Five years after he entered the NFL through the back door as an undrafted free agent, Eagles cornerback Dimitri Patterson finally got his first starting opportunity yesterday.
The fact that it came against a guy who, just a couple of days earlier, was voted the eighth greatest player in the history of the NFL didn't faze him in the least.
"I was excited about that," said Patterson after the Eagles' impressive 26-24 win over Peyton Manning and the Colts. "I was excited to show [what I could do]."
Patterson knew there was going to be a big red target on his back yesterday afternoon. He knew Manning was going to go after him, and he was right.
The Colts' top wide receiver, Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne, spent most of the game on Patterson's side of the field. Manning attacked him with bubble screens and deep routes and crossing patterns. He targeted Wayne 16 times. While Wayne finished with 11 receptions, he averaged a puny 7.5 yards per catch and didn't have any touchdowns.
"It just so happened I was in their game plan," Patterson said. "They gave me three double moves [early]. They went deep on me twice. What does that mean? It means I'm in the game plan.
"They wanted to be productive on my side. They wanted to see results. I was excited about that. I was looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to it the rest of the year."
Patterson got his first starting opportunity because of a hip injury to starter Ellis Hobbs. Hobbs struggled badly in the Eagles' collapse against the Tennessee Titans 2 weeks ago. He earned a big piece of the blame, along with rookie free safety Nate Allen, for Kenny Britt's 225 receiving yards and three touchdowns in that game.
It's uncertain when Hobbs will be healthy enough to play again. And it's uncertain whether he will be given his starting job back, particularly after the impressive way Patterson played yesterday.
"Dimitri did a great job," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "Dimitri's a guy who typifies our defense. Blue-collar. Comes to work every day. Accepts his role. This week, he was the starter and did a nice job."
McDermott's defense did an impressive job against Manning. Intercepted him twice, which matched the total number of interceptions he had thrown in the Colts' first seven games. The Eagles' other ballhawking corner, Asante Samuel, had both picks, including a game-clincher with 6 seconds left. Manning completed just 31 of 52 passes and was held to a season-low 5.65 yards per attempt.
Yes, Manning was missing a couple of his top pass-catching weapons. Tight end Dallas Clark is on injured reserve. Wide receiver Austin Collie suffered a concussion late in the second quarter when he collided with Eagles safeties Quintin Mikell and Kurt Coleman.
But the Eagles had a first-time starter - Patterson - at one corner, and Coleman - a rookie seventh-round pick - playing most of the game at free safety. He replaced Allen, also a rookie, who suffered a back injury early in the second quarter.
"You look at the young guys on the defense at times," McDermott said. "You try not to think of it at the time, but in the second quarter, when Nate went down and Kurt had to go in, you're thinking, 'Oh, boy. We've got to put another rookie on the field against Peyton Manning.'
"On the one hand, that's a little surreal. But, at the same time, you like what you see. Guys that can remain poised in pressure situations in front of the home crowd. You talk to them on the sideline and they say, 'Coach, I got it.'
"We're a young defense still. There are a lot of new faces here. This was not the Super Bowl. This was a win."
A win against one of the game's best quarterbacks. A win against a guy who had absolutely owned the Eagles in three previous wins in his career, carving a 132.3 passer rating.
"You probably couldn't see, but I was smiling in my helmet," Patterson said. "I am a competitor. I am trying to make hay. I am not trying to go out there and hide. I wanted them to come after me. If they didn't throw over there, no one would know what I can really, really do.
"I'm in a position where I have to show. If no one's throwing over there, then how can I show? I've been waiting 5 years for this opportunity."
Manning completed 18 of 25 passes for 171 yards in the first half as the Colts took a 17-16 halftime lead. He went to Wayne 10 times in the first 30 minutes. But Patterson managed to minimize the damage. Wayne had seven catches, but for only 52 yards.
"The first half, he exerted a lot of energy on my side," Patterson said. "You could see how they were trying to set me up. But that's OK. You've got to seize the moment. You've got to run to it."
McDermott didn't blitz a lot against Manning, which was wise because the guy is as close to unblitzable as they come. But they still managed to sack him three times. He had been sacked just seven times going into the game.
The Eagles' defensive coordinator mixed up his coverages and switched his fronts.
"We threw the kitchen sink at him," McDermott said when asked what his game plan was to neutralize Manning and the Colts' passing game. "We just tried to give him different looks.
