When veteran Eagles defensive end Chris Long recovered a strip sack of Vikings quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter — which sparked what was to quickly become a rout for Philadelphia — the first thing Rowe thought of was a play that Long made last season as his Patriots teammate.
“It looked like the end the first Jet game last year,” Rowe said.
Indeed, the plays were similar, although Long’s role was a bit different. It took Long’s strip sack of then-New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a blindside rush late in the fourth quarter to secure a 22-17 victory on Nov. 27, 2016, as defensive end Trey Flowersrecovered the fumble.
In Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, it was defensive end Derek Barnett with the blindside rush and Long with the fumble recovery.
With 13 days to highlight myriad Super Bowl storylines, the presence of Long and running back LeGarrette Blount on the Eagles’ side — one year after they helped the Patriots to a Super Bowl LI title — was a hot topic on Monday after Patriots players went through a meeting filled with Super Bowl logistics.
“That’s great for them, both real good dudes,” said Rowe, who was acquired by the Patriots in September 2016 in a trade from the Eagles. “When they were here, we were great friends, would get along with them real easily. To go to a different team and have the same success, it’s a credit to them.”
Long and Blount have played fewer snaps than they did last season with the Patriots, although they have seen an increase in production in several areas.
Long played 710 snaps last season for the Patriots (including playoffs), and he delivered some critical pressure in the Super Bowl comeback against the Atlanta Falcons. This season, he has totaled 525 snaps as part of the Eagles’ disruptive defensive line. Long had 36 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble for the Patriots last season; with the Eagles, he has 31 tackles, five sacks and four forced fumbles.
Blount played 580 offensive snaps last season, with 334 rushes for 1,270 yards (a 3.8-yard average) and 19 touchdowns. In Philadelphia this season, he has played 367 snaps, with 188 carries for 806 yards (4.3-yard average) and five touchdowns.
“Both of those guys were awesome teammates; I have a ton of respect for both those guys,” said Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who often faced Long throughout the week leading up to games. “In practice, he always played hard, never made it easy for me. I fully expect his best and look forward to the opportunity to play against him.
“I need to watch the film now. I haven’t seen a lot, but I know he has plenty of power, plenty of speed; he’s crafty, intelligent and understands the game.”
Like Solder, New England offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle went up against Long often.
“He’s a good teammate. He definitely worked with the younger guys and coached them up. At the same time, he was working on his own thing and prepared well, and it’s paid off for him,” said Waddle, who could start at right tackle if his injured knee responds well. “He might not get all the press and all that stuff, but I think he’s a real good player.”
As for the 6-foot, 250-pound Blount, several Patriots defenders have firsthand experience of the challenge ahead from practicing against him in training camp.
“Obviously a big dude and he can move. If he runs with his pads down, it’s hard to tackle him. Those type of guys, you have to gang tackle him,” Rowe said.
Blount has spoken glowingly of his time with the Patriots, who elected to move on from him in the offseason in favor of a revamped attack that includes free-agent signings Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee.
Ditto for Long, who came to New England for the chance to win a Super Bowl (mission accomplished) but was looking for a different scheme fit as a free agent in 2017.
Long and Blount both made a favorable impression on their former teammates, and now they meet up again, this time as foes.
“I’m thankful for those guys, the time I got to play with them. The things they’ve done this season, you have to be happy for the guy. But now it comes down to us or them, so … too bad,” Solder said, smiling.