EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dealing with injuries to key players like Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks and Cedric Thornton, the Eagles needed every one to step up if they wanted to leave northern New Jersey with their first victory of the season.
As it turned out, two rookies answered the call on Sunday, as second-round pick Eric Rowe and third-round pick Jordan Hicks helped lead the way during a stout defensive effort, allowing the Eagles to come away with the 24-17 win.
Both players were all over the stat sheet, and perhaps most importantly, both players contributed in a big way to the Eagles' four forced turnovers. After entering the game, Rowe was targeted multiple times on deep balls to fellow rookie Devin Smith. Both times, Rowe was there to make the play, and on the second attempt he intercepted the ball in the end zone, his first career pick.
"I just used my technique like I do every day in practice," said Rowe. "I heard people on our sideline yelling 'Ball!' So I just looked to lean and squeeze. The next thing I knew, the ball was in my face so I just went up for it.
"I know Devin Smith is a speed guy, but he didn't give many moves off the line, so once I knew where he was going, I was kind of on top of him. I was able to get a hand on and I was playing like I expect the ball to come to him."
For Rowe, his first chance to shine came in the same building in which he had his struggles in the Eagles' preseason finale. Eager to erase the bad taste left in his mouth, Rowe had a standout game in his first extended appearance in the Eagles' secondary.
"After the preseason game, I knew I had a lot of work to do," Rowe explained. "Every day in practice, I only want to work on one thing. Even if I wasn't getting in the game, I wasn't taking it lightly. I just practiced like I was going to play in the game, and today was the day.
"It's a big boost of confidence, because I really hadn't gotten a chance. The minute coach called my number I was like, 'Alright man, this is it. It's finally my time to get out there and show them what I got.' Maybe they just thought I was a rookie and just tried to throw it up top, but it's a big confidence booster."
As for Hicks, not only did he lead the team with 10 total tackles, but he also recorded his first career interception and recovered a fumble. With two linebackers injured in front of him, Hicks played with the air of a veteran in his first career start, setting the defense and running the show from his inside linebacker position. It was no easy task for any rookie to pull off, but Hicks credits the veterans around him for making the transition much smoother.
"I felt really comfortable," Hicks said. "Having DeMeco (Ryans) next to you makes it that much easier. We've got a group of veterans out there who understand the game and who know what they're doing. The people around me are what makes it easy. I can prepare all I want, but if you're out there with guys who aren't that comfortable, it's going to be tough, so credit to them."
According to the Texas product, seeing his good friend Rowe stand out in the victory made his impressive day even sweeter.
"Me and (Rowe) are tight," Hicks said. "We're tight both on the field and off of the field. Obviously, you want to make plays and you want to prove yourself as a young rookie, especially in the first opportunity that you can play here. You just try to be playmakers. Whether you're a rookie or not, you're here for a reason. We believe that and we play hard."
When the duo of defenders were selected by the Eagles in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, the idea was to build depth. That depth was needed earlier in the season than many would have thought, but the two rookies proved that they can play at the NFL level.
"They played a lot of snaps at key positions," said veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins. "Jordan did a great job of coming in understanding the game plan, controlling traffic, making calls and getting guys lined up. Even when we got in a couple of sticky situations, he settled it with confidence and authority, then Eric Rowe came in there on the outside. They tested him deep with their go-to deep receiver. … He held up on all the deep balls, kept everything in front of him and came up with a big play.
"That's what makes you a great team, when everybody starts to make plays. You're not depending on one or two guys to get you out of a hole or win you a game. Everybody is contributing and I think that makes your team stronger because people can't game plan for you. … That allows us, defensively, to just do so much."
The next step for the dynamic duo? Continue to build.
"It's crazy," said Hicks with a laugh. "I had a lot of fun. It's a good way to start things off, and I'm just ready to keep going."
The Eagles traveled to New York to face the Jets in Week 3 of the regular season. View the full gallery here...