GREEN BAY, Wis. — So much happened afterwards it’s easy to forget the play that changed everything in the Eagles' win over the Packers Thursday night.
The Eagles trailed 10-0 and had been outgained 200-85 early in the second quarter when rookie Miles Sanders, on his sixth career kickoff return, blasted up the left sideline for 67 yards, all the way down to the Packers’ 34-yard-line.
After a miserable first quarter when it looked like the Eagles were about to get embarrassed, it gave the Eagles life.
“I wanted to do whatever it takes to help this team win,” Sanders said. “Just saw a big hole and ran through it. That's all I could do. We got a touchdown on that drive, so that was big.”
The Eagles outscored the Packers 34-17 after Sanders’ explosive kick return and won 34-27. His return — the Eagles' longest since a Josh Huff 98-yarder in 2016 — gave the Eagles a huge lift when they desperately needed one.
“That was huge,” Carson Wentz said.
Sanders was huge all night.
Jordan Howard ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns and caught a third touchdown, but Sanders continued his steady growth with 11 carries for 72 yards, including a career-long 30-yarder that set up Howard’s third touchdown.
Don’t look now but the guy who struggled so badly the first two weeks, then fumbled twice last week now has a respectable 4.0 average a month into his rookie season and has 262 yards from scrimmage in his first four career games.
More than Brian Westbrook, more than LeSean McCoy, more than his position coach Duce Staley.
Sanders heard the boos during the Lions game and knows some fans wanted him benched after he fumbled twice on the same drive, losing the second one.
“Nobody can break me, man,” he said. “I can’t be broken. Long season, keep grinding, get better every day. I put the fumbles behind me and just kept working."
With 66 yards from scrimmage per game, Sanders trails only Oakland’s Josh Jacobs — a first-round pick — in scrimmage yards per game among rookie running backs.
You can just see him getting more and more comfortable every week. On Thursday night, he looked fast, strong and elusive. For the most part, he hit the hole hard instead of dancing around.
The results speak for themselves.
His 6.6 average Thursday night is 13th-highest by a rookie in franchise history (with a minimum of 10 attempts).
The improvement has been eye-popping. Seriously, he looked like a different runner Thursday night than the guy we saw against the Redskins and Falcons, when he was a combined 21-for-53.
The last two weeks, he’s shown everybody just how talented he is.
“That’s because of the guys I’m around,” he said. “They demand greatness. I don’t have any choice but to come in and get better. I give thanks to the guys around me keeping my confidence and making sure I’m keeping my head up.”
Sanders is 22 years old and starting to show why the Eagles drafted him in the second round and why they stuck with him during his early struggles.
Some people forgot there are no busts after two games.
Sanders looks like a special player.
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