The lesson Ronald Darby learned that led to clutch INT

The lesson Ronald Darby learned that led to clutch INT

Ronald Darby learned a valuable lesson last week: Never take an NFL opponent lightly.

Cliché as it may sound, Darby's fourth-quarter interception to set up the Eagles' game-winning field goal against the Raiders was a product of the cornerback's work in the film room. It was also a level of effort the third-year veteran wouldn't necessarily have put in against an inferior opponent were it not for his embarrassing performance against the Giants.

"Last week taught me you should never overlook an opponent," Darby said after the Eagles' 19-10 victory over the Raiders (see breakdown). "I don't care who it is.

“Knowing that the Giants didn't have their starting receivers, at the end of the day, those dudes get paid in the league just like me. I feel like I underprepared, and I didn't take it seriously, and that's what happens when you mess around.”

Darby came under fire for his performance against a 2-13 Giants squad that threw for 431 yards. The 23-year-old defensive back was only part of the problem but was among the players singled out afterward.

Determined to not draw that kind of criticism again, Darby studied up on the 6-8 Raiders closely. With 57 seconds remaining in a tie game and quarterback Derek Carr trying to move his team into scoring position, Darby's knowledge of the tendencies of wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree paid off.

"Coop is one of the hardest dudes in the league to get your hands on off the line," Darby said. "As the game was going on, I was trying to study his releases. It's different on film when you're lined up in front of them, he and Crabtree.

“On film, I noticed when they ran their slants in press, they start off slow, then try to pick up, and then boom — hit that one step to get you to overcommit and get back under you. So when it started out slow, I just stayed square the whole time, and when he made that step, boom, I just flipped and then looked for the ball, and I caught it.”

Six plays later, the Eagles kicked the go-ahead field goal, and the defense was able to close the game.

It was exactly the kind of play Darby may not have come up with earlier in his career. And it was those types of missed opportunities in the clutch that may have led the Bills to trade him to the Eagles back in August.

"At Buffalo, I was making a lot of plays," Darby said. "I just wasn't finishing them.

“That's something I talked about in training camp when they were like, 'I had a down year.' My down year was I wasn't finishing on plays. I dropped like five picks last year. This year I made sure I focused on that.”

You could go so far as to say Darby is feeding off of the criticism.

“It's great," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "It's what these guys do, and what he does. They use it as a little motivation, probably a little fuel. It lights a fire.”

The pick was Darby's third of the season. It's a new career high despite his playing in only seven games so far because of an ankle injury. As for Carr, he managed just 140 passing yards against this vastly improved Eagles secondary.

More importantly, the turnover helped the Eagles pull out a hard-fought victory and clinch the top playoff seed in the NFC — on Christmas Day, no less (see Roob's observations).

“That play he had today will go down in the history books of Christmas miracles," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "To have the situation where it's not really looking that good and you come up with an interception, and almost scored on it, we needed that play.”

It can all be traced back to Darby's outlook leading into the game, which was decidedly down in the dumps after the previous contest.

Darby wound up apologizing last week after going on Twitter to rant about his critics. In the end, he realized there was some truth to it and altered his approach accordingly.

As it turned out, the Eagles sorely needed Darby's change of mindset Monday. Without it, they likely wouldn't have been able to pull out another close one.

"Last week, our offense was carrying us," Darby said. "We were playing like trash, playing horrible. This week, our offense was making little mistakes, and we had to come out there and make some plays.

“It's a team effort. One side of the ball isn't always going to be perfect.”

5 Minutes with Roob: Beau Allen getting better and better

5 Minutes with Roob: Beau Allen getting better and better

Beau Allen is definitely one of the unsung performers on this Eagles' roster.

Now in his fourth year as an undrafted free-agent defensive tackle out of Wisconsin, Allen played a career-high 28 snaps per game this year in the Eagles' D-line rotation and is a valued enough player that he was on the field when the Eagles stopped the Falcons on 4th-and-2 with the game on the line Saturday.

Allen joined us for this week's 5 Minutes with Roob.

Roob: We've got to start with the most important thing. Tell us about Seven-Layer Jello.

Beau: "Oh yeah, that is by far the most important thing. Seven-layer jello is a dish that my mom makes, and it's pretty self-explanatory. It's seven layers of jello. It's kind of a visual spectacle, too. It's different flavors of jello kind of stacked on top of each other. Usually, you have a clear bowl and it's a main dish at basically any Allen holiday event. It's pretty good. My mom's a great cook. She hates when I talk about it, but it's really an amazing dish."

Roob: The nucleus of this defensive line — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and you — has been together a long time. All you guys have been together since at least 2014. How big is that for this group?

Beau: "I think we are a pretty well-seasoned group. We have spent a lot of time together and we all really like each other too. One thing that we're all pretty experienced, we've all gotten a lot of reps, and we all bring kind of a something different to the table. Fletcher is a different player than I am and Timmy (Jernigan) is different from Destiny (Vaeao), and the same thing with the defensive ends, and I think that makes it tough for offensive lines."

Roob: You played 17 percent of the snaps as a rookie, then almost 30 percent in your second year under Bill Davis, then up to 40 percent last year and 41 percent this year. How hard have you worked to go from an undrafted rookie free agent to a key part of this defensive line rotation?

