Eagles

Jalen Mills high on confidence after pick-6

Jalen Mills was about to step out of bounds when somewhere in the back of his mind he heard … voices.
 
"Malcolm (Jenkins), coach (Jim) Schwartz and coach (Cory) Undlin, they’ve been grilling me all week, talking about how I had no return skills," Mills said with a laugh. "So that kind of went through my mind."
 
Mills did pick up his first two career interceptions earlier this year and had a 15-yard return against the Redskins and a one-yarder against the Giants.
 
At LSU, Mills had six interceptions and averaged only two yards per return.
 
And his teammates and coaches have been good-naturedly mocking him about it. As teammates and coaches will do.
 
"So that kind of went through my mind," Mills said. "So I cut it back, and I had to get in the end zone or I wouldn’t stop hearing the end of it. I had to shut them up."
 
Instead of stepping out of bounds, Mills cut inside and spun and twisted his way into the end zone Sunday for a 37-yard interception return touchdown at a time when the Eagles really needed a big play in their 33-10 win over the 49ers (see breakdown).
 
They led the winless 49ers 10-3 but were sputtering in the final minutes of the first half. Until Mills showed off his dazzling return skills.
 
"That was a good one," Jenkins said. "He shut me up on that play.
 
"We've been doing a decent job of getting turnovers, but scoring on those opportunities is something we wanted to take the next step to, and Jalen's been playing big for us all year, and that was probably the biggest play of all."
 
Working on a 3rd-and-7 on the 49ers' 28-yard line with a minute and a half left before halftime, 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard dropped back, felt pressure from Chris Long and tried to lob the ball to Pierre Garcon near the right sideline.
 
But Mills picked it off in front of Garcon at the 37-yard-line, then started speeding down the sideline (see Roob's observations).
 
Just as it looked like he was about to go out of bounds at the 12, he cut inside, swung back to the 15-yard line, darted past Fletcher Cox, who had just leveled Joe Staley and knocked him out of the game, then cut back inside at the 4-yard line and with blocks from Dexter McDougle and Jaylen Watkins, he galloped past three 49ers and into the end zone.
 
It was the Eagles' first pick-six this year and longest by an Eagles cornerback since Brandon Boykin's 54-yarder off Jay Cutler in 2013.
 
"As soon as I got a pick, Malcolm grabbed me, so I knew I was over him," Mills said. "Then I ran right to Schwartz, and he gave me a big hug, and then Cory gave me a big hug."
 
Mills' interception was the product of a week of preparation but also some game-day preparation.
 
“I was talking to some of the other DBs, like Malcolm and Pat (Robinson) and Rodney (McLeod), when we were out there in pregame just warming up and watching the quarterback, seeing the rain and the wind," Mills said.
 
"He was kind of letting the ball float a little bit and you see a lot of guys slipping out there, so knowing the ball was floating a little bit, just kind of trusting my break and taking an extra step just so I could get a clean break on it, and he threw the ball, it was floating a little bit and I got underneath it."
 
Mills has three interceptions this year and all three have come on third down. He's the only NFL player with three third-down interceptions this year.
 
Overall, he ranks third in the NFL in INTs, behind only Buffalo's Micah Hyde (five) and Tennessee's Kevin Byard (four).
 
Sunday's INT was his first ever at home.
 
“Finally got it," he said. "Great feeling, man. I really can’t even explain it. Seeing the crowd going crazy, my teammates jumping on me, I really couldn’t celebrate because I was getting pulled down. I really can’t even explain that feeling."
 
Mills is only the fourth player the Eagles have drafted in the seventh round or later with three or more interceptions in a season in the last 25 years. The others are Mark McMillian in 1995 and Kurt Coleman and Jamar Chaney in 2011.
 
And he's got half a season to go.
 
"Somebody asked me before the season who was going to have a breakout season this year and I said Mills," McLeod said.
 
"Just his approach in the offseason, how he worked, the things that he fixed from last year, from film study to his technique, and you just see it all unfolding.
 
"He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and once you have that in this league as a cornerback, the sky’s the limit, and you just see his confidence growing every single week, and as a cornerback that’s something you want to have, and he’s got it right now."