Eagles coaches and trainers urged Darius Slay to catch his breath.
The Eagles had a big lead over the Vikings in the fourth quarter on Monday, and Slay had gained previous possession when the 31-year-old cornerback came off the field a little wobbly. Moments later, after a turnover from quarterback Jalen Hurts, the defense was quickly pushed back onto the field.
The second-year defending defender, Zech McPhearson, appeared to be coming in as a substitute, but Slay noticed and politely waved him off. In the mind of Slay, nothing got him out of this game. Not because he gets the chance to lock up one of the best receivers in the league in All-Pro Justin Jefferson.
Three plays later, with Slay shadowed by Jefferson in the end zone, Slay knocked out Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for his second interception.
“He put one of the best receivers in the league in a car seat,” McPhearson said of Slay. “That’s the truth. We really feed on him. When you see him play so many plays, lead the defense and also support his talk on the pitch – you have no choice but to get behind your brother.
“He should have made four choices today. That’s a crazy state.”
After a rough outing in the season opener in which the Eagles gave up 35 points to the Lions, Slay and the defense got into action against the Vikings under the bright lights in South Philly. Time and again, a multitude of playmakers wreaked havoc in the backfield and in the secondary. Aided by a near-perfect performance from Hurts, the defense beat the Vikings in the second half as the Eagles took a decisive 24-7 win in Week 2.
Slay set the tone with his two interceptions; Monday marked his fourth multi-pick game of his 10-year career. But it may have been Slay’s clamps on Jefferson that earned him the most credit. With Slay as the primary defender, Jefferson amassed six goals; Slay only gave up one catch with two interceptions and a 0.0 passer rating allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I don’t take a matchup lightly,” Slay said. “But [Jefferson] is among the best in the world. I am also one of the best in the world. I was looking forward to the match-up.”
Jefferson earned All-Pro status after finishing second in the league last year with 1,616 receiving yards. Coming in this season, Jefferson announced that he had his sights set on breaking the 2,000-meter mark. Last week, he put himself on track with 186 receiving yards against the Packers.
But against the Eagles, Jefferson only managed 48 yards on six catches on 12 targets. His longest reception was 11 yards.
It’s to the credit that the Eagles understood the assignment.
“We were in the exact same calls that we practiced all week because we knew what they were going to do in the red zone,” said cornerback Avonte Maddox, who also knocked out Cousins. “We knew we would have chances. That’s what it’s all about. Bringing the ball back to our attack and creating turnover.”
Cousins completed 58.6% (27-for-46) of his passes with 221 passing yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. All three picks came from the Eagles’ 30-yard line. Elsewhere, the Vikings struggled mightily. Running back Dalvin Cook finished with just 17 rushing yards.
Sirianni and Slay credited defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon for dialing in the perfect phone calls. Gannon seemed to mix more blitz calls, especially during familiar passing downs. The Eagles combined for seven quarterback hits and two sacks (Josh Sweat and Fletcher Cox).
“You can’t just go in with one plan,” Sirianni said. “The defense staff have done an incredible job with the plan. There were various disguises and cover-ups. But make no mistake, a lot of it was to stop No. 18 (Justin Jefferson). He is a great football player. When Slay had to cover him one-on-one, he did an incredible job. There is no help in cover 0. Slay has become sticky in cover. That’s what we see Slay doing time and time again.
“That’s why he’s one of our captains. The way he studies, plays and leads.”
Slay acknowledged that he and his teammates heard some of the frustration that came from fans following Gannon’s lackluster game plan in Week 1.
“I understand (the frustration),” Slay said. “But like what we talked about as a group, our first game was us. We didn’t handle well. We have not performed well. It’s not Gannon playing out there. Gannon just called us. So we just have to run it. Tonight we had that mentality to dominate this game and play with a lot of effort and talent. The coach put us in a great position to win.”
At the end of the evening, only a few players lingered in the Eagles locker room. After his big performance, Slay took the time to leave the building. He celebrated with Sixers guard James Harden, who he gifted one of his INT balls, after which Slay handled his media responsibilities from the podium, a designation kept for the game’s best players.
Across the room, rookie Jordan Davis also stayed at his booth, even with the early morning hours approaching.
When asked about Slay, Davis immediately dropped his things and smiled.
“Slay is really loose,” Davis said. “He loves what he does. When Slay’s having fun, we’re having fun. That’s what he brings to our team. The energy he brings is unparalleled. He’s one of the best in the game.”