LANDOVER, Md. — “Miles Sanders to the podium. Miles Sanders to the podium.”
Brandon Brooks was helping out a soft-voiced Eagles public relations assistant by bellowing the above command in the Eagles’ victorious locker room at FedEx Field. But the guard was also marking a rare moment, especially for a first-year player.
The postgame podium is typically reserved for only the coach and the quarterback. But on occasion, an additional player will be singled out after a distinctive performance.
For Sanders, Sunday was that time. It could be the first of many selections to the stage for the rookie running back. He was brilliant in the Eagles’ 37-27 comeback win over the Redskins, rushing for more than 100 yards for the first time in his career and scoring touchdowns on the ground and through the air.
But it was likely a couple of franchise rookie records set that had the Eagles distinguishing Sanders. He surpassed LeSean McCoy’s mark in rushing yards and DeSean Jackson’s record for total yards from scrimmage and still has two games to pad the numbers.
“This stuff don’t feel real,” Sanders said of the records. “But I don’t want to make this about me. It’s great to be mentioned in the same conversation as those guys. But I was focused on getting this ‘W.’”
Sanders passed Jackson’s mark (1,008 yards in 2008) early in the game and eclipsed McCoy’s (637 yards in 2009) later when he bolted 56 yards on a crucial third down in the fourth quarter. He currently has 687 rushing yards and 1,120 yards from scrimmage.
Three months ago, not many would have predicted that Sanders would set records. Sure, his talent was obvious, and he was contributing, particularly as a receiver. But he was hesitant as a ballcarrier and had ball-security problems.
But three months is like three years in NFL terms, and Sanders has blossomed in that span. Circumstance has played a role in his recent production. But he had already begun to turn the corner before starter Jordan Howard’s shoulder injury.
The more carries, though, have given an early glimpse of Sanders as a possible workhorse. In his first nine games with Howard, he averaged 8.4 rushes. In his last five without him, he’s averaged 14.8. And on Sunday he took a season-high 19 handoffs and gained 122 yards.
“I’m working my way to be that,” Sanders said his larger role. “I’m still a rookie, still learning, getting better each week.”
Sanders also caught six passes for 50 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown when Carson Wentz found him alone in the back of the end zone. The Eagles haven’t had a two-way running back as dangerous as Sanders since McCoy.
“Miles is one of the most explosive guys I’ve seen [with] that raw athletic ability,” backup running back Boston Scott said. “It’s scary to think about what he’s going to be able to do in the years to come. People make comparisons here and there.
“But that’s Miles Sanders.”
The second-round draft pick from Penn State has been the Eagles’ lone big-play threat since Jackson’s abdomen injury in Week 2. Of the offense’s 15 plays of 30-plus yards, he’s had eight. His latest — a 56-yard burst — might have been the most important.
Washington had just taken the lead at 21-17 early in the fourth quarter and the Eagles faced third-and-10 on their 25. Doug Pederson called a draw, with a “kill” to pass. Wentz liked the low numbers in the box and handed off to Sanders, who cut left.
“They had a front where they had about four guys on the right side,” Sanders said. “It was like a big overload look. I knew it was going to the left regardless, and the [defensive] end of the left side [rushed inside].”
Sanders bounced outside, skipped away from a blitzing linebacker and motored into the secondary. If it weren’t for Redskins cornerback Fabian Moreau reaching out and slowing him for teammate Montae Nicholson, Sanders might have gone all the way.
“I actually tried to score,” he said, “but my boy Montae caught me.”
There was no catching Sanders on his 1-yard scoot into the end zone in the second quarter, or his 15-yard touchdown grab in the third. On the latter, Sanders initially ran a flat route before Wentz went into scramble mode.
“I just saw him sitting in the back and I knew it was a tight fit where I had to let it rip,” Wentz said. “I got a little nervous when I let it go.”
But he put extra mustard on the throw and hit his target between the numbers. It was Sanders’ longest downfield reception in some time. Defenses had caught up to the vertical routes that had resulted in his five 30-plus-yard catches over a three-game span earlier in the season.
The extra attention has benefited Scott and other skill-position players. But it also has allowed Sanders to focus more on running. He had been prone to kick runs outside or miss holes. But Sanders has been a quick learner under running backs coach Duce Staley and his rushes have been more assertive.
“He expects a lot out of me,” Sanders said of Staley. “He knows what I’m capable of, he knows what kind of talent I have. And I’m just listening to him because he’s been through this.”
Sanders also hasn’t had ball-security issues since he lost one of two fumbles against the Lions in Week 3. It was the low point of his season, and maybe doubts crept in, but he never allowed the early errors to modify the expectations he had for his rookie season.
“My expectation was to do whatever I can to help, that’s what I said when I first came to this team,” Sanders said. “Trying to give this team a chance to get wins each week, that’s my job. It’s definitely a blessing, breaking these records and getting recognized, but I’m trying to get the win.”
You don’t get called to the podium without the win.