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Hayes: Curry hopes to flourish as Eagles season winds down

BALTIMORE - The haters hurt you more when they're people you love. You might need advice from a guy who was also labeled a bust, like Brandon Graham.

BALTIMORE - The haters hurt you more when they're people you love.

You might need advice from a guy who was also labeled a bust, like Brandon Graham.

You might get attention from a legend who has seen it all, like Brian Dawkins.

Still, it hurts.

"The hardest thing is blocking the noise out," Vinny Curry said. "The haters just see I got paid. That will pick at you. It'll cut you."

Curry, who grew up 60 miles from Philadelphia, played a little bit more Sunday. He hurts a little bit less today.

He and his beloved Eagles lost again, in Baltimore, their fifth in a row and seventh straight on the road. Curry, however, was all over the field. He played 48 percent of the defensive snaps, the sixth-most of his career and the second-most this season. He stole playing time from fading veteran Connor Barwin, who is a converted 3-4 linebacker, and he made enough plays to at least gain some confidence.

"Getting into a flow makes a big difference," Curry said.

He finished with only two tackles and failed to notch a sack, but he dominated the left side of the defensive line, and one of his tackles dropped running back Terrance West for a 4-yard loss in the third quarter to squelch a Ravens drive.

The continual narrative of Curry's career has been inclusion.

He played little as a rookie. Then, he never started a game from 2013 through '15, but still had 16.5 sacks, while playing in a 3-4 system that minimized his skills as a defensive end. This prompted the Eagles to keep him off the free-agent market with a 5-year, $47.25 million extension, $23 million of it guaranteed.

It looked like one of the worst deals in team history. Curry had 1.5 sacks in the Eagles' first 13 games. The public and the press took notice. Few noticed that, given the chance, Curry produces.

He has played at least 50 percent of a game's snaps only five times. The Eagles are 5-0 in those games. He has played at least 45 percent of a game's snaps only 10 times. The Eagles are 8-2 in those games. The two losses came this season, on the road, 28-23, against the Giants on Nov. 6 and Sunday, 27-26.

"I feel like I'm an every-down defensive end, but what you've seen over the past few years is me coming in on third down and being successful in it," Curry said. "That puts you in that box."

At least the box was familiar.

Curry played at Neptune (N.J.) High, only 90 minutes from Lincoln Financial Field. He spent his youth worshiping Ricky Watters and copying Hugh Douglas. He broke down and cried when the Eagles made him the 59th overall pick in the second round of the 2012 draft. After all, he had played at Marshall, which had produced several offensive stars but few on defense. He was the second-highest defensive pick in Marshall history; and, in many aspects, he has been the most successful.

He expected to build on that success this season. Chip Kelly and Billy Davis and their 3-4 scheme went away. Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz installed and a Wide-9, 4-3, blitz-averse scheme that depends on the linemen to create pressure without help.

And, oddly, they didn't play their defensive lineman they'd just paid more than $47 million to create pressure without help.

To be fair, Curry hasn't been fully healthy for much of 2016. He sprained an MCL in the final preseason game. He shed his brace after the first four games but he felt hindered until Game 10 in Seattle.

"That game, I just let go," Curry said. "I just felt like myself. Had fun. Didn't try to think here, or think there, or second-guess my ability."

There had been plenty of thinking and second-guessing to that point. There has been plenty more since.

As Curry pulled his gold chain over his head in the cramped visitors' locker room in Baltimore, he said to Graham, "Yo, B, how many times did you get on me about staying positive about my season?"

Graham sat down on his stool and ripped through a handshake with Curry.

"Hell, yeah," he said, drying his feet. "I been through it."

A first-round pick in 2010, Graham battled injuries his first two seasons. The Eagles had switched to a disastrous iteration of the Wide-9 scheme in 2011.

"Being drafted in the first round, you feel a lot of pressure on you. You come into the season, saying, 'This is the year!' And you don't get as much playing time as you thought. The third season came, and I had worked my butt off," said Graham. "Vinny went through the same thing. He had high hopes for the season, and then it didn't go like he wanted it."

As the Birds transitioned into the three years of 3-4, Graham suddenly found himself playing outside linebacker, along with Pro Bowl end Trent Cole.

"T Cole told me, 'You're good enough to play in this league. Just stay out of your own head,' " Graham said. "I told Vinny the same thing. We all go through storms. If you worry about it, you'll miss the opportunity when it comes.' "

Curry is an emotional young man. Twice on Sunday, he choked up while discussing his season. Dawkins left a job as a TV analyst and joined the Eagles' front office full time in August to shepherd this type of player.

"I just try to help where I feel led to help, for those individuals who need it," said Dawkins, perhaps the most emotional Eagle in history. "Some come to me. Some, I'll mention things to. Absolutely."

Dawkins recognized that Curry might be getting in his own way.

"He spoke with me, like, every day. He knows how hard I prepare each week. He knows how big the expectations are, but the opportunity is this slim," Curry said, holding two enormous fingers about an inch apart. "I beat myself up for it. If I had six pass-rush opportunities, in my head, I should be getting home. That was not realistic. He told me to keep being hungry."

That's what hurt the most. Curry read the stories and heard the comments and saw the memes on Twitter. They all dismissed him as just another money grabber, a thief who signed a big deal and saw no real reason to play any hard.

Paradoxically, as often is the case, he tried too hard, like a slugger trying to hit a three-run homer with the bases empty. What lends credence to Curry's contentions is that he's painfully honest about the pain in his knee and the pain in his heart.

His knee's all better.

A strong finish to the season might help those hurt feelings, too.