One week before and more than a thousand miles away, Malcolm Jenkins was tested in the end zone, and it will be many more weeks and miles before Jenkins lets go of the humiliation he felt when the New Orleans Saints, his former team, embarrassed him unnecessarily at the end of a game that had been long decided.
Great players find fuel in failure and Jenkins came back to the NovaCare Complex last week with a full tank. He blistered the Eagles' defensive effort against the Saints, questioned the will of some of his teammates, and put the responsibility to lead them to a better place directly on his own shoulders.
There is no better way to lead than by example, of course. So it should have been no surprise that when Eli Manning tested Jenkins in the end zone on Sunday, with a pass attempt that, if successful, could have broken the Eagles, Jenkins responded. He read the route to Odell Beckham Jr. and dropped into coverage at the end zone, cutting in front of Beckham, who had a step on Tre Sullivan, to intercept the pass.
Not that it was a big moment or anything. The Eagles were trailing 19-11 and a touchdown there would have been enormous. Even if the ball merely fell incomplete, the Giants were in position for a field goal that would have extended their lead and put a depressing finish on a flat first half.
Instead, Jenkins kept the Giants off the scoreboard entirely and lifted the defense around him. After allowing 346 net yards in the first half, the Eagles gave up just 56 yards after halftime and came back for the 25-22 win that kept their season alive.
"I think there were a ton of small plays here and there and if you look at the game in its totality, we needed every single one of them," Jenkins said after the game, deflecting the importance of his interception. "It wasn't perfect, and guys have to continue to believe, and continue to fight, and that's what we're going to take pride in."
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There are certainly plenty of reasons the defense has struggled in the two previous losses, mostly relating to the ridiculously depleted state of the backfield. It was a theme that continued on Sunday when coordinator Jim Schwartz had to continue his mix-and-match act with guys who very recently were either backups, on the practice squad, or on the street. At one point, with a couple more players unable to go, the Eagles didn't have enough healthy or competent bodies to switch from nickel to dime coverage when the situation dictated. They adjusted and, with some help from the Giants, they prevailed.
That's what Jenkins hoped for when he challenged his teammates to rebound from the butt-whupping they endured in New Orleans.
"I didn't know what the outcome would be, but what I did know was that during the week we would do as much as we could to prepare guys to go out and play, and from a leadership standpoint, the guys who have the 'C' on their chests, needed to set the pace and show up," Jenkins said. "Whether everybody was going to follow or not was yet to be seen, but our team responded. As leaders, we have to make sure we're setting the pace, and when we do step on the field, we've got to make sure we're the ones that start the wave."
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That was exactly what took place with his interception at the end of the first half. Manning made a bad decision, but it was Jenkins that made him pay for it.
"Malcolm is a leader and a really good player for a long time. It's no coincidence he's the guy who's going to force the turnover," defensive end Chris Long said. "That's why we've got a guy like Malcolm back there."
The interception was the only turnover of the game, and Jenkins' first pick of the season. Sunday's game was also just the second time this year the Eagles have won the turnover battle. If they are going to make the win over the Giants mean anything, they have to keep that momentum going and get some more turnovers. They also need to keep listening to their leaders.
"We need to figure some things out about ourselves," Jenkins said last week, after the 48-7 loss to the Saints. "The men in the locker room are either going to step up or take the excuse. I'm not one to take the excuse."
Instead, he took the ball, and a game that had been going against the Eagles, suddenly turned around. As his teammates said, that wasn't a coincidence.
"It's still football. It's the same rules, the same ball, the same everything from Pop Warner to the league," Jenkins said. "We're not going to make this thing overly complicated. We're going to calm these guys down and allow them to be successful. That's a responsibility that I take."
That's a good thing for the Eagles, and taking the interception wasn't bad, either.
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