The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints have identical records but headed into this week in different moods following close games.
While the Saints seek to build on their first win, the potentially depleted Eagles try to avoid another disgruntling defeat Sunday.
New Orleans’ morale got a boost after ending an 0-3 start – its worst since 2012 – with a 26-20 overtime win over Dallas last Sunday. Drew Brees finished that victory with his 400th touchdown pass, an 80-yarder to C.J. Spiller, in his return from a one-game absence due to a bruised rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
The Saints had lost their previous two games by a combined 12 points.
"We finally got the monkey off our back, but like we’ve been saying all morning, it’s just the first one," linebacker Stephone Anthony said. "We have to go get some more. You can’t get two without getting one, so it’s a good start."
Philadelphia (1-3) was expected to contend again for an NFC East title but is in last place after its second loss by three points or fewer, a 23-20 defeat at Washington on Sunday.
DeMarco Murray’s postgame complaint about not getting enough carries showed some of the discontent surrounding the Eagles. Murray, signed away from division rival Dallas in March, has just 47 yards on 29 carries after being the league’s runaway rushing leader with 1,845 in 2014.
"I want all of our guys at the running back, wide receiver spot to want the football," coach Chip Kelly said. "I don’t think you want someone that says, ‘I don’t want the ball more.’ It’s what you’re looking for."
Ryan Mathews, also signed this past offseason, had 108 yards on 24 attempts in a 24-17 win at the New York Jets on Sept. 27 but was held to 20 on five carries last week in his first start for the Eagles.
Philadelphia has also struggled at key times on special teams, missing two field goals and an extra point in its close losses. Cody Parkey couldn’t convert a 44-yarder in the fourth quarter in a 26-24 loss to Atlanta on Sept. 14 before a season-ending groin injury.
His replacement, Caleb Sturgis, missed a 33-yarder against the Redskins but is expected to keep his starting job.
"You hit two kicks and we are sitting here 3-1 and everybody’s happy," Kelly said. "There’s no difference. It’s that you either make plays or you don’t make plays. And if you’re not making plays, you have to continue to work on them so you can make the plays."
Kelly’s next challenge is dealing with a number of absences. Left tackle Jason Peters did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday because of a quad injury.
The statuses of right tackle Lane Johnson (knee), guard Allen Barbre (groin) are also unclear. Offensive linemen Andrew Gardner (foot) and David Molk (biceps) are out for the season.
Defensive starters Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), Byron Maxwell (quad) and Brandon Bair (groin) are also dealing with ailments. The Eagles are already missing linebacker Kiko Alonso because of knee surgery.
Cedric Thornton (hand), Taylor Hart (shoulder) and safety Chris Maragos (quad) could return after missing last week’s game. Thornton also sat out the win over the Jets.
It’s unclear if the Saints will have left tackle Terron Armstead, who played with a knee injury last week. Punter Thomas Morstead hurt his right quad in that victory, and New Orleans signed Brandon Fields in case he’s not available.
All-Pro guard Jahri Evans was limited in practice Wednesday less than two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery,
Safety Jairus Byrd (knee), fellow defensive back Keenan Lewis (hip) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe) made their season debuts versus Dallas.
"It’s huge, their presence," linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha said. "As veteran players, they’re not going to get attacked. So it helps us a lot and kind of shuts down their area of the field by the respect that they’re getting from other teams."
The Saints have won their last three matchups against the Eagles, including the postseason, with two of those victories coming in Philadelphia and five of the last six.
They posted a 26-24 victory there in the 2014 playoffs on a field goal as time expired, their only postseason road win in seven tries.
Versatile running back Darren Sproles will face New Orleans for the first time since being traded to Philadelphia in March 2014.