Darren Sproles isn’t making too much of his return to New Orleans. This is a playoff game, after all, not any sort of a homecoming.
With reporters and cameras surrounding his locker on Friday hoping to hear about the emotions that come with playing his former team in an intense environment, Sproles was all business.
“Just ready to get there,” Sproles said. “It'll be fine. We're going to be fine. Me personally, I'm just happy to be back out there.”
It’s been nearly five years since Sproles was traded from New Orleans to Philadelphia for just a fifth-round draft pick. Eagles fans vividly remember his penultimate game as a Saint when he took a late kick return deep and put the Saints in position to knock the Eagles out of the Wild Card Round with a field goal as time expired.
He’s faced his former team just once since then in a 2015 game at Lincoln Financial Field. He was injured for the Eagles’ game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 11. With the season on the line, this will be his first game back in New Orleans as a member of a different team.
Sproles downplayed the excitement of returning to the place where he spent three seasons. He’s focused on getting a win and is thankful to be back on the field after sitting on the sideline during the 48-7 beatdown. He missed 10 games with a hamstring injury suffered in practice before Week 2.
And the Eagles are happy he’s back too. In his six games since returning from injury, Sproles has added 131 yards on the ground and 152 yards receiving with three total touchdowns. He had a touchdown run in his first game back against Washington on December 3 and got the Eagles on the board with a crucial 37-yard touchdown reception on a fourth down against the Texans in Week 16.
Sproles admitted Thursday that he wasn’t sure at some points in his recovery if he would be in position to suit up in a playoff run.
“Yeah, you know, it comes across your mind but I'm back now though, so you've got to stay positive,” Sproles said. “For me, I'm really just happy just to be back with my brothers. These last couple weeks though have been pretty fun.”
Sproles has only played in one conference championship, the 2007 AFC title game against the Patriots as a member of the San Diego Chargers, and has never played in a Super Bowl as he was out last season for the entire playoff run with a torn ACL.
In order to get to get to the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles will have to slow down an old friend of Sproles’ in former teammate Drew Brees. The quarterback is an MVP candidate this season with 3,992 passing yards and a league-leading completion percentage of 74.4 percent and quarterback rating of 115.7. He set the NFL record for career passing yards earlier this season in the Week 5 win over Washington.
“We're real close. We work out together in the summertime. In the offseason, we're just around each other. When I was down there, we got close,” Sproles said. "The way he works, he's just a smart player. He watches a lot of film so whatever you show him, he already knows what's coming.”
The talent of the Saints’ defense flies under the radar next to a prolific offense. The Saints rank second in the NFL in stopping the run and give up an average of just 80.2 yards per game on the ground. In the Eagles’ Week 11 loss, they were held to 60 total rushing yards.
Sproles picked up just 21 rushing yards against a tough Bears defense last Sunday. The Eagles’ three backs had a total of 43 yards combined. Sunday may be another tough game where it will be a dogfight to gain an inch.
But Sproles is focused on winning in what he said in July would be his final NFL season. Expect him to be ready to roll on Sunday in the Superdome.
“Their defense is fast, physical, they make a lot of plays,” Sproles said. “We will go watch the film and stuff of last week. The thing is last week, they were real stout in the middle. So, with our runs, we can't be too fast with our cuts. We have to be patient. We're going to see.”
Take a look at the best photos from the Eagles Headquarters pep rally at the Comcast Center in Center City Philadelphia.