Running back Kenjon Barner hadn't returned a kickoff in a regular-season NFL game in more than a year, but there was no apparent rust Sunday as the Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons, 24-15, at Lincoln Financial Field.
Barner's effort was part of another strong special-teams performance, an ongoing story line for the Eagles. He was able to flip field position in the Eagles' advantage by averaging 38 yards on three kickoff returns.
That is as many kickoff returns as he had in his previous two NFL seasons.
"I never get scared or worried and never have any concern because I know [special-teams] coach [Dave] Fipp will put me in great position make plays," Barner said.
His last regular-season kickoff return went for 10 yards last year in a 27-23 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 27. Before that, he had two kickoff returns in 2013 with the Carolina Panthers.
Barner has gotten his chance to return kicks after his former Oregon teammate and friend Josh Huff was released by the Eagles on Nov. 3, two days after being arrested on gun and drug chargers. Huff had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Eagles' 21-10 win over Minnesota on Oct. 23.
Huff's advice to his friend was simple. "He just told me to ball up," Barner said.
More salient advice came from Gary Campbell, who was Barner's running backs coach at Oregon, a position he still occupies.
"When I first got there he said, 'Never count your reps, make your reps count,' " Barner said.
Barner would obviously like more reps at running back, but he had no carriers on Sunday and only one in last week's loss to the New York Giants. In nine games for the 5-4 Eagles, he has 20 carries.
Kick returning could become a new niche. At Oregon he returned 61 kicks for a 22.5-yard average and a touchdown, so it was a matter of reverting to old instincts.
"I just see a hole and hit the hole," he said.
Unlike Barner, Eagles placekicker Caleb Sturgis had an up-and-down game, but he iced the win with a 48-yard field goal with 1 minute, 57 seconds left.
"It feels good [to make that kick], but I was sick to my stomach in putting us in a bad position," said Sturgis, who missed two of five field-goal attempts after entering the game having connected on 20 of 22. "I thought we should have had the game wrapped up earlier if I would have played better earlier in the game."
Sturgis missed his first try from 44 yards with the Eagles leading, 7-0, early in the second quarter.
Then he connected on field goals of 29 and 25 yards before falling short on a 55-yard attempt with 10:46 remaining and Atlanta holding a 15-13 lead.
Despite the long distance, Sturgis wasn't offering any alibis.
"It's one I have to make, especially in that situation," said Sturgis, who earlier this season kicked a career-best 55-yarder in a 29-23 overtime loss at Dallas.
But Sturgis provided a positive ending with his 48-yarder, his fifth from 48 yards or longer this season.
"The protection was great, the snap and holder were great," he said. "The kick was good and it felt good to get it done at the end."