NEW ORLEANS – They got knocked down Sunday, but kept getting back up, kept fighting, kept trying to get enough pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees to squeeze one more week out of the season.
Defensive end Chris Long hurt his back, left the game, but fought through the pain and returned.
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Defensive end Brandon Graham injured his hamstring and left the game for a while. But he also returned. So did defensive end Michael Bennett after injuring his leg.
And then there was Fletcher Cox.
The All-Pro defensive tackle injured his right foot on the fake punt by the Saints early in the second quarter. They took him to the locker room, but he limped back out and returned to the game in time to force a holding penalty on left guard Andrus Peat that helped stall a drive and force the Saints to settle for a field goal.
He would leave the game again in the second half and make another trip to the locker room, but again would limp back out and play.
“I’ll tell you what, man, I’ll do anything for this team," Cox said after the Eagles’ 20-14 playoff loss to the Saints. “You’d probably have to cut one of my limbs off for me to not be out there with those guys.
“I fought through some stuff. So did some other guys. I respect each and every one of the guys in this locker room enough to go out there. If I’m able to go, I’ll be there. These guys know that. They know they can count on me."
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz calls his defensive line the engine that drives his defense. Eight weeks ago in the Eagles’ 41-point loss to the Saints, he blitzed Drew Brees more than he’s blitzed any quarterback this season, and the strategy blew up in his face.
On Sunday, he did what he’s done every week during the Eagles’ late-season resurrection. He relied on Cox, Long, Graham, Bennett and the rest of the line to get pressure on Brees.
Blitzed Brees just once Sunday. And like all of the times he tried sending extra rushers after him eight weeks ago, it backfired. Schwartz sent the house after Brees on a third-and-5 at the Saints 22 early in the fourth quarter, and Brees beat it by completing a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.
“He let the rushers rush," Long said, in obvious pain as he sat on a stool in front of his locker in the visitor’s locker room in the Superdome. “We’re a pretty good group up front."
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You certainly can argue that the Eagles didn’t get enough pressure on Brees Sunday. But they sacked him twice and held him to two completions in six attempts in the first quarter as the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
But then the bodies started to fall, including cornerback Rasul Douglas, who missed a chunk of the game, forcing Schwartz to throw untested Josh Hawkins out there against a quarterback who will to be inducted into Canton five years after he retires.
Brees went after Hawkins in the second quarter. His 2-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Keith Kirkwood was at Hawkins’ expense.
Brees completed 26 of 32 passes in the last three quarters. The Saints, who converted just two of seven third-down opportunities in the first half, converted six of eight in the second half, including a third-and-16 and a third-and-13.
“They made some plays, too," said Graham, who had a strip sack late in the first quarter. “We couldn’t get off the field sometimes on third down, which is something we pride ourselves on. They just made more plays.
“We fought hard, despite what everybody thought. Everybody thought we were going to get whooped on. We showed that we deserved to be here."
Bennett made a big play late in the game, dropping Alvin Kamara for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-8 just before Saints kicker Wil Lutz’s 52-yard field goal attempt went wide right. But the Eagles couldn’t capitalize on it.
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“When we stopped them there, it looked like the magic was still happening," Graham said. “I thought we were about to go down and score and then make a big stop and walk off as winners. But it didn’t happen.
“Give them credit. They played hard. It was a hard-fought battle out there today. We were grinding out there."
Said Cox: “We didn’t get the job done. They made one more play than we did today and won the game. I feel like we had chances. But we didn’t get it done.
“But I’m so proud of these guys. We proved the world wrong. We just came up on the short end of the stick today."
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