PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When the Philadelphia Eagles went to New Orleans in Week 11, their leaders lost their composure before the team lost the game.
Carson Wentz walked off the field punching at the air after throwing one of his three interceptions, an uncharacteristic display of frustration by the third-year quarterback.
Malcolm Jenkins raised two middle fingers to his former head coach Sean Payton after Alvin Kamara beat him for a 37-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-7 in the fourth quarter and the Saints already leading by 31 points. Then Jenkins slammed his helmet to the turf on the sideline.
The Eagles were beat up physically and mentally in a 48-7 loss that dropped their record to 4-6. It was the most lopsided defeat by a defending Super Bowl champion and it wouldn't have been a surprise if the season spiraled downward.
Instead, the Eagles were resilient. They didn't give up. They didn't quit. They rallied around each other. Now they have the rematch they wanted.
The Eagles (10-7) are heading back to New Orleans to face the Saints (13-3) in a divisional playoff game on Sunday.
"Neither team is going to start this game with a lead and neither team is going to start with an advantage because of something that happened, it seems like another season ago," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday.
"When you get beat the way we did, it's easy to play into negativity. It's easy to get down, but our guys got more determined I think and our guys stayed positive and we were able to have some good results and make it back there."
This won't be the same team playing against the Saints in the Superdome.
Wentz went down with a back injury and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles stepped in to lead Philadelphia to four straight wins, including a 16-15 comeback victory at Chicago in the wild-card round.
The offense has found its rhythm, averaging 25.4 points while going 6-1 since that loss. They scored 20.5 points per game in the first 10 games.
"I think we've made a lot of improvements since that last game," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. "Feeling good about where we are offensively. Obviously, every week there's things that you want to improve in and get better at based on what people try to do to you. We know we have a tremendous challenge. They are an excellent defense. They have had a really good year and done a lot of things really well.
"So, we're excited for it. We've created a great opportunity for ourselves to be here in the divisional round and looking forward to getting back there.
A secondary depleted by season-ending injuries to three starters and stitched together by deep reserves and guys off the street has gained experience and built chemistry since Drew Brees dominated them for 363 yards and four touchdowns the first time around.
"We can pull some positives from it," Schwartz said. "There were some good plays in there; they are hard to find, but there are some good plays that our guys can gain a lot of confidence in that and say, 'Hey, we can get this done.'"
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