By the time it was over, the Eagles were missing Nakobe Dean, Avonte Maddox, Reed Blankenship and James Bradberry and it left Darius Slay as the only guy left in the back seven from the Super Bowl defense.
And they lived to tell about it.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Eagles’ makeshift defense – loaded with rookies, street free agents and veteran castoffs - didn’t buckle Thursday night when faced with a high-powered Vikings passing game.
Undrafted Josh Jobe, in his first NFL start, played all 58 snaps. Linebacker Nicholas Morrow, released by the Eagles 2 ½ weeks ago, played 55 snaps. Terrell Edmunds and Josh Evans, who competed in an uninspired training camp safety battle, played 58 and 53 snaps. Linebacker Zack Cunningham, who wasn’t even with a team the first two weeks of training camp, played 53 snaps. Undrafted corner Mario Goodrich, in his first NFL game, played 39 snaps. Sydney Brown, Kelee Ringo and Eli Ricks all got on the field on defense for the first time in their career. Unheralded guys like Christian Ellis and Kentavius Street got defensive snaps.
“Just like next man up mentality, for real,” Evans said. “This is the NFL, so guys are going to get hurt, so next-man up. Me, you, all the fans expect the same results. Just got to get it done.”
Yeah, they gave up a bunch of yards and four passing touchdowns, but this rag-tag bunch of scrappy free agents, eager walk-ons and over-achieving undrafted kids did enough to help the Eagles get to 2-0 Thursday night in a nationally televised 34-28 win over the Vikings.
“Just happy, man,” said Slay, who had his hands full with Justin Jefferson all night. “Had a lot of guys step up, man. A lot of guys. Guys that ain't been out there before. Nobody ever played a full game before, but guys came out there, locked in and focused, got the job done.”
Dean is on Injured Reserve with a foot injury, Blankenship missed the game with a rib injury, Bradberry was out with a concussion and Maddox left in the second quarter after hurting his shoulder.
That left Evans, Edmunds and Brown as the safeties and Goodrich, Jobe and Ringo along with Slay as the corners.
The Eagles were out there with combinations that had never practiced together and certainly never played together.
It’s a credit to new defensive coordinator Sean Desai that everybody was as prepared as possible and a credit to the players that they stayed positive and kept grinding as Kirk Cousins tried to rally the Vikings back into the game.
“I thought they did a nice job,” Nick Sirianni said “We’ve had already probably a little more injuries than we had a year ago, so I’m just pleased with the depth that we have.
“The coaches have done a nice job developing the depth, and those guys have done a nice job being ready to play. Howie has done a nice job having the right guys in here to be the depth. So we’ll just keep getting better and hopefully get some of these guys back.”
It was Edmunds who forced the Justin Jefferson fumble into the end zone just before halftime, which led to a huge 61-yard Jake Elliott field goal as the second quarter ended. It was Evans that forced a fumble on a Vikings punt return and Morrow that recovered and Evans again who recovered the fumble that Jobe and Maddox forced. And Ringo who recovered Britain Covey’s fumble.
“It is what it is, because we trust each other,” Slay said. “We trust each one of us in that group, so it doesn't matter who goes down, who's playing, who's not. Coaches do a great job adjusting on the sideline, figuring stuff out. So gotta give credit to all, to the coaches for sure.”