He hadn’t been targeted since December. He hadn’t caught a pass in a meaningful game since October. Last October. He didn't have a 4th-quarter catch in a win in two years.
With the game on the line Sunday, the offense sputtering, the Saints gaining confidence and the Eagles’ lead quickly evaporating, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was just about the least likely guy on the planet to save the day.
But he did. In a huge way.
“J.J. knows his role with the team and does an excellent job at it,” Dallas Goedert said. “It was awesome to see his hard work pay off and to be able to get that catch.
“As a wide receiver, you love that. He was able to run for 20, 30 yards, whatever it was, and that was a big play in the game. The couple of drives before that we stalled out. For him to do that, it flipped the field and was able to get us in a good position. I’m really happy for him, and his hard work is paying off.”
The Eagles had just gone three-and-out twice in a row, their 26-point lead had turned into an 11-point lead in just seven and a half minutes, it was 2nd-and-11 from the Eagles’ 25-yard-line, the crowd was booing after a pass to Jalen Reagor netted minus-one yard and it seemed like everyone in the Linc was holding their breath.
It was JJAW time.
Jalen Hurts didn’t hesitate throwing the football to a guy who he had completed one pass to in his career. Arcega-Whiteside got open in the left flat between Saints corner Bradley Roby and safety Marcus Williams, caught the ball at the 30 and then raced another 18 yards before Roby, Williams and Demario Davis finally tackled him after a 23-yard gain.
It was only his 16th career catch, only his 5th in the last two years. But it got the Eagles out of the soup, and seven plays later Hurts scored from 22 yards out to put the game away.
The Eagles are 5-6 after a 2-5 start, and for only the fourth time in his two and a half-year career, Arcega-Whiteside caught a pass in a game the Eagles won.
“I always have a lot of confidence in everybody and anybody who’s out there on the field, targeting whoever it is.,” Hurts said.
“I believe in everybody and that’s what it is. For J.J. to come into the game in a situation like that, in a situation where we need to get a first down to essentially take the air out of the ball and keep it rolling, it was a big-time play by him. Where ball security is a premium and four-minute offense in a situation like that at the end of the game, he did what he was supposed to do. He did his job. I love it.”
Nick Sirianni said Arcega-Whiteside had a tough week because of a personal situation that he didn’t expound on. Arcega-Whiteside wasn’t made available after the game.
So he overcame a lot to make what Sirianni called the play of the game.
“He made a play in a critical time,” Sirianni said. “Because I think everybody in the stadium felt it kind of slipping a little bit. They were coming back into the game. We needed it. A big-time play by a guy that's had a tough week. For him to go out and make the type of play that he made right there, I love J.J.”
Arcega-Whiteside made the team this summer over Travis Fulgham because he’s made himself such a good special teams player.
But you have to give him a ton of credit for staying ready just in case.
It would have been easy for him to feel sorry for himself after getting just 59 offensive snaps all year before Sunday. But when it mattered, he showed up.
“I think he embodies the toughness of this city and this football team,” Sirianni said. “He's been asked to do things that he hasn't been asked to do before. He's been asked to be a special teams guy that really is gritty and tough because he has that in his body. He's been asked to be our blocking type of receiver in critical times. So it was great to reward him with a catch in that scenario.
“And I'm just so happy for him that he made that type of play and helped kind of stop the bleeding in that drive and make a big play to help us kind of put that game away.”
It’s got to be tough hearing about D.K. Metcalf every day of your life. It’s not Arega-Whiteside’s fault the Eagles drafted him ahead of Metcalf, who has 2,840 yards and 25 touchdowns to Arcega-Whiteside’s 16-for-277 and one TD.
All Arcega-Whiteside can control is being ready when he gets an opportunity. Even if that only happens once a year.