Sproles bails Eagles out in another win

INDIANAPOLIS -- LeSean McCoy has an ego. Most great athletes do. McCoy can’t resist taking little jabs at other great NFL running backs, because he believes he’s as good as any of them.

The flip side is that McCoy has appreciation for other elite players. And there’s no getting around it: For two games now, McCoy has been the second-best running back on the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL’s 2013 rushing champion has been in awe of his new teammate, Darren Sproles.

On Monday night, Sproles took a short toss from Nick Foles 57 yards to set up the Eagles’ game-tying, fourth-quarter touchdown. In the third quarter, Sproles ran 19 yards for a touchdown, bouncing off several defenders, to keep the Eagles in the game. Last week against Jacksonville, Sproles’ 49-yard touchdown run lit the fuse on the Eagles’ 34-point, second-half surge.

“Without Sproles,” McCoy said, “we’d be in some trouble. We really would. That’s why we’re a team. When guys are struggling, he’s picking everybody up.”

Sproles was the primary offensive weapon in the Eagles’ last-second, 30-27 win over the Indianapolis Colts. His 152 receiving yards and 203 all-purpose yards helped erase another slow start and some inconsistent play from McCoy and quarterback Nick Foles.

His impact even had Eagles coach Chip Kelly backpedaling. Since the Eagles acquired Sproles in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, Kelly has stressed that he sees Sproles as a very good running back. Sure, he can catch the ball and lined up all over the field for the New Orleans Saints, but he’s a good back. Period.

After Monday night’s win, Kelly had a little fun at his own expense.

“First and foremost, Darren’s a receiver,” Kelly said. “I’ve said that since Day 1, since we’ve had Darren. He’s just a special player. How many ways can we find to get him the football? He is just a dynamic football player. He can run it, he can catch it. He’s a complete running back.”

Sproles smiled slightly when asked about all this.

“I’m all-purpose,” Sproles said, summing it up.

He’s a soft-spoken guy, but that’s OK. His teammates couldn’t stop talking about him.

“He’s a very explosive player,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We’re very happy to have him.”

Safety Malcolm Jenkins played with Sproles in New Orleans, so this is all familiar to him. Jenkins, who signed a free-agent deal with the Eagles, intercepted an Andrew Luck pass to set up Sproles’ 57-yard screen pass.

“You get him in space, in one-on-one matchups, no matter who you put on him, there’s going to be a mismatch,” Jenkins said. “The biggest attribute he has, he goes downhill. He gets on the second-level defenders very, very fast. He’s hard to get in the open field. He breaks tackles against people that are twice his size. He does some stuff, we don’t quite understand how he does it.”

Thanks to Sproles and a couple of big defensive plays, the Eagles were able to win a second game without getting off to a particularly good start. That begs the question of just how good this team could be if it played its A-game from the start.

After the Eagles tied it at 27-27, the stage seemed set for Luck to conduct one of his fourth-quarter drives to win it. Instead, the Eagles forced a three-and-out, then drove downfield and kicked the winning field goal as time expired.

"Some people were saying, 'This is just like Period 22 [practice] for us,'" Jenkins said. "We practice at such a pace that when we get into these fourth quarters, guys are fresh. Guys are still full speed. This is what we train for. When we got into those situations, I don’t think the moment was too big for anybody."

It certainly wasn’t too big for Sproles.