"My hat goes off to our players, who had to execute those different looks. It was a little bit unorthodox at times, but there's not a lot of people that beat this guy, and you've got to do some things out of the ordinary. Yet, at the same time, you've got to play physical football. You've got to run, you've got to tackle, you've got to make plays on the ball like Asante did.''
Coleman, a seventh-round pick out of Ohio State, had seen periodic action in the first seven games as the third safety in McDermott's dime packages. But when Allen hurt his upper back and neck trying to make a tackle on Colts running back Donald Brown early in the second quarter, Coleman replaced him.
"I was ready," Coleman said. "I prepare every week as if I'm going to get a lot of playing time. It just happened to be this week. The first play, I had to get my bearings right. But, after that, I felt good. I felt comfortable out there, and as the game went along, I felt more and more comfortable.
"We rallied around the other veterans," said Coleman. "I thought we played assignment football. It's tough to hold down Peyton Manning, especially for four quarters. He did a great job of leading them down [for their final touchdown] ... But then we buckled in. Asante came up big at the end with another interception."
Coleman was involved in a controversial play late in the second quarter. He and Mikell collided with Collie on a deep pass down the middle. Coleman inadvertently hit Collie in the head with his helmet, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty. Collie had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.
Coleman knew he couldn't let the play change the way he played the rest of the game. He tried to stay aggressive.
"I couldn't let it affect me," he said. "I've got to play my style of football. I don't do anything maliciously. I play football. That's what I do."
DID YOU NOTICE?
-- The Colts were so shorthanded that guard Jacques McClendon switched his jersey number from 65 to 80 and was listed as a tight end for the game.
-- The Eagles activated just four wide receivers - DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper. Chad Hall was inactive to make room for running back Jerome Harrison. Harrison only played about a half-dozen snaps. He had two carries for six yards and was used an couple of times in the same backfield with LeSean McCoy.
-- Even though Brodrick Bunkley was activated, Antonio Dixon started at right defensive tackle, but didn't really play that much. Because the Colts use three-wide-receiver formations most of the time, the Eagles used their nickel package a lot, with Darryl Tapp and Trevor Laws at tackle.
-- The first-quarter holding penalty on left tackle Jason Peters, which was declined by the Colts.
-- The heavy dose of bubble screens the Colts threw at the Eagles in the first half.
-- The missed tackle by Asante Samuel on Jacob Tamme's 3-yard second-quarter touchdown catch-and-run on a bubble screen.
-- Nick Cole replaced Max Jean-Gilles at right guard in the second quarter after he left the game with a concussion.
-- After free safety Nate Allen went out in the second quarter, the Eagles put in linebacker Keenan Clayton as a quasi-safety during one series.
-- Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley couldn't get off a block and plug the hole on Javarris James' 7-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter.
-- Michael Vick can't slide. Just doesn't know how to do it. He ran the ball 10 times (for 74 yards) and avoided hits by getting out of bounds rather than trying to get down.
-- On the defensive holding call on Colts tackle Dan Muir at the end of the third quarter, center Mike McGlynn got away with a hold on Muir. The hold gave the Eagles a first down at the Indianapolis 13.
-- The Eagles came out on the short end of three replay challenges. Andy Reid lost two and a challenge by the Colts was reversed.
-- Trent Cole was going for a strip on the third-down play late in the fourth quarter when he was called for hitting Manning in the head. But since any contact to the head of the quarterback is a penalty, the call was technically correct.
BY THE NUMBERS
--Sav Rocca's third-quarter touchback was just his second in 39 punts this season.
-- The Eagles won the time-of-possession battle for the sixth time in their last seven games. That's as many time-of-possession battles as they won all of last season.
-- For the third time this season, the Eagles didn't have any turnovers. They also didn't have any in wins over the Lions and Jaguars.
-- The Eagles have scored TDs on their first possession in three of the last four games. Their first-possession numbers in the last four games: 23 plays, 238 yards, 11 first downs. Their first-possession numbers in the first four games this season: 14 plays, 24 yards, one first down, one touchdown.
-- Michael Vick hasn't thrown an interception in his last 154 attempts. That includes 125 passes this season, 13 last year and his last 16 with the Falcons in 2006.
-- LeSean McCoy has just one rushing TD in the last six games.
-- The Eagles' defense continues to struggle in the red zone. The Colts converted three of four red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. For the season, the Eagles have allowed 15 TDs in 20 red-zone chances.
-- The Eagles have allowed 70 fourth-quarter points in the first eight games. That's just one less than they allowed in the fourth quarter all of last season.