TAMPA — Just before Jalen Carter’s monstrous forced fumble against the Buccaneers, he looked up to the stands and saw his section. About 40 of his family members and friends who made the 1 1/2 hour drive from his hometown of Apopka, Florida.
Carter made sure the trip was worth it.
With the second quarter winding down at Raymond James Stadium, Carter made a hustle play and forcefully — like, really forcefully — punched the football out of the hands of Bucs running back Rachaad White in the Eagles’ 25-11 win. It was one of the biggest plays of the game and it was made by the 9th overall pick, who continues to shine.
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“Yeah, it was a very exciting moment when it happened,” Carter said. “I have seen it growing up. I’ve seen a lot of NFL players punch out the ball and chase it down. When I turned around and seen him catch the ball, I was like, ‘Oh, if he came back my way, it was time me to punch it.’ And it happened, it got us ball back. Big momentum change.”
The forced fumble came the play after Carter and Fletcher Cox combined for an 11-yard sack on Baker Mayfield to start the drive after a Jalen Hurts interception. Carter got the ball back quickly for his offense.
“I hit a spin move on a linebacker,” White said. “And as soon as I was spinning, Jalen Carter came and hit me. He hit right on the ball and made a great play.”
“Wheww! Boy! That hit!” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. “My goodness.”
At the time of the forced fumble, the Eagles were up 10-3 and the Bucs had the football. After Carter got the ball loose, the Eagles were able to kick a field goal to take a 13-3 lead into halftime and then pushed it to 20-3 with a touchdown drive to start the third. Ball game.
For Carter, this is as close as he’ll get to a homecoming game. And that play is one he and his family will remember.
“Oh yeah, it made it a lot sweeter,” Carter said.
Coming into Monday night’s game, the Eagles’ defense had six takeaways in two games, while the Bucs hadn’t turned it over in either of their first two wins. So something had to give and it wasn’t the Eagles.
The Eagles got two takeaways on Monday — the Carter forced fumble and a Reed Blankenship interception — and got a safety in the win. They also gave up just 11 points and 174 yards of total offense.
While the Eagles turned the ball over a couple times too, their defense was there to bail them out. After the first Hurts interception in the second quarter, Carter was able to punch the ball free two plays later. And after the second interception in the third quarter, the Eagles were able to get a safety on the very next play with the charge from Jordan Davis, Carter and linebacker Nicholas Morrow.
So no points off turnovers for the Buccaneers on Monday. The defense just got them back the ball immediately.
“They bailed us out, man,” Brown said. “That’s why it’s a team game. They did a really good job getting us the ball back. We’re going to clean up the mistakes and hopefully the defense can keep going playing at a high level.”
Through three games, Carter has been everything as advertised. The No. 9 overall pick out of Georgia is showing why some thought he was the most talented player in the 2023 draft. Carter filled up the stat sheet again on Monday — 2 tackles, 1/2 sack, 1 QB hit, 2 FF — and was even more disruptive than the numbers show.
And it’s not just Carter. The Eagles’ front — specifically their defensive tackles — have been tremendous early this season. Cox looks like he’s back in his prime, Milton Williams is as steady as they come and even Marlon Tuipulotu picked up his second-career sack.
But the biggest storyline through three weeks is Carter and Davis. The two Georgia teammates picked up in the NFL right where they left off in college: As a dominant duo.
That’s why it’s pretty special that it was actually Davis who spotted Carter’s family in the stands just before that forced fumble and let him know.
It was a special night for Carter.
“It meant a lot. They called me as soon as I came in the locker room,” Carter said looking into his locker at his phone. “I didn’t even get a chance to shower.”
Can you blame them? He gave them quite a moment to remember.