NEW ORLEANS - As he lay on the Superdome turf, his first career interception in his hands, Eagles rookie Stewart Bradley had to be reminded by fellow linebacker Chris Gocong that he was no longer playing in college and could get up and run if the opposition hadn't hit him.
"At least I didn't spike it, right?" Bradley said. "I think there's, what, 53 guys out there? And 52 of them were like 'Dude, I'm so glad you didn't spike the ball.' "
That Gocong, in his second season, was among the old heads against the New Orleans Saints showed how patchwork the Eagles' defense was. Already without starters Takeo Spikes and Sean Considine, the Eagles lost safety Brian Dawkins and starting middle linebacker Omar Gaither to injuries.
But it somehow worked out. The defensive line got pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and the back seven held up pretty well in the 38-23 victory.
Bradley, making the transition from strong-side linebacker in college, started at weakside linebacker for Spikes before taking over in the middle when Gaither was injured. Rookie linebacker Akeem Jordan saw extensive play as well.
Jordan had four tackles on defense and three tackles on special teams. And Bradley, the third-round pick in whom the Eagles have high expectations, had a quarterback sack, the fourth-quarter interception, and a huge role in yet another goal-line stand.
"This was a great opportunity for him," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "He started out a little shaky, made some mental mistakes the first couple of series, but he kind of settled down. He's a very physical player, he can run, and he made a couple of nice hits."
Bradley threw all of his 254 pounds around in the third quarter. With the Eagles ahead, 24-17, the Saints had a third-and-goal situation from the Philadelphia 1-yard line. But Bradley filled the hole and stuffed halfback Aaron Stecker for a 1-yard loss.
Facing fourth and goal, the Saints, curiously, decided to go for it - and then, even more curiously, ran the football. But Bradley and safety Quintin Mikell dropped Stecker for no gain.
"Coach Johnson said [Saturday] night that we really pride ourselves on being a good, solid goal-line team," Bradley said.
Knowing a lot of young players would be playing against the Saints, the Eagles had their scout-team offense use late substitutions and play at a faster tempo all week. The extra work paid off, with Jordan, Bradley and Gocong all contributing on defense and special teams.
"Akeem, he played a lot on special teams, and Chris Gocong's been doing it all year," said Mikell, who has had similar double duties this season. "Personally, my hat goes off to them, because I know it's hard. It's really hard to do."
After so many linebacker misfires in recent drafts, the Eagles are hopeful that they have finally gotten it right with Gocong (a third-round pick last year), Gaither (the 2006 fifth-rounder who replaced Jeremiah Trotter in the middle), Bradley and Jordan, an undrafted free agent from James Madison.
"Hopefully, I've shown that I'm capable, and that I'm not a liability on the field," Bradley said. "Obviously, I'm still young and making mistakes, but I'm going to let the organization know that they can have some faith in me. I think they showed that by putting me on the field tonight. Hopefully, I didn't disappoint."
It wasn't the first goal-line
stand of the Eagles' season, but when the Birds turned away the Saints in the third quarter, it swung the momentum in their favor.
First and goal
at the Eagles' 7
Eagles safety J.R. Reed cuts down Saints wide receiver David Patten at the 1-yard-line after a 6-yard reception.
New Orleans challenges the spot on the play but loses.
Second and goal
at the Eagles' 1
Trent Cole stuffs Saints
fullback Mike Karney at
the line of scrimmage.
Third and goal
at the Eagles' 1
Rookie linebacker Stewart Bradley penetrates and dumps Aaron Stecker for a 1-yard loss.
Fourth and goal
at the Eagles' 2
Bradley and safety
Quintin Mikell stone Stecker
for no gain.