With just more than two minutes left in the first half of the Eagles' 18-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night, the Falcons were deep in Eagles' territory and looking to add to their 6-3 lead.
On third-and-8, linebacker Jordan Hicks came flying up the middle, barreled over running back Devonta Freeman, and brought quarterback Matt Ryan to the turf for the team's first sack of the year. In his first regular-season game back since his injury in Week 7 last year, Eagles fans knew their Simba was back.
A similar moment occurred when running back Darren Sproles, in his first game back from injury since Week 3 of last year, caught a ball in the flat on a third-and-8, was hit just shy of the first-down marker, and fought through two tackles to gain a pivotal first down. It continued a drive that would give the Eagles' their winning score.
Add to that the unshakable play of All-Pro tackle Jason Peters, also back for his first game since Week 7 of 2017, and it was clear that these three game-changing players, whose injuries were a part of a group that defined last year's resiliency, were back and ready to play.
"Oh, it's been in my mind for a long time," Hicks said. "It's special to be back on this field ... When you're out, you feel like you take it for granted and I felt like making plays on third down, making sacks, interceptions, and just regular first-and-10 tackles – you take those things for granted. The ability to get back out here and have fun and celebrate and really have passion no matter the situation, no matter the play, it feels good."
Hicks led the defense with seven tackles, five of them solo, and added two quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, one pass deflection, and a tackle for loss. He played every single snap on defense. After the first quarter, he said he truly felt like he was back.
"You're so excited to get back out there and you go out and your adrenaline's running and those first two, three series are just nuts," Hicks said. "You're trying to catch your wind and then you just settle down and settle back into the game and it just gets back to being normal and everything slows down. It was a lot of fun."
Sproles told reporters during the week leading up to the game that he was going to have to calm himself down early in the game to keep from getting too excited. Despite only gaining 2 yards, Sproles' first carry of the game, and the subsequent announcement of his name, drew tremendous applause from the crowd that knew the long road Sproles took since tearing his ACL and breaking his arm in last year's home-opener against the New York Giants.
"It felt great," Sproles said. "In warmups, the stadium was already packed so it felt great ... Probably in the second quarter and leading into the second half (I felt settled in)."
Sproles finished with 10 yards on five carries, but he added four receptions for 22 yards including his crucial conversion that reminded Eagles fans of the Mighty Mouse's toughness and ability.
"When I caught it and got that hit, I was like 'I'm not down,'" Sproles said. "So I turned and got squared and started fighting for the yards … It just felt great to get back out there. It felt like in the first half, I was trying to force some stuff but then, when the second half came, I was more calmed down. I could just play."
Peters was dialed in during the week, choosing to focus on the game instead of talking to the media about his return. When asked about it, Peters simply said, "I'm locked in."
His attitude proved to be effective as he shut down the Falcons' defensive ends all night, even playing some snaps on the right side of the line. Peters did have to leave early with what Pederson said was just "fatigue" in his first full game in about than 10 months, but he suffered no further injuries.
"Really good. He obviously prepared himself for that day and for opening day and did some really nice things," Pederson told reporters on Friday. "It was hot and it was humid out there, and for him to battle like he did, he did some – he was quick off the ball. He was right on track there. Pass protection was good. Run game was good. You know, and it was good to get him back out there and get him going with the offense again and get him in the mix."