It was the most critical play of the season, and the Eagles defense was ready.
Atlanta had the ball on the 2-yard line Saturday. Fourth and goal. Needed a touchdown. Sixty-five seconds left. Jalen Mills said he could feel the ground shaking.
And the Eagles knew what was coming.
“As soon as I saw the tight end come over, I was like, ‘There it is.’ This is everything you dream of as a player,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “You do your study. You do your preparing, and they come out and run an identical play [that you practiced against]. The guys did a good job at stopping it. Everybody was paying attention to details and executed the play well.”
Julio Jones, lined up far right against Mills, slipped at the top of his route and fell to the ground in the end zone. Mills stayed on him. Jones got up, but Matt Ryan’s pass sailed through his hands, and the fans exploded. Jones was targeted 16 times on Saturday and made nine catches, but the Eagles kept him out of the end zone.
“I saw No. 11 [Jones] come toward me,” said Mills, who allowed just one catch for 12 yards to Jones. “He’s the best player on their team, by far, and I knew they were going to try to get the ball to him. Both my safeties kind of called out the play.”
Malcolm Jenkins was the other safety.
The field was slippery, especially on the outside, which is where Jones lost his footing. It was a physical play in a physical game, and the refs let them play.
“I ended up on the ground, you know?” Jones said. “In that situation, though, it’s very difficult for an official to call [a penalty on] that play.”
Jones had four catches for 46 yards on that final drive. But on that last play, the Eagles were prepared.
Said Mills: “You can’t do nothing but be thankful to have those veteran safeties be able to ID those formations.”
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) January 14, 2018