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Darius Slay’s ‘big-time’ play sparks Eagles with 83-yard fumble return

Slay's fumble return turned what was a tight game against into the Broncos into a huge sigh of relief for the Eagles.

Eagles cornerback Darius Slay smile after returning a fumble for a touchdown late in third quarter against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, November 14, 2021 in Denver.
Eagles cornerback Darius Slay smile after returning a fumble for a touchdown late in third quarter against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, November 14, 2021 in Denver.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

DENVER — With the offense lined up in victory formation, Nick Sirianni navigated the visitors sideline and found Darius Slay near the 50. The first-year coach playfully grabbed the ninth-year cornerback in noogie fashion. Sirianni dapped up Slay as they exchanged a laugh and celebrated a 30-13 victory over the Broncos.

It was Slay who sparked juice and momentum into his team with his 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

“I want to score every time I touch the rock,” Slay said.

With the Eagles clinging to a seven-point lead late in the third quarter, emerging linebacker Davion Taylor clogged the rushing lane and met Broncos running back Melvin Gordon with tremendous force. Taylor punched the ball loose, and Slay scooped it up.

The ensuing moments caused the 70,000-plus fans at Empower Field at Mile High to rise to their feet as the 30-year-old cornerback zigged, zagged, and zoomed past everybody en route to the end zone.

“That was fun,” Sirianni said. “We always talk about getting the ball out. Slay did some good things with that ball in his hand. He did a really good job of making a play.”

Sirianni joked further about Slay’s speed: “I’ll have to think about getting Slay on offense.”

Sirianni’s postgame routine — regardless of the outcome — always includes reading over the stat sheet. His eyes veer toward two specific sections in his game book: explosive plays and turnover differential. The Eagles won in the latter category with two forced fumbles by Taylor compared to one interception from Jalen Hurts.

Tally that as another victory in Sirianni’s book.

“He’s always going to make some moves,” Taylor said of Slay. “He’s always going to make sure he gets some yards.”

Said Slay: “I snatched it. It was a big-time, game-changing play. Davion made a good punch-out. We were just trying to change [the course] of the game. We put the pressure back on their offense.”

Taylor and Slay (combined 12 tackles) were major contributors in a strong performance from the defense. The Eagles put on a clinic in the red zone, where they limited the Broncos to just 1-of-5 in scoring attempts. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed just 61.1% (22-of-36) of his passes with zero touchdowns.

These were encouraging signs for a defensive unit that had allowed five opposing quarterbacks to complete more than 80% of their throws.

“We limited them more than usual in the red zone,” Slay said.

Slay’s heroics are more impressive considering the sequence of events leading up to his touchdown. The veteran defensive back injured his hamstring last Sunday, which resulted in him being limited during practice this week. Slay got hurt again against the Broncos following a big hit he made in the first half. He was replaced by rookie Zech McPhearson and missed just one snap before returning to the game.

Ultimately, those issues weren’t enough to stop Slay from making one of the biggest plays of the game.

“The monkey got on my back, my back got tight — oh my goodness,” Slay said. “But I knew I was gone. I’m going to return it every time.”

Slay sung his own praises postgame, when he used his platform to gleefully diss his opponent. On the scoring play, the Broncos were in 13 personnel, which meant they had three tight ends and only one receiver. Factoring his speed and agility with the opposition on the field, Slay had one goal in mind.

“So when I got the ball, I remembered they were in 13 [personnel], they had nothing but big guys,” Slay said. “They weren’t catching me.”