Ronald Darby flat-out whiffed on an interception in his second series as an Eagle, cutting in front of former Buffalo teammate Anquan Boldin on an out route, only to see Tyrod Taylor’s pass glance off his hands.
Darn. It would have been such a neat story to see the Eagles’ new top corner do something memorable against the team that traded him six days earlier, in his first Eagles action, even if it was the preseason.
Two Bills series later, wish granted. Blitzing linebacker Mychal Kendricks – who had the best evening of any Eagles starter, offense or defense – was draped around Taylor’s legs when the QB unwisely launched a prayer in the general direction of Boldin, deep down the middle.
“I just told myself, ‘If I get another opportunity, I’m going to make it happen,’ ” Darby said after the Eagles’ 20-16 victory, which was nailed down by corner Mitchell White’s end zone interception on the final play.
Darby flagged down the Taylor pass at the Eagles’ 34, held on this time, and embarked on a 48-yard scamper through the Buffalo offense. Had he cut to the left instead of inside on his last move, he might have taken it to the house, but Darby got jammed up in traffic and was tackled at the 18.
Darby came out of the pile with the ball and kept it throughout his long jog to the Eagles’ bench. That was his last play of the evening – third-round rookie Rasul Douglas replaced Darby on the next series, and Douglas also seemed to play well – but it was the perfect note on which to end a debut.
This was pretty much exactly what the Eagles had in mind when they traded wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round draft choice to the Bills for Darby last Friday. Matthews suffered a chip fracture to his sternum in his first Bills practice and did not travel with the team to Philadelphia.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” Darby said. “When I caught it, I just felt all the adrenaline, and after that, I was just running. [The rest of the defense] blocked pretty good, there were holes everywhere for me to run through … . It was a blitz. [They] tried to hit me with a double move, I just played it right, got high shoulder, just went up and attacked the ball. I was running, I had a lot going on. Once I made that cut, I should have just stayed to the left.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson told reporters on Tuesday that Darby would get at least a few reps. Darby seemed a bit surprised, noting that he was just starting to learn the basics of Jim Schwartz’s defense. But Darby, having just gotten here, has no idea how long the Eagles have waited for a corner with his skill level. Not since Asante Samuel left town in 2012 have fans at the Linc been able to watch a corner with shutdown speed, a corner with the potential to make game-changing plays.
The Eagles paid Byron Maxwell in free agency to be that guy, but Maxwell, aside from playing poorly in his one year as an Eagle, is a different type of corner, long and physical (supposedly, anyhow). He couldn’t turn on the burners the way Darby did after snagging that interception Thursday night.
Maybe Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had that kind of talent. Like Maxwell, he didn’t exactly put his best foot forward with the Eagles. And DRC left after the 2012 season, so even if you put him on Darby’s talent level, the Eagles have gone at least four seasons without such a corner.
Schwartz noted last Sunday, after Darby’s first two practices, that picking up a defense on the fly is difficult, so he was having Darby play man-to-man a lot early, keeping it simple. He certainly didn’t look lost. After all, if anybody knows Taylor’s tendencies, it would be Darby, who played two seasons with him and saw him every day in practice.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Darby said, when asked about playing against the Bills so soon after leaving them. “It was real difficult, but on to new things.”
Schwartz did not stick with man-to-man to help out Darby. The Eagles mixed and matched coverages. Darby said he knew what he was doing “for the most part. Them boys behind me, Jenkins and [Rodney McLeod], they were communicating with me and everybody else. They helped me out a lot.”
Darby said that Bills guard Richie Incognito greeted him after the game. “He said he was going to kill me if I cut one more time” on the return of the pick.