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Eagles healthier this time, but can they slow down Drew Brees and the Saints' offense?

Alvin Kamara of the Saints catches a pass

Alvin Kamara of the Saints catches a pass for a touchdown over Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 18, 2018 in New Orleans. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Wesley Hitt

Malcolm Jenkins doesn’t even remember all the names of the guys he was with, and the whole thing feels like a blur. All he really recalls is that it was “kind of hectic.”

That can happen when one visits New Orleans.

But the Eagles safety’s fogginess did not stem from any hurricanes on Bourbon Street, it came from playing the Saints in Week 11 of the regular season. In that meeting, the Saints’ high-powered offense scored on each of its first three possessions and posted 17 points in the game’s first 18 minutes. By the time the game ended, the Eagles had been served the most lopsided loss any defending Super Bowl champion had ever experienced, a 48-7 defeat that looked as if it would force Philadelphia to spend January mulling draft picks rather than playing postseason games.

But here they are. Back where it all . . . seemingly ended. Looking to get a little hair of the dog on their way toward another improbable Super Bowl.

And this time they believe they’re showing up in New Orleans better suited for the challenge.

Unlike the regular-season meeting, Sunday’s NFC divisional-round playoff game between the No. 6 Eagles and the top-seeded Saints will have a fully staffed Eagles defense. That’s not to say they should have no problem slowing down Drew Brees and his powerful offense, but they certainly seem to be different from the group that strode into the Superdome in early November and stumbled out with a 4-6 record.

Like a game-show contestant, Jenkins was asked to try to recount to reporters all of the trouble that befell the Eagles’ secondary in that game. He got most of the answers right. Cre’Von LeBlanc, claimed off waivers from the Lions just two weeks earlier, was playing for them, he said. Defensive backs Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas were injured in the game. De’Vante Bausby, who had been on the practice squad, was promoted for the game and saw significant playing time.

Said Jenkins, “I can’t even remember who the other [cornerback] was.”

It was Chandon Sullivan, who like Bausby did not finish the season on the active roster. Both were waived. Sullivan remains on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Jenkins, of course, was out there. He’s played every snap of every game this season and has been the one source of stability in a secondary that has been ravaged throughout the year.

“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 Corey Graham know so much about the game. They’ve seen a lot and they help us.”

The defense has settled down of late, but the Saints still represent a daunting challenge. The lesson from November is to not let the game get out of hand early. That’s especially important given how sluggish the Eagles have been all year on offense. They scored only 41 first-quarter points in 2018, the fewest in the NFL.

In their last five games, including last week’s 16-15 wild-card win over the Bears, the defense gave up only 16 points on their opponents’ first three possessions.

“Our defense has been playing lights-out,” center Jason Kelce said. “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 scars from the last Saints game remain, though. How could they not? But they also represent lessons that the Eagles hope they can use to alter the outcome this time around.

“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.”

POSTSEASON PARITY

The Eagles and Saints have split their two postseason matchups:

Jan. 1, 1993, wild card

Eagles 36, Saints 20: The Saints led by 13 points with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter before the Eagles rattled off 29 unanswered points, 26 of them coming in the fourth quarter in every way imaginable, starting with a 35-yard pass from Randall Cunningham to Fred Barnett, Heath Sherman’s 6-yard run, a safety (Reggie White tackled Bobby Hebert in the end zone), Roger Ruzek’s field goal and Eric Allen’s 18-yard pick-6. Philly’s luck ran out the following week as athe Eagles lost, 34-17, in Dallas.

Jan. 13, 2007, divisional

Saints 27, Eagles 24: Deuce McAllister scored on a 5-yard run in the third quarter to pull the Saints to within 21-20, then snared an 11-yard pass from, yes, Drew Brees, to put the Saints ahead for good. Jeff Garcia was the Eagles’ quarterback. The Saints’ season ended the following week with a 39-14 loss in Chicago. 

Deuce McAllister scored on a 5-yard run in the third quarter to tie it and on an 11-yard pass from, yes, Drew Brees to put the Saints ahead for good. In case you’re wondering, Jeff Garcia was the Eagles’ quarterback. The Saints’ season ended the following week with a 39-14 loss in Chicago.

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