It was a pivotal drive in the Eagles’ 32-6 win over Atlanta in the season opener on Sunday and Miles Sanders was watching from the sideline.
The 2-minute offense is Kenny Gainwell’s time to shine.
The fifth-round rookie out of Memphis played 25 offensive snaps in his professional debut and 12 of them came on one important drive with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half. It was a drive that extended the Eagles’ lead from 7-6 to 15-6 going into the locker room.
“He’s able to do it,” Sanders said. “Everybody in our room, between me, him and Boston (Scott) are able to do anything. Routes coming out the backfield, in the slot, we’re all capable of doing it. He just showed the most efficient way of doing it in practice.
“That’s just easy to him. Like I said, he has the best hands in our RB room, to me, in my opinion. That’s his thing — 2-minute drill. That’s it.”
It didn’t take very long for Gainwell to carve out an immediate role in the Eagles’ offense. The Eagles gave him these 2-minute drill opportunities in training camp and he showed head coach Nick Sirianni he could rely on him.
But before Gainwell earned these snaps, he had to prove himself.
“Yeah, he had to show that he could protect,” Sirianni said. “Because we know his ability as a pass catcher. We've seen his ability as a pass catcher. We've seen it even more in practice and all the different drills we do and everything.
“And he just had to show that — if you just go in there and he's only releasing out in the pass patterns, well, you might as well have another wideout in there, right? Because he's not going to block.
“So we had to feel comfortable that he was a complete player there before we put him out there. Does he still have things to work on? Absolutely. He's going to be the first to tell you he has to work on some things. But he wants some back that he had yesterday, but he had a couple of big time plays in protection, as well.
“And so that's what he had to show to earn his right out there. And we felt like he did that. And you can see he made a couple of plays for us in that two-minute drive yesterday.”
Gainwell is clearly a talented pass catcher, so that’s the obvious reason the Eagles want him on the field in 2-minute situations. But pass protection is something that will sometimes keep a young running back off the field. And at 5-9, 200 pounds, it’s not like Gainwell is the biggest guy in the world either.
He held his own against the Falcons.
That impressive block came against linebacker Deion Jones on a delayed blitz. Gainwell held his ground and gave Hurts just enough time to create a positive play and also get out of bounds to stop the clock. A sack there would have been brutal.
On the drive, Gainwell caught one pass for 9 yards and rushed twice for 7 yards. He would have capped the drive with a touchdown catch but it was negated by a penalty.
During these 12 plays, Gainwell showed a bit of everything in his toolbox and he started it off with a nine-yard catch.
“I think one of the earlier plays in the drive, he caught a ball, got nine yards and was savvy enough to get out of bounds to stop the clock so we could keep going and get that touchdown at the end of the half,” Sirianni said. “Which was a huge swing for us to get that touchdown at the end of the half.”
Even on the touchdown catch that didn’t count, Gainwell showed off some toughness, fighting to get into the end zone.
Really, this appears to be just the start for Gainwell, who got his first-career touchdown later in the afternoon. Sanders played the most snaps among the running backs but Gainwell was second and Scott didn’t see the field on offense.
Gainwell has clearly impressed the Eagles’ coaching staff.
“He practices to get better,” Sirianni said. “He has no choice because the team is demanding that out of him, the players on the team are demanding, we're demanding that out of him. And so he showed us what he can do every day in practice.
“He's a tough kid. When guys are tough, and they like football and they really love football and they have talent. Those guys reach their potential and obviously it's only Kenny's first game but you like those things about him that make you trust him to be able to make some plays in those moments.”
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast: