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Eagles' Eric Rowe knows Patriots' Tom Brady will test him

MALCOLM Jenkins' first-ever appearance in an NFL regular-season game was short and not so sweet. The 14th overall selection in the 2009 draft, he played only one snap in the New Orleans Saints' season opener against the Detroit Lions.

MALCOLM Jenkins' first-ever appearance in an NFL regular-season game was short and not so sweet.

The 14th overall selection in the 2009 draft, he played only one snap in the New Orleans Saints' season opener against the Detroit Lions.

It came early in the third quarter of what would end up being a 45-27 Saints rout. The guy on the other side of the line from him for that one play was none other than Calvin Johnson.

"One-on-one, no help," Jenkins recalled. "Sixty-seven yards later, he stepped out on the 2-yard line."

Jenkins relayed that not-so-fond memory to rookie cornerback Eric Rowe last week after Rowe gave up two touchdown passes to Johnson in the Thanksgiving Day Massacre. Kind of his way of letting the kid know that sun still will come up tomorrow, and that better days hopefully lie ahead.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw five touchdown passes in the ugly 45-14 loss. Johnson caught three of them, including the two when he was being covered by Rowe and another when he was Jenkins' responsibility.

Rowe replaced starting corner Nolan Carroll early in the second quarter after Carroll went down with a season-ending broken ankle. Johnson, who didn't have a catch to that point, finished with eight receptions for 93 yards, including the three scores.

Rowe, who played 52 snaps, gave up four of Johnson's eight catches for 53 yards. But the truth is, he didn't play that badly.

He gave up 9- and 15-yard receptions to Johnson early on because he was in awe of the five-time Pro Bowler and was playing too far off him.

The other two were the touchdown catches. On the first, a third-and-17 disaster from the Philadelphia 25-yard line, he was supposed to get over-the-top help from safety Walter Thurmond. But Stafford froze Thurmond with a look in the middle of the field. The second was a perfect 4-yard back-shoulder fade that only a handful of corners in the league would have had a legitimate chance of breaking up.

"I learned a lot," Rowe said Tuesday. "I learned how the best receiver in the game works. That was a great learning experience for me. The extra time (since Thursday) helped me recover and settle my mind and get ready for this week."

This week is Tom Brady and the Patriots. From the proverbial frying pan into the fire for the second-round rookie from Utah who, until 20 months ago, was a safety.

Unless tight end Rob Gronkowski can shake off the knee injury he suffered in Sunday night's loss to Denver, the Patriots don't have a receiver the caliber of Calvin Johnson. But Brady is the ultimate turn-water-into-wine quarterback. He's so good he can manage to make Brandon LaFell look like a poor man's Johnson.

"We have to try to outsmart Brady," Rowe said. "He's the best quarterback I've seen in my era. All we can do is study film, study him up and try to out-scheme him.

"If we can just hold up the receivers, the rush will get there. We just have to do our job. We just have to play better."

That would help. In the last four games, Eagles defensive backs have been ducks in a shooting gallery for opposing quarterbacks. Their last four opponents have a collective 121.4 passer rating against them, including 15 touchdown passes and only one interception.

In the Eagles' first seven games, they held opponents to a 79.1 passer rating, including 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. They allowed only 6.7 yards per attempt.

Now, they must take on Brady with a rookie at one of the cornerback spots.

"When I first lined up against Calvin, I was kind of in awe," Rowe acknowledged. "I was like, 'This is Calvin Johnson.' But after a while, it goes away.

"I don't know how I'm going to feel out there this week. I know he's going to come at me. I'm a rookie cornerback. I know he's going to look my way first and I've got to be ready for it."

The 6-1, 205-pound Rowe had a rough preseason, particularly after the Eagles started giving him some reps inside at nickel. He didn't get any defensive snaps in season-opening losses to Atlanta and Dallas, but got 15 snaps against the Jets in Week 3 after safety Chris Maragos, who had been the team's sixth defensive back in dime packages, injured his knee.

He made the most of them, intercepting a pass and breaking up two deep balls to Jets wide receiver Devin Smith in the Eagles' 24-17 victory.

The next week against Washington, he played 77 snaps after Byron Maxwell suffered a quadriceps injury early in the first quarter. Played 14 snaps the next week in a win over the Saints, then pretty much disappeared until getting in for six garbage-time snaps in the Eagles' 45-17 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 11.

"I do believe in Eric, and I do think we'll grow him, and I think he's a young guy that will get more and more confident, and we'll get more and more confidence in him," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Tuesday.

Given how high they took him - Rowe was the 47th overall selection in last spring's draft - they kind of need that to happen. Carroll, who was playing pretty well before his ankle injury, will be a free agent after the season. So will Thurmond. If you think there's not a lot of offensive-line depth on this team, check out the secondary.

"You're going to take some lumps when you have young guys playing," Davis said. "You're going to have some mistakes made by him, and you're going to have some growing pains.

"But you're also going to see him make some plays. I'm excited about Eric and the plays he's capable of making. Hopefully, that shows up Sunday."

Rowe is looking forward to his coming-out party Sunday, even if it is against a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

"It's my opportunity to kind of show the world what I got," he said. "Show the coaching staff what I've been working so hard for. And just contribute to the defense and help them out."

Brady, who is missing his two top receivers - Gronkowski (57 catches, 931 yards, nine TDs) and Julian Edelman (61-692-7) - isn't going to attack the Eagles deep very often. Only 48 of his 451 attempts have traveled 20 yards or more in the air.

His major route weapons are slants and crosses. If you've been watching the Eagles this season, you know they haven't done a very good job defending the slant, including their last game, when Maxwell gave Johnson the inside on a slant, which he turned into a 19-yard catch-and-run on a second-and-8 play.

"You've got to get your hands on their receivers," Rowe said. "If we keep backing up and giving them cushion, giving them space, that's all the space they need to break it off. So you have to stay patient and not give them space and get a hand on them."

Rowe should be better prepared this week, since he's taking the first-team reps.

"We always say you need to be prepared," Jenkins said. "But (if) you're not getting those reps against the first-tier receivers, and you already have a lack of experience, it's tough. But it's a battle that everybody faces at some point in their career.

"You just have to maintain your confidence. And I think Eric does have confidence in himself. And that's the No. 1 thing. To keep battling and figure out what you have to get better at and correct it."

On Twitter: @Pdomo