CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last June, the Eagles handed Fletcher Cox a six-year, $102.6 million extension.
He was worth every penny on Thursday night.
After missing two games with a calf injury, Fletcher Cox wasn't just active for the Eagles' 28-23 road win over the Panthers (see 10 observations). He was dominant.
"S---, it felt good," his fellow defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. "It felt like he's back to his normal self. Dominating, doing what he do."
Cox came into Thursday night as a game-time decision — he had missed two straight games and hadn't played since leaving the Giants game — but after testing out his calf during pregame warmups, the Eagles decided to play him.
If Cox was healthy enough to play, he was going to play in Thursday's battle of 4-1 teams.
"He was playing," head coach Doug Pederson said. "There was no way I could sit him tonight. This was too important of a game."
With Cox's help, the Eagles improved to 5-1 and have the best record in the entire NFC. Without Cox, that would have been much harder on Thursday night.
The Pro Bowl defensive tackle finished with two tackles, half a sack, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed (see breakdown). More importantly, he was an absolute force inside. The same force the Eagles have come to expect from him over the last few years.
"It felt good just to be back out there, to be back with my teammates," Cox said. "Felt pretty good and went out and finished the ballgame, which was the most important thing."
Cox's biggest play of the game came in the second quarter when the Panthers were clinging to a 10-3 lead. On 3rd-and-5, Cox looked like he had Carolina right guard Trai Turner on roller skates. Cox pushed the 315-pound guard like he was a bundle of feathers right into Cam Newton's lap.
That forced a bad throw that was intercepted by Rasul Douglas (see rookie report). The Eagles scored a touchdown seven plays later to tie the game at 10-10.
"I just bulled the guard into the quarterback's lap and went after the throwing arm," Cox said. "I actually thought it was a strip but I turned around and saw Rasul get the ball. Every play is a big play, especially plays like that."
Cox thought he got a strip sack, while Chris Long was on the field and thought he got a good enough jump to maybe get a sack of his own.
But Cox beat him to the quarterback.
"Of course, Fletch is just bullying the guard," Long said, "And he's just that type of game-changing player. He can absolutely alter every play on the field."
Cox was a big reason why Newton threw three interceptions on Thursday and he was a big reason why the Panthers had just nine rushing yards that didn't come from their quarterback.
The thing is, the Eagles' defensive line actually played pretty well in the last two weeks without Cox. Beau Allen filled in and did a fine job. Jernigan started to play at another level. And the rotation seemed to work.
But they didn't have Cox. And he's almost impossible to replace.
"He's so dominating in there, pushing the pocket, run and pass, and it was great to have him out there tonight," Pederson said. "He's another one of those leaders on the team that you lean on. He battled through his injury, put that aside for the team tonight and did an outstanding job."