No one has ever compared Fletcher Cox to Jerome Brown - at least not publicly - but Rex Ryan knew what he was saying when he compared the Eagles defensive end to one of the greatest defensive linemen in team history.
"That [No.] 91 is a good player," Ryan said of Cox. "I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown, but I'm not laughing now."
Cox is entering rarefied air. He proved worthy of comparisons to Brown with another disruptive performance. Cox led the Eagles with a team-high seven solo tackles, recorded a sack, and had two other tackles for losses Sunday in a 23-20 win over Ryan's Buffalo Bills.
He also forced at least two holding penalties and probably deserves credit for a handful of other flags by the mistake-prone Bills offensive line. Overall, the unit was responsible for four holds, one of which was declined; two false starts; an illegal use of the hands penalty; and a personal foul (face mask).
There were probably two other times Cox was held and the officials swallowed their whistles. Asked how many of his team's penalties were because of Cox, Ryan said: "I don't know, probably a bunch. The kid made some plays."
The Bills often tried to single up guard Richie Incognito, who is having one of the better seasons for an interior lineman, against Cox. That was a mistake. There might not be an offensive lineman who can block Cox straight up for a series or two and not get beaten.
"Cox is a great player," Incognito said. "He really shows up well on tape, and we got to experience it firsthand today. I didn't play my best, and he beat me early and often. You have to take your hat off to a guy like that. I'm man enough to say I didn't play well."
Cox's most impressive - and effective - moment may have come in the fourth quarter. With the score knotted at 20, the Bills had a first down at their own 20. The handoff went to LeSean McCoy, and he was met in the backfield almost immediately by Cox. The Bills running back backpedaled and lost 10 yards.
The Bills punted three plays later, and the Eagles scored on the ensuing drive to go up for good.
"It was a big play for our team," Cox said.
Cox offered his hand after he drove his former teammate into the turf, but McCoy let go. The two had a brief altercation after an earlier unproductive carry by the former Eagles tailback. Cox appeared to say something, and McCoy gave him a little shove.
"It wasn't a conversation. I don't know what happened," Cox said. "Just went to the next play and played football."
McCoy blew off reporters after the game. He gashed the Eagles defense for 63 yards on 12 rushes in the first half but was held to just 11 on eight tries after the break. Cox obviously played a large role, but defensive lineman Bennie Logan and outside linebackers Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin helped set up an impenetrable wall.
"It's nice to play with him on the right side because I know all I've got to do is funnel it right back to him, and he's going to make a play," Graham said. "I can only respect a guy like Fletch because he comes to work every day. We need him on this team, and I'm hoping that we can lock him up. You don't want to see him go nowhere."
Cox is locked up for at least another year. In April, the Eagles picked up a fifth-year option that will net him $7.8 million next season. But it's likely that Chip Kelly will want to sign the young, still-ascending player to a long-term deal.
Cox turned 25 Sunday. It was a happy birthday. More recognition is surely coming.
"It's really nice to be recognized, but you know that I'm more of a team guy," Cox said. "It's not about me. It's the other 10 guys that I'm on the field with and go to battle with every week."
But Cox is the centerpiece of Bill Davis' defense. He plays the majority of snaps on the line and often draws double teams. He increased his sack total to 61/2 - a career mark - when he motored past two pass protectors and sacked the typically elusive Tyrod Taylor.
"Everybody struggles to block him," Davis said. "He's having a great year, and I hope he gets rewarded for it."
Remarkably, Cox wasn't voted into the Pro Bowl last season. He was a sixth alternate. He did earn second-team all-pro honors last season, but he deserves to be acknowledged by his peers. It often takes a year later for the players and coaches to catch on. Last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick called Cox "one of the best defensive linemen in the league."
The Eagles said Cox had 10 quarterback hurries against New England.
"He spends a lot of time in the other team's backfield, and I think maybe sometimes the only thing they can do is try to hold him from getting in there," Kelly said. "You know, he has been a very, very disruptive force for us, and we think he's playing outstanding right now."
Ryan learned the hard way. Buddy's son got to spend some time around Brown before Brown died in a car crash at the age of 27. Brown played five seasons with the Eagles, his last with the legendary 1991 defense. The current version of the Eagles is nowhere near that class.
But Cox deserves Ryan's comparison to Brown.