The old man still has it
Sproles, 36, contributes 109 all-purpose yards in victory
MPHILADELPHIA — aking something out of nothing is one of the many abilities that makes Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles so special. That magic was generated once again on Sunday by the ancient Sproles, playing in his 190th career game at age 36.
But of the nine runs, three pass receptions and four punt returns he had to generate 109 yards in the Eagles’ 32-27 victory over the Washington Redskins, what might have stood out most was a play that didn’t count on the stat sheet but was critical in allowing his team to breathe easier at the end.
Sproles was charged with trying to get into the end zone for a 2-point conversion following their final touchdown. The problem was that he was at the 5-yard line trying to turn the corner around the left side, with two unblocked defenders between him and the goal line.
Sproles cut back against the grain, absorbed contact just short of the goal line but somehow found a way for his 5-foot-6 body to squirm his way in for a 29-20 lead following the first play of the fourth quarter — a back pass that Alshon Jeffery turned into a touchdown with a similar second-effort move at the goal line.
Once again, Sproles had made something of nothing, just like he did probably a half-dozen other times in this game with his running (nine carries, 47 yards), receiving (three catches, 16 yards) and returning (four punts, 46 yards).
“I was just going out there trying to make plays for my team,” Sproles said.
His eyes lit up while talking about the 2-pointer, though.
“I kind of knew when I got it that if there was a safety outside [which there was] that I wasn’t going to make it to the pylon,” he said. “So I knew I had to cut it back. I had to get the D-lineman really running, really sprinting [sideways], and I knew he couldn’t stop. So that’s what I tried to do.”
Sproles’ improvisational skills have helped make his bosses look like better decision-makers over the years — 14 of them and counting — than they might actually be.
And it’s why coach Doug Pederson welcomed him back at his advanced age without hesitation this year, despite Sproles being limited by injury to just nine of 32 regular-season and two of five postseason games over the previous two seasons.
The way it worked out on this day was Sproles getting nine carries, Jordan Howard six and rookie Miles Sanders 11. But that can and will change from week to week based on opponents and what plays work best against them.
“As you know, when we construct games, we have multiple run schemes and they are designed for different guys,” Pederson said. “The ones that were kind of clicking today were the Darren ones, and so just kept calling his number there. Those other two guys I thought ran well also.
“Unfortunate we get the late holding call late in the game there on that one [wiping out a 21-yard TD run by Sanders], but Miles is explosive, as you know. Jordan ran extremely hard. So excited for all three of those guys.”
Still, it has to be most comforting for the Eagles to know that if they want to use Sproles as a workhorse every now and then, he’s as able as he is willing, and that he doesn’t care how many touches he gets.
“The way we roll is … we all get our touches,” Sproles said.
That Sproles is not being phased out of this offense says a lot about how much the coaches believe in him. He wasn’t brought back just to chase the five players (all retired) ahead of him on the NFL’s all-time, all-purpose yards list and have a better chance of landing in the Hall of Fame.
For the record, Sproles is up to 19,629 and on pace to pass Tim Brown (19,682) as early as next week. Once he does, the only ones ahead of him will be Jerry Rice, Brian Mitchell, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith.
That’s some big-time company.
But what he wants more than anything is to play in a Super Bowl. He was robbed of that chance by a devastating knee injury in the 2017 season. The Eagles won it all anyway.
They still believe their best chance to do it again is with him playing offense as well as special teams.
And that says it all.
Darren Sproles of the Eagles celebrates with Lane Johnson after scoring a twopoint conversion during the second half against the Redskins on Sunday.