CHICAGO — The names are the same. The jerseys look the same.
Make no mistake about it. This is not the same Eagles team as the one that got clobbered by the Saints just seven weeks ago.
“Totally different,” Kamu Grugier-Hill said. “I can’t put it into words but it’s just completely different.”
The Eagles were 4-6 and had just suffered one of the worst losses in franchise history — 48-7 — when they limped out of the Superdome on Nov. 18.
After their dramatic wild-card win over the Bears Sunday at Soldier Field, the rematch is set for 4:40 p.m. EST Sunday in New Orleans in the conference semifinal round.
The Eagles are 6-1 since that blowout in November.
They’ve won four straight playoff games as underdogs and the oddsmakers have set the Saints as 8 ½-point favorites on Sunday.
Everybody is going to assume another Saints blowout.
Everybody outside Philly, that is.
“They can think what they want,” Grugier-Hill said. “I’ve never had a loss like that, not even in high school. So to go back and get another shot at those guys? I’m excited.”
That 48-7 loss was the worst ever by a Super Bowl champion the following year.
The Saints outgained the Eagles 546-196, they scored on seven of their first eight drives and Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes
“Yeah, it wasn't very good the first time,” Doug Pederson said. “We'll take a look at that film. I think we're a different football team now than we were then.”
The only starters from the first Saints game who are no longer in the rotation are Sidney Jones and some guy named Carson Wentz.
Everybody else is the same.
“It’s not like magic,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “Same guys. Same coaches. Just executing, making plays, winning games.”
Since that 48-7 loss, Nick Foles has galvanized the offense, Darren Sproles has returned along with his playmaking ability, young defensive backs Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas have blossomed and reshaped the secondary, Michael Bennett has emerged as a big-time pass rusher and Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters have all gotten healthy.
And Doug Pederson has done a remarkable job keeping the thing on the rails when things got a little precarious there.
“We just kept believing,” Jenkins said. “At this point, why wouldn’t you? We’re a team, man, that’s just resilient. We continue to fight and do whatever we can do, whatever’s in our power, and then sometimes the ball rolls in our direction, and we’ll keep riding that. We have full faith in each other. We’ve been through too much not to believe."
The Saints and Eagles each have one meaningful loss since the first meeting, both losing to the Cowboys in Dallas.
The winner Sunday will face the winner of the Rams-Cowboys game in the NFC Championship Game a week from Sunday.
Anyone who thinks it’s going to be 48-7 again?
“Not even close,” Rasul Douglas said. “They’re all going to see. I don’t talk extra, but they’re all going to see.”
Since scoring just seven points in New Orleans, the Eagles have averaged 25 per game.
Since allowing 49 points in New Orleans, the Eagles have allowed 19 per game.
And Brandon Graham can feel a shift has been made.
We’ve got another opponent that people aren’t going to give us a chance on. All we’ve got to do is just be the best us on that day. Like I say, we’ve been battle-tested, that’s what we talk about. We’ve been battle-tested all year. We’ve been playing playoff football since Week 14 or Week 13 or whatever, trying to get in. We’re in here, we just went 1-0 and now we’ve got the Saints. I’m just excited, man, because we’ve got a big challenge. The regular season game was the regular season game. Now it’s for all the marbles.
Just seven weeks ago, the Eagles had the same record as the Falcons, Broncos and Lions. Just one more win than the Browns, Jets and Buccaneers.
Look at them now.
They have literally gone from being one of the worst teams in football to one of the best.
And they have another week to prove it to any doubters who are left.
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