People gasped and recoiled -- in the stands, in the press box, on Twitter. The reaction was almost universal, a sad mashup of oh no and not again.
Early in the second quarter of Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh at Lincoln Financial Field (see Instant Replay), Jeremy Maclin sprinted hard up the right sideline against Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen. At that point, Maclin had two catches on four targets for 13 yards -- not exactly spectacular, but the numbers hardly mattered. The important part was that he was out there with the first team offense -- running with Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews, the three of them together on the field for the first time all preseason.
As Maclin came off the line, there was some space between him and Allen. Around the 48-yard line, Maclin planted his right leg in the ground. The leg stuck there in the grass for a second, for a moment too long, and locked up. Maclin fell to the ground and immediately clutched his right knee -- the same right knee that suffered the unfortunate ACL tear in training camp a year ago and caused him to miss all of last season. Oh no and not again.
When he saw it, Chip Kelly “thought the worst.” It was a scary moment. And Maclin? Did he think the worst? Was he scared?
“Yeah,” Maclin admitted. “Absolutely.”
After a little while, after the trainers came out, after the crowd and his teammates looked on and wondered if the worst had happened once more, Maclin got up. Then he headed to the sideline. If that moment last summer when he crumpled was the worst-case scenario, then watching him rise and walk on his own power was the pleasant inversion. A few minutes later, following a quick checkup to make sure everything was OK, Maclin was back on the field running routes. He caught a pass right away. Everyone exhaled. The man needed a break. He got it.
“If I was fine, I was going to play,” Maclin said. “I got up fine. It wasn’t anything. I was excited to get back out there and play. I think God definitely had my back on that one. When I got up and I was walking, the initial shock kind of went away, and I was pretty good.”
It has not been an ideal preseason for Maclin. He has looked good in training camp -- fast and strong, and he has made quality plays in practice. When he’s practiced. Which is the thing. In early August, Maclin had general soreness in his legs. After that, in a joint workout with the Patriots in New England, he tweaked his hamstring. That caused him to miss more time. The leg soreness. The tweaked hamstring. The new knee scare in the Steelers game that, mercifully, turned out to be nothing. He keeps dancing between the raindrops, which is good, but it would be so much better for him if the injury clouds would go hover somewhere else and give him a much-needed respite.
Maclin had one catch against the Bears on one target for 15 yards. He didn’t play against the Pats. He led the Eagles with six catches on eight targets for 43 yards against the Steelers (see 10 observations). Those are his preseason stats. They matter not at all. What matters is that he is still playing and that he remains upright, which is as much a mental triumph as it is a physical victory.
“It’s tough,” Maclin said. “You need a strong-minded person to get through stuff like this. I’ve always been in a good place mentally. Initially, when it first happened a year ago, I was emotional. I was upset. I think the thing that kind of helped me in rehab and kept me going was the fact that I was mentally tough. Now I’m excited about going forward.”