It was over in the blink of an eye. Well, OK, maybe not the blink of an eye.
But pretty quick.
The Saints scored once, twice, three times on their first three possessions against the Eagles in Week 11 and never looked back on the way to the most lopsided beating ever given to a reigning Super Bowl champion.
Those three scoring drives started with a 38-yard run by Mark Ingram and ended with a 14-yard run by Ingram. In between, Drew Brees, taking advantage of the Eagles’ injury-ravaged secondary, completed 11 of 16 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
The Saints averaged 7.8 yards per play on those three drives, 7.7 on first down.
The Eagles offense didn’t help matters, going three-and-out on their first two possessions, followed by a Carson Wentz interception on the second play of their third possession.
Needless to say, the Eagles can’t afford a repeat of that Sunday in their Superdome rematch with the Saints in the divisional playoffs.
While they’re not going to completely shut down Brees and the Saints offense, they need to be stingy early and give Nick Foles and the offense an opportunity to get into a rhythm and implement Doug Pederson’s game plan.
“There’s no question being able to call any play on the play sheet, not being down points and feeling like you have to score quick or even-up the game, that all goes into how well you can function offensively," center Jason Kelce said.
“Our defense has been playing lights-out. They’ve corrected whatever needed correcting in the back end and it seems to have run its way throughout the whole defense. They’re playing really well right now."
The Eagles have been notoriously slow starters on offense this season. After finishing second in the league in first-quarter scoring last season, they were dead last this year, scoring just 41 first-quarter points in 16 games.
With the exception of the Saints game and the Giants game a week later, when they also gave up three scores on the Giants’ first three possessions before stopping the bleeding and pulling out a 25-22 win, the defense actually has done a good job of limiting points early. The Eagles gave up just 61 first-quarter points, which was the fifth fewest in the league.
In their last five games, including last week’s 16-15 wild-card win over the Bears, the defense gave up just 16 points on their opponents’ first three possessions. Even in their 29-23 Week 14 overtime loss in Dallas, they held the Cowboys to three points on their first three possessions.
“It was kind of hectic [against the Saints]," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “[Cornerback] Cre’Von [LeBlanc] had just gotten there." He was claimed off waivers from the Lions two weeks earlier.
“We had Sidney [Jones, another corner] go down in the game. Rasul ([ouglas, another corner] might’s gone down in the game. ([ornerback] Avonte [Maddox] went down. We had De’Vante Bausby out there at some point. I can’t even remember who the other [corner] was."
It was Chandon Sullivan, who played 26 in-way-over-his-head snaps against the Saints, started the next week against the Giants, and finished the season on the practice squad.
“That was just one of those games where you just try to continue to fight," Jenkins said. “Now, guys are healthier. They’ve got a lot more experience. We’ve done a better job, I think, of preparing them and creating a plan for them, and putting them in position to succeed.
“I think we learned a lot from all of the injuries that we’ve had. Guys have gotten great experience and we’ve learned how to play better as a team, as a defense. And we’re better for it."
--In his four starts since replacing Carson Wentz, Nick Foles has a 110.8 third-down passer rating. He has an 80.9 third-down completion percentage in those four games. An impressive 21 of his 42 third-down pass attempts have produced first downs.
--The Eagles used 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) on 41 of 64 plays against the Bears (64.1 percent). Both of Foles’ touchdown passes came with 11 personnel. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 216 yards with 11 personnel.
--Foles completed just 5 of 11 passes for 44 yards with two interceptions in 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE) against the Bears. In his first three starts after replacing Wentz, Foles had completed 39 of 45 passes for 348 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions with 12 personnel.
--Doug Pederson used a three-wide receiver, two-tight end set on a third-and-12 play in the second quarter last week. It was only the fifth time in 1,101 offensive plays that the Eagles used a formation that didn’t include a running back.
--The Eagles finished 13th in points per drive (2.11) this season. The Saints were second (3.21).
--In the last four games, the Eagles defense allowed opponents to convert just 12 of 47 third-down opportunities (25.5 percent). The Eagles finished sixth in third-down defense in the regular season (35.3 percent). The Saints, who finished seventh in third-down offense (44.6), converted 6 of 11 third-down opportunities in their Week 11 win over the Eagles.
--Drew Brees targeted rookie wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith on 13 of his 30 passes in the Saints’ first game with the Eagles. Smith caught 10 of those passes for 157 yards and one touchdown. He missed the next game, against Atlanta on Thanksgiving, with a foot injury. In the last five games, he was targeted just 11 times with six catches despite playing 63.7 percent of the Saints’ offensive snaps in those games.
Who knows where the Eagles would be right now without Malcolm Jenkins. It certainly wouldn’t be in the second round of the playoffs, that’s for sure.
With bodies collapsing all around him on the back end of Jim Schwartz’s defense, the veteran safety has played every snap of every game.
He’s had to be part-baby-sitter, part-teacher, part-drill sergeant, and part-shoulder to cry on, in addition to being one of the defense’s best players.
He’s been a rock in a secondary of inexperienced kids who have had to grow up fast. And with his help, they have.
“As a teammate, I’ve just been proud to watch these guys go out and compete and ignore the chaos around them, all of the things people are saying," Jenkins said.
“I know the mental toughness it takes to have a tough game or have a tough stretch and then come out the other end of it with your confidence intact, your pride intact, and get better and continue fighting.
“These young guys have done a good job of demanding the respect of their teammates. Especially [from] the older players like myself, who’ve been through it."
The young corners like Rasul Douglas, who has made giant strides in the last two month, credit Jenkins with helping them both on and off the field.
“That’s the general of our room," Douglas said. “That’s our leader. The guy who we look to when things are going wrong in the game.
“He’s been invaluable to all of us. He knows the game so well because of the years he’s been in the league. Him and [33-year-old safety] Corey Graham know so much about the game. They’ve seen a lot and they help us."
--Two weeks after they pummeled the Eagles, the Saints were beaten by the Cowboys, 13-10. Dallas’ defense held Brees to 127 passing yards and one touchdown. Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for just 63 rushing yards on 18 carries. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz no doubt has been studying the film of that game very closely looking for anything that might help his unit slow down the Saints. “There’s always things that you can learn from watching tape as far as an opponent that might’ve done well against them," said defensive end Chris Long. “But you have to be yourself and be the best version of yourself as a defense. You can take bits and pieces. But if you copy somebody else and try to be somebody else, it can take you away from what you do best."
--The Eagles defense played a lot of six-DB “dime" against the Bears last week and probably will repeat that strategy against Drew Brees and the Saints. Safety Tre Sullivan played a season-high 48 snaps against the Bears as the sixth defensive back. “[Playing dime] gives us the flexibility to match up against anything," Malcolm Jenkins said. “We wouldn’t be able to do that without Tre’s development. We can trust him to not only cover the deep part of the field, but also make the calls, get guys lined up. His ability to do that has given us a ton of flexibility to match up against [running] backs that are exceptional or that can line up at different positions. So that you don’t have any bad mismatches."
--Nick Foles is getting the ball out quickly. He has averaged 2.20 seconds from snap to throw in his four starts since replacing injured Carson Wentz. Against the Bears last week, he averaged 2.18 seconds from snap to throw. “That’s just sort of the way it’s been," Foles said. “I’ve been able to get the ball out quickly at times. I’ve been able to hold it at times. We’re playing the moment. One play at a time."