's won four straight starts since tak­ing over for in­jured starter Car­son Wentz — en­gi­neered a late scor­ing drive capped by a fourth-down touch­down pass.

And that only stood up after Bears kicker Cody Parkey's “dou­ble-doink” miss on a field­goal at­tempt that hit both the up­right and cross­bar in the fi­nal sec­onds.

The Ea­gles likely will need more of­fense in the Su­per­dome, where the Saints aver­aged 37 points in Drew Brees' seven home starts be­fore the record­set­ting QB got a rest day dur­ing the club's anti-cli­mac­tic reg­u­larsea­son fi­nale.

“I as­sume they'll come in as mo­ti­vated as ever. Just like we're go­ing to come in as mo­ti­vated as ever,” Brees said.

“Just two re­ally good teams about to play in a play­off game.”

For­tu­nately for the Ea­gles, they ap­pear to be health­ier than the last time they played in New Or­leans.

Mal­colm Jenk­ins doesn't even re­mem­ber all the names of the guys he was with, and the whole thing feels like a blur.

All he re­ally re­calls was “kind of hec­tic.”

But the Ea­gles safety's fog­gi­ness did not stem from any hur­ri­canes on Bour­bon Street; it came from playing the Week 11 loss dur­ing the Saints' high­pow­ered of­fense scored on each of its first three pos­ses­sions and scored 17 points in the game's first 18 min­utes.

Like a game-show con­tes­tant, Jenk­ins was asked to try to is that a it SAM FARMER’S NFC PICK Ea­gles at Saints The Ea­gles have de­fied logic be­fore, so an upset is pos­si­ble. But the Saints are trend­ing up de­fen­sively, they should be able to run the ball, and the Su­per­dome is a re­ally tough place to play.

Saints 30, Ea­gles 24.

re­count to re­porters all of the trou­ble that be­fell the Ea­gles' se­condary in that game.

He got most of the an­swers right.

Cre'Von LeBlanc, claimed off waivers from the Lions just two weeks ear­lier, was playing for them, he said.

De­fen­sive backs Sid­ney Jones, Avonte Mad­dox and Ra­sul Dou­glas were in­jured in the game.

De'Vante Bausby, who had been on the prac­tice squad, was pro­moted for the game and saw sig­nif­i­cant playing time.

Said Jenk­ins, “I can't even re­mem­ber who the other was.”

It was Chan­don Sul­li­van, who like Bausby did not fin­ish the sea­son on the ac­tive ros­ter.

Both were waived. Sul­li­van re­mains on the Ea­gles' prac­tice squad.

Jenk­ins, there.

He's played ev­ery snap of ev­ery game this sea­son and has been the one source of sta­bil­ity in a se­condary that has been rav­aged through­out the year.

“That's the gen­eral of our room,” Dou­glas said.

“That's our leader. The guy who we look to when things are go­ing wrong in the game.

“He's been in­valu­able to all of us. He knows the game so well be­cause of the years he's been in the league. Him and Corey Gra­ham know so much about the game. They've seen a lot and they help us.”

The de­fense has set­tled down of late, but the Saints still rep­re­sent a daunt­ing chal­lenge.

The les­son from Novem­ber is to not let the game get out of hand early.

That's es­pe­cially im­por­tant given how slug­gish the Ea­gles have been all year on of­fense.

They scored only 41 firstquar­ter points in 2018, the fewest in the NFL.

In their last five games, in­clud­ing last week's 16-15 wild­card win, the de­fense gave up only 16 points on their op­po­nents' first three pos­ses­sions.

“Our de­fense has been playing lights-out,” cen­ter Ja­son Kelce said.

“They've cor­rected what­ever needed cor­rect­ing in the back end and it seems to have run its way through­out the whole de­fense.

“They're right now.”

The scars from the last game re­main, though.

How could they not?

But they also rep­re­sent les­sons that the Ea­gles hope they can use to al­ter the out­come this time around.

“That was just one of those games where you just try to con­tinue to fight,” Jenk­ins said.

“Now guys are health­ier. They've got a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We've done a bet­ter job, I think, of preparing them and cre­at­ing a plan for them, and putting them in po­si­tion to suc­ceed.

I think we learned a lot from all of the in­juries that we've had. Guys have got­ten great ex­pe­ri­ence and we've learned how to play bet­ter as a team, as a de­fense.

“And we're bet­ter for it.” of course, playing was re­ally out well Saints

BILL FEIG/AP

Saints run­ning back Alvin Ka­mara, who had 81 catches this sea­son, pulls in a pass against the Ea­gles in their reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ing.

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