The smallest player on the field made perhaps the biggest impact for the Eagles during Sunday's 34-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2014 season opener. Running back Darren Sproles, acquired via trade from the New Orleans Saints in the offseason, sparked the Eagles' comeback from a 17-0 halftime deficit on the first possession of the third quarter.
Facing a third-and-9 from the Eagles' own 43-yard-line, Nick Foles tossed a short pass to Sproles, who sprinted upfield for a gain of eight yards. Prepared for the possibility of a potential fourth-down conversion, the Eagles raced to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball to Foles, who handed off to Sproles, who broke through the line of scrimmage to see a Jaguars secondary with no remaining souls. Sproles sprinted 49 yards for one of the easiest touchdowns of his career and the longest run of nine NFL seasons.
"We got into a tight situation down 17-0," head coach Chip Kelly explained. "Felt like we had to go for it on fourth down. You know, you don't think you're going to get a touchdown out of that. You hope you convert, and keep the chains moving. We're trying to get some momentum to jump back on our side. The thing I've said since the first chance we had and set our eyes on (Sproles), is that he's a really good runner. I think people always looked at him as a receiver. But we've looked at him as everything. He can catch the ball and certainly run. He's got a really good feel for what we're doing from a blocking scheme standpoint, and that was a huge jump start for us on that play."
The touchdown sparked the scoring for the Eagles, who would follow suit with 27 more points en route to the 17-point victory.
"He uplifted everyone," cornerback Cary Williams said. "It was great to see an investment come back with a great return. I talked to him after the game and he is a great guy to have on our side. He is a great weapon and a great asset to us and we are going to have a great year."
On the afternoon, Sproles had 11 carries for 71 yards along with four catches for 14 yards. He also contributed on special teams, where his 22-yard punt return helped set up the Eagles' second touchdown.
"I didn't know he had that much fight in him," said fellow running back LeSean McCoy. "Every time that I saw him (in the past), it was for a play here or a play there, a punt return, a couple routes, maybe a run or two. But playing with him from camp on, he has so much more fight to him. His role is bigger here. By committee we are going to do it together. He looked real good. He gives me that extra push that I like. I know that if I come out or it's his package, he can still make big plays. He is elusive and he's very tough."
The touchdown run was also a result of the Eagles' up-tempo offense catching the Jaguars defense unprepared.
"It absolutely caught them off guard," said center Jason Kelce. "They didn't have a safety back there. Once we broke through the hole, it was smooth sailing."
"I think our guys prepared for it," said Kelly. "We train that way. So felt like at that point in time in the game, we needed to generate something, and I was confident we could hit it. I thought Darren did a great job. We did a real good job of getting the front set, and getting it pointed up and ready to go. I don't think (the Jaguars) were exactly dug in and ready to play for it. But that's one of the byproducts we do offensively that sometimes you can get one of those things."
For his part, Sproles was happy to help jumpstart the Eagles' comeback efforts.
"We started slow," Sproles said, "but I think that that was the turning point. That got us going."
The 31-year-old also admitted that he was happy to prove that there's still plenty of juice left in his tank, small as it may be.
"It's been a while since I have had that many carries. I liked it a lot," Sproles said. "People ask if I still have it, being (31-years old). I wanted to come out and prove I still have it."
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