Beau: "I don't really like to talk too much about how hard I'm working. I feel like if you're talking about how you're working hard you're probably not working that hard. But yeah, whenever you get to this time of year you kind of look back a little bit. It's been a heck of a journey for me. I tore my pec last offseason and it seems like it was a really long time ago, but it was just seven months ago or something like that. But battled back from that and to end up where we are now, playing for the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings, it's really cool. It's always fun to look back and kind of see how far you've come."

Roob: What was your first career playoff game like?

Beau: "It was amazing. It was really cool. I was fortunate to be on the field there at the end of the game, and anytime you get a 4th-and-2 stop for your season, it was pretty electric. I kind of blacked out, but celebrating after that play was a lot of fun."

Roob: On that play and really the whole game, you guys seemed to approach it like any other game, despite what was at stake. How big was that?

Beau: "When you come to playoff football, what it really comes down to is just doing your job, just doing what you've done to get to that point. Not really trying to do anything above and beyond your role. That's one thing we all try to do, just perfect the little details of each play, and I think that gets even more elevated in the playoffs."

Roob: Chris Maragos is always talking about the crazy atmosphere at Wisconsin home games at Camp Randall Stadium. How did Saturday at the Linc compare to football on Saturday afternoons in Madison?

Beau: "It is pretty similar. One thing that I love about Madison and Camp Randle is 'Jump Around.' I think it's the coolest tradition in college football. But both are definitely rowdy fans that are really passionate about the game of football, so definitely similar in that aspect."

Roob: How important has it been to focus on the Vikings and not think about how the Super Bowl is just one win away?

Beau: "I'm definitely a one-day-at-a-time, a one-play-at-a-time kind of guy. You can't look too far ahead. We're just focused on this game Sunday and, like I said, doing all the little things. That's definitely how we've approached it this week and kind of how we've approached every game this season."

Roob: OK, you're from Minnesota. Can you please assure Eagles fans that you're not — and never were — a Vikings fan?

Beau: "I put an end to that narrative real quick. I grew up about 30 minutes west of Minneapolis. I was a Packers fan growing up. Not a Vikings fan. Nobody in my family is Vikings fans. They're all going to be out here cheering for us on Sunday. I made sure of it. I gave them lie detector tests and flashed a real bright light in everybody's face and made sure. They've all been vetted thoroughly."

These 4 Eagles want another serving or two

AP Images

These 4 Eagles want another serving or two

It took Nigel Bradham six years in the NFL before he got a chance to play in his first playoff game. 

He's not taking any of this for granted. 

"It's funny, man, because you think, 'Damn, I've been playing in the league six years and this is my first appearance,'" Bradham said this week as the Eagles prepare for Sunday's NFC Championship Game. "You kind of be like, 'Dang, man, why'd it take so long?' It's more than just you, obviously. It's a team sport. I've been fortunate enough to be on a great team and to have the opportunity. 

"Right now, I'm 1-0 and I'm looking forward to having more success in the playoffs. It's definitely an amazing feeling."

Bradham isn't the only Eagles player in a similar situation. Stefen Wisniewski, in his seventh season, and Rodney McLeod and Alshon Jeffery, both in their sixth seasons, all played in their first playoff game last Saturday against the Falcons. 

The group, which had a combined 369 regular-season games without a playoff appearance, finally got a taste of the postseason. They're not ready for this ride to end. 

Because no one ever really knows how long it might take to get back. 

"The feeling was great," McLeod said. "To go out there, first playoff game, at home and come out with the win. Couldn't ask for a better story. 

"But now knowing that game is history and moving on to the Vikings, who are a great team and they've been like that all year. We're going to have to elevate our game even more than last week if we want to get to that next step. The road to the Super Bowl doesn't get easier."

All four definitely made their impact felt against the Falcons last Saturday. Bradham played well all game and came up huge on the final fourth down. McLeod was called for a personal foul, but it was a weak call and either way, it saved a touchdown. Jeffery caught four passes for 61 yards, including some that came in huge situations. And Wisniewski played his best game since joining the Eagles two years ago. 

Jeffery called the atmosphere at the Linc against the Falcons "electric" and expects the same type of level from fans this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. 

"I just try to stay in the moment, stay locked in," Jeffery said about his first playoff run. "I'm not trying to reflect on anything right now. I think I'll do that after the season, when the season is officially over with. Right now, I'm just trying to do a great job trying to stay locked in one day at a time." 

It's pretty clear it meant a lot to Jeffery to finally make it to the playoffs, but he's also very clearly not happy with just getting there. He's always a calm guy during the week, but it's obvious he's working to keep his emotions in check. 

"Of course, we all know we're one game away from the Super Bowl," Jeffery said, "but you just have to be relaxed and try to not go out there and think about that." 

Of course, these four players aren't the only first-timers the Eagles have in the playoffs. They have many more. It's just that these four had to wait the longest. 

In the week leading into the Falcons game, head coach Doug Pederson admitted he of course wondered how his first-timers would perform under the bright lights of the playoffs. Based on one win, he got a pretty quick answer. 

One thing is for sure: the four guys who had to all wait at least six seasons for their first taste of the playoffs will do almost anything to keep this going. 

"This is what we worked for," Bradham said. "When you go back to OTAs and all your training and doing everything in the offseason with the guys, 7-on-7 and things like that. This is what it's all for. You put all that work in, man, and you know what's on the line. We all are excited. We're just ready to go out here and play."