Slay shuts down Jefferson in dominant performance

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James Harden waited and waited and flipped the football up and down and around his back and waited some more.

Finally, Darius Slay emerged from the field and made his way through the tunnel.

“You should have had three or four today!” Harden shouted.

Slay agreed and maybe Harden was right.

But there’s no denying that Slay was downright dominant in the Eagles’ 24-7 win on Monday Night Football at the Linc. The Eagles’ CB1 showed why he’s still an elite cornerback, picking off two passes (the first ball went to Harden), breaking up five more and shutting down one of the best receivers in the NFL.

This game is why the Eagles traded for Slay. This game is why he makes nearly $17 million per season. This game is why he’s one of the most respected players among his peers at his position in the entire league.

Slay, 31, played like an All-Pro on Monday night.

“The older you get, they think you’re falling off, but I am not one of those guys,” Slay said. “I’m still at an elite level.”

Hard to argue against that.

There was a lot of angst among Eagles fans regarding how the defense would fare against Justin Jefferson and that wasn’t necessarily misplaced. Jefferson is a superstar and Slay even called him the second-best receiver in the league behind just Davante Adams.

But Slay shut him down.

“He is one of the best in the world,” Slay said. “And, shoot, I’m one of the best in the world, too. I was looking forward to the matchup.”

Jefferson finished with just 6 catches on 12 targets for 48 yards but barely did anything against Slay. According to NFL NextGenStats, Slay shadowed Jefferson on 17 plays. Of the 5 targets that went Jefferson’s way with Slay in coverage, Jefferson had just 1 catch for 5 yards and Slay had 2 picks.

“That’s crazy,” A.J. Brown said. “That’s a big stat. He had a helluva day.”

“He’s a competitor for sure,” Jefferson said. “I knew that I was going to get that from him. I mean, he’s a great cornerback. He’s a great player.”

The Eagles traded for Slay before the 2020 season, a move that finally gave them the elite-level cornerback they had been missing for years. While Slay played well in his first year in Philly, that season broke his streak of three consecutive Pro Bowls.

In 2021, Slay went back to the Pro Bowl and was clearly one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL despite laughably receiving just a single All-Pro vote.

Slay feels like he’s respected among his peers who see and understand what he’s asked to do, but not as much by media members across the country. A game like the one he had Monday on a national stage against one of the best receivers in the country could certainly help to change all that.

“We all know what Slay can do,” safety Marcus Epps said. “He’s the best in the game. He proved it out there tonight. He was unbelievable. I knew he was going to do that too. We all knew he was going to do that.

“He’s a competitor and he wants to go against the best all the time. He has that mentality that no matter who he goes against, he’s going to win. It was amazing what he did tonight.”

Both of Slay’s interceptions came with the Vikings in the red zone. He picked off Kirk Cousins in the third quarter and then again in the fourth quarter on a key 3rd-and-9.

What made his second interception even more impressive was that Slay was injured on the previous play, but as second-year cornerback Zech McPhearson was instructed to run onto the field, Slay toughed it out and waved him off. Then he picked off Cousins’ pass to Jefferson to really seal the victory.

“Yeah, I had to wave [McPhearson] off,” Slay said. “I’m a tough dude. I’m not going to put him in that position right now. It’s a clutch situation, the offense just turned the ball over. The great players rise at that time and moment.”

Slay kept that second interception ball and said it’ll go to his son, who is a big fan of Jefferson.

The first interception ball went to Harden right after the pick because Slay said he’s a big fan of Harden’s game. The feeling was clearly mutual.

Because a few seconds after their encounter in the tunnel, the 6-foot-5 Harden emerged and his giant beard couldn’t do enough to hide his grin. He held out the football in his right hand, showing it off.

“I got my ball signed,” Harden said. “I’m good.”

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