LANDOVER, Md. — For all the bravado, for all the swagger, for all the finger wagging, there was still something missing for Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills.
He entered his second NFL season without an interception.
It finally came at a pretty good time on Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field in the Eagles' 30-17 win over Washington.
"Very good timing," Mills agreed, nodding his green-haired head.
"What a big play when we needed it," head coach Doug Pederson said.
Washington was driving down the field early in the fourth quarter and was already well into field-goal range down 19-17. But Kirk Cousins felt the pressure up the gut from a Jordan Hicks blitz and lofted a pass over the head of intended receiver Jamison Crowder.
Mills was at the goal line waiting for it.
After the game, Mills said he was confident he was going to pull in the pick.
"I knew the offense needed that, I knew the team needed that," said Mills, who was plugged in as a starter since the first practice in the spring. "And as a whole, as a defense, in the red zone, you want to be the firemen to put the fire out and give the ball back to the offense."
After Mills caught the errant pass from Cousins, he took off, returning the ball to the Eagles' 15-yard line.
But he had even more in mind.
"Man, I'm not even going to lie to you," Mills said, "once I caught that ball, I was just trying to get to the end zone."
While the interception was obviously the biggest play of the day for Mills, he had a good game before then, too (see Roob's 10 observations). Mills had two pass breakups, nine combined tackles and went toe to toe with Terrelle Pryor for much of the afternoon. Early in the game, it sure seemed like Cousins wanted to test Mills. And Mills passed. Sure, he gave up some catches, but he kept everything in front of him and minimized the damage.
In the second quarter, the Eagles lost Ronald Darby to a nasty-looking right ankle injury. And just like that, the Eagles lost their top cornerback. Once again, Mills is the Eagles' top dog.
It won't be easy to play without Darby for however long he's out, but the Eagles are confident they'll be able to survive. A big reason for that is because of how much confidence the team has in Mills. While the Eagles lost Darby, they didn't change anything about their game plan or personnel. The only difference is that Mills is now their top option at corner.
Many of his teammates expected the 2016 seventh-round pick to make a big jump in Year 2. So far, so good for Mills.
"I thought he had a good day," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Obviously with the interception, but before that, just his ability to challenge routes, understand scheme. He's a lot more comfortable over there. We're not looking to him, we're not leaning towards him. It's a level of comfort, even as a safety, to not have to worry about what's going on on his side of the field. Obviously had a big day for us. And he'll continue to have a big role for us this year."