PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles had a pretty good running back in Miles Sanders. Sanders was steady, durable and even rushed for more than 1,200 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in a season that ended in the Super Bowl.
But in the modern NFL, a good running back is as disposable as a cheap razor. It’s a pass-first, quarterback-driven league these days.
So much so that elite running backs griped when teams this past offseason refused to give them the lucrative long-term contracts players such as the Giants' Saquon Barkley thought they deserved.
When Carolina offered Sanders a deal with $13 million in guaranteed money, the Eagles said, thanks for the memories, and let him loose. D’Andre Swift was available, after all, and the Eagles (2-0) were able to sign him for less than half the guaranteed money the Panthers are paying Sanders.
Running behind a line anchored by Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, the big men up front opened lanes as they always do, and Swift bailed out the Eagles on a night when Jalen Hurts was off a beat.
Swift rushed for a career-high 175 yards and a touchdown in a 34-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night. Plug in a talented running back and the big numbers for bargain bucks — by NFL standards — are sure to follow.
Hours before kickoff, general manager Howie Roseman walked in the end zone — just a few strides from where comedian Kevin Hart schmoozed with long-time announcer Merrill Reese — to fans screaming his name. One yelled, "Howie, you’re the GOAT!" and he simply gave a fist pump in the air and kept walking. One reason he’s earned that rep is his refusal to place a premium on running backs. Roseman has never drafted one in the first round in a dozen seasons running the Eagles. The good RBs are out there, he figures, and they often can be had on the cheap.
The early returns show that Roseman nailed it with Swift.
Swift is a feel-good story for the Eagles. The 24-year-old was raised in the Philadelphia area and attended St. Joseph’s Preparatory School before he went on to play at Georgia. He had about 30 friends and family members at Lincoln Financial Field, and coach Nick Sirianni rewarded Swift in his homecoming by giving him the bulk of the carries. Swift had 28 of Philadelphia’s 48 total carries, ripped off a 43-yard run and led a rushing game that finished with 259 yards. The total was the second-most yards rushing in a game in Sirianni’s three seasons.
Swift, who had one carry for 3 yards in the opener, may just be getting started.
"He showed vision, explosiveness," Sirianni said. "I thought the offensive line did a phenomenal job of pushing them off the ball. Was really pleased that he protected the ball. Protecting the football is not an easy thing."
Swift never rushed for more than 617 yards in any of his three seasons with Detroit. With Kenneth Gainwell out because of injured ribs, Swift made the most of his opportunity, and he surely will get more chances in the weeks ahead to prove he’s worthy of carrying the load as the No. 1 running back.
"It was a hell of a job and we needed it from him," Hurts said.
A year after special teams was a true weak link in otherwise sensational all-around team play, the unit has picked up the pace this season.
Jake Elliott continues to shine, booting a 24-yard field goal and then a 61-yarder to close the first half, but the standout effort might go to veteran Justin Evans.
Evans punched the ball out on Brandon Powell 's punt return to force a fumble in the first quarter that was recovered by Nicholas Morrow.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Perhaps it seemed fitting on a night when Swift took center stage at the Linc that bad blood was brewing on the sideline.
Against New England, tight end Dallas Goedert had no receptions and publicly took the shutout in stride. Against the Patriots, No. 1 receiver — or is that DeVonta Smith? — A.J. Brown got into a heated exchange with Hurts on the sideline in the second half.
Sirianni had to intervene and cool down Brown, who had only four catches for 29 yards. Brown had 88 catches for 1,496 yards a year ago but has just 11 for 108 through two games this season.
Sirianni, who at first said he didn't know anything about the confrontation before he was told it was caught on national television, said the dispute was a private matter.
Brown’s complaints were no big deal to Hurts.
"Everybody wants to make plays. Everybody wants to contribute," Hurts said. "I have no worries about him. He’s a great teammate, a great friend."
Smith had only four catches but one of them was a 63-yard touchdown and another was a 54-yard leaping reception.
Hurts — whose three total touchdowns still delighted fantasy football owners — has yet to play anything like the NFL MVP runner-up he was last season. Yes, there's an adjustment to new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, but it was another ho-hum outing of 18 of 23 for 193 yards without the breakout runs or passes on the fly that made him so exhilarating to watch last season.
As expected, Hurts' performance was downplayed because, well, he's still Jalen Hurts, and of most importance, the Eagles are 2-0 for the 10th time since 1970.
"Of course, we want to be able to create some more explosives," Sirianni said. "I have to go watch the game tonight and figure out how we can create some more explosives."
Cornerback Avonte Maddox could miss significant time with a shoulder injury and wide receiver WR Quez Watkins was forced out with a hamstring injury.
180 — Defensive end Brandon Graham tied Harold Carmichael (180, 1971-83) for the third-most regular-season games played in franchise history. Graham trails only David Akers (188, 1999-2010) and Brian Dawkins (183, 1996-2008).
Eagles get a few extra days off before they head to Tampa Bay for Monday Night Football.