When Sidney Jones’ girlfriend left the house this morning, she left the Eagles’ cornerback with a simple message heading into Monday night’s prime-time game.
“If you get in, do well,” Jones remembers her saying.
Jones did just that. One defensive snap, and one pass breakup that helped the Eagles secure a 23-17 win over the New York Giants Monday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Jones came in for an hobbled Rasul Douglas (relieving Jalen Mills, who left with an arm injury), and swatted a pass from Eli Manning to Darius Slayton on 3rd and 3 with 1 minute, 35 seconds left during the Eagles’ 23-17 overtime win over the New York Giants Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The team’s second-round pick in 2017, Jones has had an emotionally draining season. He started the season battling for a starting role, but has been relegated to the bench, hardly even playing special teams. If not for injuries to several starters, it’s possible Jones would have been a healthy scratch for the second straight week and for the third time this season. And he’s had his own share of injuries, dealing with soft-tissue problems his entire career.
“I can imagine this has been a frustrating year for him,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “[He’s] not necessarily getting the time that he wants. Like I said, you never know in this league when your number is going to get called. ... His number got called for one play, and he made a huge one. No bigger stop than that one, so I think the whole team is proud of him."
When Douglas went down, Jones wasn’t even sure if his number would be called. The former Washington standout who tore his Achilles tendon in the pre-draft process has been shunned in favor of less-heralded defensive backs in the past. Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7, the team used practice squad call-up Craig James in relief at corner instead of Jones.
“There have been times when they put somebody else in over me,” Jones said. “I told myself in the game, 'Whenever you’re ready, God. ... If it’s today, if it’s tomorrow. Whenever you’re ready, no matter what I’m thinking, I trust you, God.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle, I’m not going to lie. ... It kind of, almost, messes with you knowing if you’re not going to play or play, but you gotta block all that out and focus on every week getting better no matter if you’re in the game plan or not, I’m on scout team getting better.”
The swatted pass was reminiscent of James’ stop against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4, when he came in cold to make a pass breakup that led to a game-winning interception. It was also emblematic of the Eagles’ night on defense: They did just enough, got some help from Manning’s rust, and stayed alive despite a lackluster showing.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has said on multiple occasions that the team’s scheme often puts a lot of pressure of its cornerbacks. The defense frequently uses coverages that put a safety close to the line of scrimmage, leaving just one defensive back deep to help insulate Darby and Mills.
Early in the the game, the Eagles’ cornerbacks were exposed by Manning, a 38-year-old who spent the last few months backing up rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, who missed Monday’s game with an ankle injury.
Manning finished with 203 yards passing and two touchdowns, completing 15 passes on 30 attempts. Slayton had five catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns. It could have been worse for the secondary, though. The Giants played like a two-win team for much of the second half, and bad pass protection cost them a flea-flicker that sprung New York receiver Golden Tate wide open deep downfield.
But Sidney Jones and Co. did what they had to do late, holding the Giants scoreless in the second half and containing star running back Saquon Barkley to 66 yards on 17 attempts. They battled through injuries to Mills and Douglas, and bought the Eagles’ offense just enough time to stay alive.
Against the Packers, Jenkins said he warned James that the Packers would immediately go after him with the game on the line, and he delivered.
Did he offer a similar warning to Jones?
“I felt like, hopefully he would know,” Jenkins said. “I wasn’t going to freak him out or anything, we had a lot of confidence in him.”