Kickers will tell you that when they watch games on TV, they wince to see one of their brethren miss an important attempt, even if they don’t know the unlucky guy personally.
Sunday afternoon felt a bit like that for Eagles safeties Corey Graham and Rodney McLeod. Like everyone else, they saw Saints safety Marcus Williams duck to try to upend Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
They saw Diggs make the catch high in the air near the Vikings’ sideline, as Williams brushed beneath him and slammed into corner Ken Crawley, the only New Orleans player in position to give chase. They saw Diggs come down, catch his balance, and sprint into the end zone to send the Vikings into the NFC championship game, Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Graham said Eagles coaches showed the film of the play to the defensive backs, but of course, they’d all been watching live. He said he thought Williams got to Diggs early, didn’t want to be called for interference, and made the wrong move. The right move, Graham said, would have been to play the ball.
“He’s a rookie, on probably the biggest stage he’s ever been on. Everything’s on the line, on one play. It’s a lot on the guy,” Graham said. “The coaches tell him three different things – obviously, outside leverage no matter what, you can’t get a pass interference, you can’t let him get out of bounds [in field goal range]. It’s a lot on his mind.
“Then you get there early, and you know you can’t hit him … You see how it can happen. It [stinks]. You just don’t want that to happen … You don’t want anybody to go through that; you’ve got to worry about the fans … everywhere you look, that’s all they’re talking about … It’s been on SportsCenter 50 times since the game ended. It’s all about one play.
“It’s tough for him; I wish him the best. Hopefully, he gets through this. We’ll see how strong he really is.”
McLeod pondered how many things were affected by Williams’ choice to go low.
“It just shows you little things matter, man,” McLeod said. “I’m sure that guy, he’s made that tackle a hundred times. It all comes down to that one play. When you don’t execute, that’s what happens in the playoffs … On that play, you’ve just got to make the tackle. Make the tackle and now we’re playing the Saints, but he misses that tackle, and now the Vikings are here. Just like that, your season can be taken away from you, in the playoffs.”
Not everyone was saddened. Eagles wideout Torrey Smith played at Maryland just before Diggs, who broke some of Smith’s records.
“That’s like my little brother. I was going crazy when he scored,” Smith said.
Diggs suffered a few injuries in college and ended up sliding to the fifth round in 2015. He caught 64 passes for 849 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
“I told everyone I knew … ‘you all better draft this kid, because he’s a first-rounder,’ ” Smith said.
Eagles special-teams rookie Nate Gerry, from Sioux Falls, S.D., found old friends suddenly developing a desire to visit this week, around the time of the NFC championship game. And could Nate get them tickets?
“I turned a couple of friends down. I know they’re Vikings fans,” Gerry said Tuesday. “I told ’em no purple allowed over here.”
Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen, from Minnetonka, Minn., actually grew up a Packers fan, which he agreed is a bit like being a Cowboys fan in Philly.
“I have a lot of friends who are Vikings fans … my mom [who was from Wisconsin] raised me a Packers fan,” Allen said. He then played for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Allen said his first NFL game as a spectator was Vikings-Packers at Lambeau – with him cheering for the home team.
These days, Allen said, “the Allen family bleeds midnight green.”
Get insights on the Eagles delivered straight to your inbox with Early Birds, beat writer Zach Berman’s newsletter for Eagles fans. Click here to sign up.