The first defensive snap of Sidney Jones' NFL career came at the 3:12 mark in the first quarter Sunday.
He lined up in press coverage. On Dez Bryant.
"Just lock up," Jones said of his thoughts in that moment. "That's it. Play ball."
Jones, 21, had a few times Sunday where he allowed the reality of his first NFL game to sink in. That was undoubtedly one of them. After a long and arduous recovery from a torn Achilles he suffered in the pre-draft process — an injury that dropped him out of the first round and into the Eagles' lap at 43 — Jones finally got to play in an NFL game.
The Eagles lost 6-0 in the meaningless regular-season finale (see breakdown). But Jones, who was told Saturday he would make his debut, played around 30 defensive snaps and a few more on special teams. Some were good, some were bad (see rookie report). Either way, the game had a ton of meaning for him.
"You look out there and there's Dez Bryant across the way," said safety Rodney McLeod, who got the day off. "He didn't flinch not one bit. Lined up in press vs. him in a situation that he had to and he did his job. That's all you can ask."
Jones had trouble describing his feelings heading into Sunday's game. He felt some nerves and had his "juices going" enough that the veterans who gave him advice, advised him to calm down.
Of course, that's easier said than done, especially for a 21-year-old who just battled back from months of rehabilitation as he patiently waited to fulfill a lifelong dream.
Sunday's game came exactly one year after his final college game with Washington, last year's Peach Bowl.
"Definitely worth the wait," Jones said. "It's been a long journey. I worked so hard to get here. It's a blessing."
Jones admitted he felt some rust Sunday; that was to be expected. It also wasn't surprising that he began cramping in his back and his quad. After the game, he said he felt fine but has to continue to get into game shape.
The Eagles got a chance to see Jones practice for three weeks leading up to Saturday's decision to add him to the active roster. They could have sent him to IR and decided to wait until next season, but they didn't. Jones said he's "definitely" ready to play in the playoffs if he's asked, but he hasn't been told anything yet.
"I don't know their plan," Jones said. "Just do what they ask me to. When my name's called, I'm prepared."
Jones had tight coverage on a few plays Sunday but also had some tough moments (see Roob's observations). One time, he lost contain on a long run from Ezekiel Elliott. On another, he bit on a sluggo route from Terrance Williams.
But after not playing for an entire calendar year, Jones looks pretty good.
Sunday was a pretty big day for Jones, but it was also big for his college teammate Elijah Qualls. Qualls, who joined the Eagles four rounds after Jones, considers Jones to be like his little brother. He said he was actually more excited for Jones to play than for himself to get a rare chance to play.
Qualls said it was hard to watch his friend go through such a tough injury. It even sucked the life out of the special moment when Jones was drafted; he was in the NFL but couldn't even get on the field.
But after months of rehabbing and staying as involved as he could in meeting rooms and in film study, Jones finally got his chance Sunday. It was a meaningless game, but it didn't lack meaning for him.
"I feel like today was a big day," Qualls said. "It was kind of a reward for everything he's been through."