Philadelphia Eagles

Jalen Mills caps strong season opener with first interception

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Jalen Mills caps strong season opener with first interception

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."

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

USA Today Images

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

Zach Ertz was sitting in the locker next to Brent Celek after the game and at one point he leaned over to his teammate and said simply, "Thank God we won that game."

Because if the Eagles lost Sunday, Ertz would have been the goat.

Ertz had one of the tougher games of his career Sunday, with a costly fourth-quarter fumble that led to a game-tying Giants touchdown and also a dropped touchdown when he was wide open, although he did make up for that by catching a TD one play later.

"It sucks," Ertz said. "If we lost that game, I would have been in the dumpster."

Ertz, covered all day by Landon Collins, one of the NFL's best safeties, did catch eight passes for 55 yards and his first touchdown of the year in the Eagles' wild 27-24 win over the Giants at the Linc (see observations).

The fumble was only the third of his five-year career. That's three fumbles out of 268 receptions.

"The guy made a great play," Ertz said. "I was trying to gain some more yards after the catch, and he kind of just reached around and pulled my arm down and I fumbled. 

"I've got to work on ball security, something I'm going to emphasize this week. I've had (three) fumbles in my career, so I'm not going to over-think it, but at the end of the day, I've got to do better."

Ertz's last fumble came in a loss to the Redskins in December of 2015, forced by Bashaud Breeland and recovered by Dashon Goldson. That was Chip Kelly's final game as Eagles head coach.

His only other fumble came in a loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in 2014.

"I've never seen Darren Sproles fumble, and he fumbled last week, so it's going to happen if you play long enough in the NFL," Ertz said. "All you can do is work on it. Luckily, Jake (Elliott) saved my butt."

The end zone drop came with the Eagles up 7-0 in the third quarter. Wentz could have taken a little steam off the football, but it was still a ball Ertz should catch.

"I couldn't get my hands up fast enough," he said. "The linebacker flashed before me and the ball just kind of snuck up on me, kind of like what happened against the Redskins last year. 

"Luckily, came back the next play and I was able to make a much tougher catch."

Even on a bad day, Ertz still caught eight passes, and he's now second in the NFL with 21 receptions, five behind Antonio Brown. He's also 10th with 245 yards. Both numbers lead all NFL tight ends.

“With a guy like Zach, we know who he is," Wentz said. "Those mistakes don’t happen often. 

"That first ball I definitely threw it harder than it needed to be, and it kind of surprised him a little bit. We came right back to him, and that was huge. 

"I know with a guy like that, confidence is never going to go anywhere, and my confidence in him never is either. The fumble is one of those things you brush off and come right back to him. The guy made some great plays for us today.”

Ertz's 21 receptions are fourth-most in Eagles history after three games and seventh-most ever by any NFL tight end after three games.

Ertz has now played the equivalent of four full seasons in his career, and his 268 catches are seventh-most ever by a tight end after 64 games.

Most importantly, his five catches, 55 yards and touchdown against the Giants Sunday helped the Eagles knock off a division opponent and find their way to 2-1. 

“Last year we didn’t have a lot of wins (in) adverse situations like we faced today," Ertz said. "We weren’t perfect today, anybody in our division is not going to be perfect. But I think it showed a lot about our resilience today and overcoming adverse situations."

Eagles Injury Update: Darren Sproles tore ACL, broke arm on same play

Associated Press

Eagles Injury Update: Darren Sproles tore ACL, broke arm on same play

Still riding high after a crazy win on Sunday, the Eagles got some bad news the next morning. 

Darren Sproles is done for the season. Maybe for his career. 

Sproles tore his ACL and broke his forearm on the same play on Sunday afternoon at the Linc. The play came early in the second quarter. It first looked like Sproles hurt his knee and was then kicked on his right wrist on the way down. 

ESPN first reported the story. Head coach Doug Pederson announced it at his press conference Monday afternoon. "Double whammy on the play," Pederson said. 

Pederson said the Eagles will likely make a corresponding roster move in the next couple of days. The Eagles started their season with five running backs on the roster but after losing Donnel Pumphrey and now Sproles, they're down to just three. Practice squad player Byron Marshall is a possible roster replacement. 

Sproles will have surgery on his arm on Monday and surgery on his knee later, per the ESPN report. 

The 34-year-old running back once said this would be his final NFL season but then backed off those comments when asked this summer. 

"We're gonna see," he said in June. "Right after we make the playoffs, then come back and ask me." 

It's possible Sproles' career is over, but it's also possible he'll try to make a comeback so his career doesn't end like this. 

After picking up 11 rushing yards on Sunday before leaving the game, Sproles now has 19,155 all-purpose yards in his career. That's the eighth most in NFL history. 

Pederson called the loss of Sproles "devastating" from a special teams aspect. In his absence on Sunday, Torrey Smith took over as the Eagles' punt returner. Smith tweeted after the game that he hasn't returned punts since high school.

"[Smith] has done it in practice in his past," Pederson said. "He's definitely a sure-handed guy back there so he's right now the next guy up." 

Pederson said Fletcher Cox (calf) and Jordan Hicks (ankle), who were both injured in the game, are "OK" but are still day to day.