Tim Jernigan didn’t play in that last, ugly meeting between the Eagles and the Saints in the Superdome 7 ½ weeks ago.
But that doesn’t mean the embarrassing 48-7 loss didn’t leave the same bad taste in his mouth that it did in the mouths of his teammates who played that day.
“It was tough,’’ the Eagles defensive tackle said Wednesday. “Especially being there and having to watch what was happening and not being able to help.
“Just seeing everything that happened and how it happened, there was a lot of stuff that rubbed me the wrong way. But out of respect for my coach, I’m not going to get into all of that. But everybody here has it on their mind. No doubt about it.’’
The 41-point beating was the worst ever suffered by a defending Super Bowl champion. Drew Brees and the Saints made mincemeat of the Eagles’ injury-ravaged defense, rolling up 546 total yards and 28 first downs in the lopsided victory.
The Eagles were left for dead at 4-6. But they won five of their last six regular-season games and earned the final NFC wild card spot. They beat the Chicago Bears last Sunday and will meet the Saints again this Sunday in the Superdome in an NFC divisional playoff game.
Jernigan will be on the field for the do-or-die rematch and hopes to help his teammates avenge that November loss and move another step closer to the Super Bowl.
“I’m just trying to be the best Timmy Jernigan I can be,’’ he said. “I’m not trying to go out there and be Superman or nothing like that. Because when you try to do things like that, that’s when bad stuff happens.
“The biggest thing for me is just focusing on my technique and what I got to do within the play to make sure the defense is in a good position. But do I feel I give us a better chance and better hope on defense? Yes.’’
Jernigan missed the first 10 games after having offseason back surgery. He was activated two days after the Saints game, but played just 20 snaps the next week against the Giants before experiencing back spasms.
He sat out three more games before finally returning for the Eagles’ 32-30 Week 16 win over Houston. He played 17 snaps in that game and nine in the Eagles’ playoff-clinching 24-0 win over Washington.
Last week, he played 22 of 64 snaps in the one-point win over the Bears, most of them on first and second down. He had one of the defense’s two sacks of Mitchell Trubisky. His sack helped kill a third-quarter drive after the Bears had driven into Eagles territory.
“Timmy meant an awful lot to us last year and he’s been missed most of the season,’’ defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “But getting him back – first, there’s the component of him as a player, and he’s a good player.
“The other thing is something you really can’t put your finger on. He means something to our spirit. He’s a guy that has a little bit of contagious energy. You just see him out on the field. He brings a confidence. He brings a toughness. He has made some big plays for us.’’
When Schwartz’s comments were relayed to Jernigan, he smiled and said: “That’s just who I am, man. I don’t try to be a mascot or nothing. I’m a three-technique [tackle]. I don’t gotta do all that [other stuff].
“I love football. I love the game. I’ve been through some things, so I cherish every second I’m on the football field. Every time I’m out there, I need to take advantage of it and be thankful.’’
Jernigan’s return has given Schwartz more flexibility up front, as far as rotating players and keeping them fresh. It also forced offensive lines to play All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox a little more honest.
“I just think it helps everybody in general,’’ Jernigan said. “Haloti [Ngata] looks a lot fresher. Having to play less snaps, you get to see the burst that he has. Treyvon [Hester] is a talented player. And Fletcher is Fletcher.
“I’m just able to come in and help guys out. I think it’s a great rotation for everybody. And it just works for everybody. No one’s really complaining about [their snaps] or anything. It works for all of us.’’
Jernigan appears to have recovered completely from his mysterious offseason back surgery, which landed him on the team’s reserve/non-football injury list. He has had no more problems with back spasms, and has no limitations as far as his snap count.
“I’m ready,’’ he said. “I was ready the first time I stepped back on the field against the Giants. I played a little bit more last week, and the plan is to keep building on top of that.
“At the end of the day, whatever my role is with the defense, I’m going to play it to the best of my ability.’’
In that 48-7 Week 11 blowout, the Saints rushed for 173 yards on 37 carries against the Eagles.
The Eagles finished 21st in opponent rush average this season. But since Jernigan’s return, they’ve been much better. They’ve held their last three opponents to 3.0 yards per carry overall and 1.5 yards per carry on first down.
“[The Saints] have a good backfield,’’ Jernigan said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t want every one to brush over us and what we’ve been able to accomplish up front. I feel we’re very confident with where we’re at right now.