When Darren Sproles decided this summer that he wasn’t quite ready to retire from football and re-signed with the Eagles in July, he had no expectations as far as how he would be used.
The 36-year-old running back knew he’d probably handle punt returns, but beyond that, he didn’t know.
He didn’t feel his age. Even though he had missed 23 games to injuries the previous two seasons, he felt he still had a lot of tread left on his tires.
The Eagles didn’t hesitate to bring him back. But they already had traded for one running back, Jordan Howard, in the offseason, and had selected another one, Miles Sanders, in the second round of the draft. So, there were no guarantees.
But there he was Sunday, playing a big role in the Eagles’ 32-27 come-from-behind win over the Redskins. His 17 touches were the most he’s had in a regular-season game since November of 2016, when he had 18 in a loss to the Giants.
Sproles rushed for 47 yards on nine carries, caught three passes for 16 yards, averaged 11.5 yards on four punt returns and scored on a two-point attempt following Alshon Jeffery’s 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a nine-point lead.
The Eagles trailed at the half, 20-7, but they came out in the third quarter and drove 75 yards on 12 plays to score the first of three straight touchdowns.
Sproles and Sanders were key components of that momentum-shifting scoring drive. The Eagles, who had rushed for just 22 yards on nine carries in the first half, ran the ball on nine of the drive’s 12 plays.
Sproles gained 32 yards on four carries, including 17 on a first-down run in Washington territory. Sanders had a 19-yard run on a quick opener that gave the Eagles a first down at the Washington 3. And quarterback Carson Wentz converted a fourth-and-1 for one of his three rushing first downs on quarterback sneaks.
“The second half we really took over,’’ right tackle Lane Johnson said. “We needed to go out and score on that first drive and we did that. We started running the ball effectively.
“Darren did a great job. He still runs around like he’s 18. He’s a big part of our team. Big-time leader. He pushes some of the younger guys like Miles.’’
Shortly after that scoring drive, Sproles set up the Eagles’ next touchdown -- a 53-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to DeSean Jackson -- with a 16-yard punt return that gave the Eagles the ball at their 47.
“I was just trying to go out there and make plays for my team,’’ Sproles said in the locker room after the game. “We didn’t run the ball a lot in the first half. We went into the second half and wanted to see what we could get out of the run. You just have to be patient with it.’’
The Eagles averaged 4.6 yards per carry in the second half as their offensive line started dominating the battle in the trenches against the Redskins’ front seven.
“Anytime you can run the ball and stuff it down their throats and there’s nothing they can do about it, it’s a good feeling,’’ right guard Brandon Brooks said.
“The guys across from us are tired. They don’t want you running it every play. To be able to do it and impose your will, man, there’s no better feeling.’’
Sproles, who played about 20 snaps Sunday, said he didn’t know he would be used as much as he was.
“It just happened like that,’’ he said.
Coach Doug Pederson said some of it was by design and some of it was because the plays they were running with Sproles were effective.
“When we construct games, we have multiple run schemes and they are designed for different guys,’’ he said. “The ones that were kind of clicking today were the Darren ones. So we just kept calling his number there.
“Those other guys, I thought they ran well also. Miles is explosive and Jordan ran extremely hard. So we’re excited for all three of those guys.’’
Sanders finished with just 25 yards on 11 carries in his NFL debut, but had that big 19-yard run on the Eagles’ third-quarter touchdown drive, as well as an 8-yard run on a fourth-quarter scoring drive.
Howard, who was used mainly in the fourth quarter on the Eagles’ final 19-play, 74-yard touchdown drive, had 44 yards on six carries.
“The way we roll this, we all get our touches,’’ Sproles said.
The slow starts that plagued the Eagles offense much of last season, hurt them again Sunday. They managed just 134 yards and six first downs in the first half before finally getting going in the second half
“We have to do better as far as starting games faster,’’ Sproles said. “We can’t wait that long to get rolling. The way we started the second half, we’ve got to start the first half that way, too.’’
One of Sproles’ most impressive runs came on the two-point attempt early in the fourth quarter after Jeffery’s 2-yard touchdown run.
He took a pitch to the left from Wentz, planted his foot and made a sharp cut back inside, slipped, regained his footing and made it into the end zone. The two points were significant at the time because it made it a two-score game.
“I kind of knew when I got it, if there was a safety outside, I wasn’t going to make it to the pylon,’’ Sproles said. “So I knew I had to cut it back. I had to get the d-lineman running, sprinting. I knew he couldn’t stop quick enough before I cut it up.’’
It’s a move a 36-year-old running back shouldn’t be able to make. But Sproles is unlike any other thirtysomething back.
“You watch him practice every day, he practices like he’s 22-years old,’’ Brooks said. “He can still run just as fast as he could when he was younger. It’s impressive to see, man. It’s a true testament to him. Great leader. Great guy. I’m glad he came back.’’