Jordan Hicks and Kamu Grugier-Hill tipped the Eagles off to a fast start in win over Giants
They intercepted Eli Manning on the first series of the game, and pretty soon it started to feel like 2017 again.
The current season hadn't much resembled the Eagles' wondrous 2017 journey, until they ventured up the New Jersey Turnpike to visit the Giants.
At 2-3, The Eagles had already lost as many times as they had all last season. They'd lost two in a row, something that didn't happen last year. They'd lost those last two games with Carson Wentz posting higher passer ratings than he posted in any 2017 Eagles defeat (99.4 at Tennessee, 115.3 vs. Minnesota).
The root of everything seemed to be the first quarter. Somehow, a team that outscored opponents 106-48 in the first 15 minutes during the 2017 season was being outscored 23-7 during that time period this season. A defense built to play with a lead was having to play from behind. An offense that opponents once complained was too diverse to shut down was starting slow, taking penalties and sacks that made it one-dimensional.
Then Jordan Hicks and Kamu Grugier-Hill stepped in.
Second play from scrimmage Thursday night, second\-and-2 from the Giants' 33, Eli Manning tried to hit his tight end, Scott Simonson, who was playing because Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison were hurt. The throw, into a tight space, might have worked if Manning had put it on Simonson's outside hip or shoulder. But Manning, who would struggle with accuracy all evening, threw inside.
Hicks, whose reputation for always being around the ball has faded a bit of late, reached and chopped the ball free. It blooped into the hands of Grugier-Hill, who returned the only turnover of the game by either team to the Giants' 16, setting up the game's first touchdown, on a pass from Wentz to Alshon Jeffery.
This was the first career interception for Grugier-Hill, who is trying to establish himself as the weakside linebacker after making the roster two years ago as a special-teams player. Grugier-Hill blocked a punt in the Eagles' previous visit with the Giants, last Dec. 17.
"The hero on the play was Jordan Hicks," said Grugier-Hill, who kept the ball for posterity. "He had a great break on the ball. I was just standing there, in the right place, right time. … To start fast like that, nothing really compares to it."
The Eagles, plus-11 in turnover margin in 2017, entered Thursday minus-4. Their supposedly opportunistic defense had just two fumble recoveries and three interceptions.
"Huge emphasis going into this week was having more takeaways than they had, winning that battle," Grugier-Hill said.
Hicks said afterward he thought the throw was a check-down, but Manning said Simonson was his first read.
"I saw the linebacker getting some depth, so I thought I could put it on him," Manning said. "Unfortunately, it gets tipped over the middle. If it gets knocked down, it gets knocked down. It got tipped to the side and intercepted. Unfortunate break."
"I knew, when we were in that coverage, that Eli liked to throw that pass," Hicks said. "I got a good read on it, got a good jump, deflected it up."
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Hicks led NFL linebackers in interceptions in 2016, with five. He has a half-dozen career fumble recoveries and was the first linebacker to record 11 or more takeaways in his first 24 NFL games since the Steelers' Jack Ham in the early '70s. This season, Hicks hadn't been able to make much happen since recovering a fumble forced by Malcolm Jenkins in the Eagles' Week 2 loss at Tampa Bay.
"It definitely felt good, just the ability to help make a play … Obviously, it's one play, but throughout the game, our guys did a great job," Hicks said.
The interception was the first thrown by Manning on a first series since 2015.
Grugier-Hill had designs on taking the pick to the house, but he was pushed out of bounds by rookie running back Saquon Barkley, who later would do a much better job of eluding Grugier-Hill than Grugier-Hill did of eluding him.
"Saquon was out there in the flat, just [waiting]. I tried to make a move on him, but …" Grugier-Hill said.
Barkley ran for 130 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, caught nine passes for 99 yards, yet the rest of the Giants offense was so bad it didn't matter.
"He's a baller, for sure," Grugier-Hill said. "Not many backs are able to move the way he does, especially being as big as he is," at 6-feet, 233 pounds. "He's a top back, for sure."\