Arizona Cardinals

Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

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Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

If Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson had scored there with a minute left, nobody would have really paid attention. In the big picture? It wouldn't have mattered.

The final score would have been 34-14 instead of 34-7, and the celebration would have been just as raucous, the jubilation just as intense.

It's a play that didn't matter.

Just don't tell Rodney McLeod.

"Nothing's here for free," he said.

Here's the situation: The Eagles took a 34-7 lead over the Cards Sunday at the Linc with 2:05 left on Jake Elliott's second field goal of the game.

As the final seconds ticked away, Carson Palmer drove the Cards down to the Eagles' 29-yard-line, where on 1st-and-10 he threw a short pass near the left sideline to Nelson, who broke a Patrick Robinson tackle and made a bee-line for the end zone and appeared to score the Arizona's second touchdown of the game.

A meaningless touchdown but a touchdown nonetheless.

McLeod wasn't having any of it.

He raced over from the middle of the field and belted Nelson just as he was about to enter the end zone. Replays showed the ball not only coming loose before Nelson crossed the goal-line but also bouncing out of the end zone for a touchback.

The touchdown was overturned, the Eagles ran out the clock, and 50 years from now, when Eagles fans look back at the 2017 season, they'll see 34-7 and not 34-14.

All because McLeod made an incredible play when it didn't matter a bit.

Which is exactly why he's a guy you want on your football team.

"Man, it's just how we approach every day, every week as DB's and as a defense as a whole," McLeod said at his locker. "I know in our room, we always talking about loafing, and we stress that a lot in practice, and so a play like that, it just becomes second nature, and that's what it was.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard. We look at a loaf as a traitor in our room, so everybody holds one another accountable. I don't want to let my brothers down."

Eric Allen is the greatest cornerback in Eagles history. Buddy Ryan found him while watching tape of an Arizona State blowout loss in 1987. With the Sun Devils hopelessly trailing Cal in the final minutes, he saw Allen race down the field and knock a Cal player out of bounds just short of the goal-line, and he decided that's a guy he wanted on his team.

If you're a pro, you're not out there thinking about the score or the standings or the postgame celebration. Even up 37-7 with a minute left.

You're thinking only one thing.

Make a play.

"That was a play where Patrick, unfortunately, missed a tackle, but me and Kamu (Grugier-Hill) were there hustling to make a play, and that's what this defense is about," McLeod said.

"Hustle plays like that make up for guys missing tackles and you begin to trust one another. It's just that mentality. Never give up."

Why are the Eagles 4-1 and in first place in the NFC East with the second-best record in football?

Exactly because of that mentality.

"Just being there for my brother," McLeod said. "It's just a part of our DNA. Once you hit that field, you give 100 percent and you're all in, and that's what we were.

"It is contagious. It rubs off a lot. You come to practice, we do it each and every day. We don't take that lightly."

Robinson was kicking himself for that missed tackle, which came at the end of what may have been his best game in eight years as a pro.

Robinson was all over the field Sunday. He knocked down three passes, made four tackles, blocked a field goal and was generally mistake-free in his coverage.

Really, he played perfect football for 59 minutes. Then missed a tackle.

"I was like, 'Man, how did I give up that cheap catch? That cheap touchdown?'" Robinson said. "Then I saw the replay, and I was just so grateful for those guys to turn that into a touchback. I was so grateful they picked me up.

"But that's what it's all about. Being a team. Doing your job. We play till the last whistle. We play till it's 0-0-0, and that's what Rodney and Kamu did."

McLeod and Robinson both said they initially thought McLeod had saved a touchdown but the Cards would have a 1st-and-Goal on the 1-yard line.

Then they realized it was a touchback and the game was over.

"OK, add that to the stat sheet," McLeod said with a laugh.

The Eagles got to 4-1 by beating Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer the last three weeks. That's three potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks. All three rank in the top 13 in NFL history in passing yards.

McLeod's play might not have made a difference in the standings, but it sure exemplifies exactly what this football team is all about.

"Being a team," Robinson said. "Having each other's back. That's exactly what it is."

Eagles-Cardinals: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Cardinals: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

Third-down insanity from Carson Wentz, strong stuff from the secondary, big touchdowns from Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith, Rodney McLeod's effort on a meaningless play and much more from the Eagles' third straight win — 34-7 over the Cards at the Linc (see breakdown).

Enjoy the 4-1 start and enjoy Roob's Observations!

1. I was thinking Sunday morning that, by any measure, the Eagles were the superior team and should blow out the Cards and that this was a game that would really show me how far the Eagles have come. I've seen signs the past few weeks that this group has really matured and really developed into something special. But lose to a bad Cards team at home and I knew I'd have to reevaluate. But I picked Eagles 30, Cards 10 because I just sensed that this team had grown to the point where, when faced with a clearly inferior opponent, they would pounce. And pounce they did to the tune of 21-0 after the first quarter, only the ninth time in franchise history they've led a game by 21 or more points after the first quarter. The Eagles showed me a lot Sunday. They got up early, then they pounded the Cards and finished them off. They're now 4-1 with three straight wins, and they've got to be mentioned in any conversation about the best teams in the NFC. You know what I like best about this team? They've been ravaged by injuries — from Darren Sproles to Fletcher Cox to McLeod and played much of the game Sunday without Lane Johnson — but you haven't heard one person in that locker room whine about it or try to use injuries as an excuse. This team is mature, it's serious-minded, it's together, it's driven. It's a beautiful thing to see.

2. Wentz's third-down work Sunday was astonishing (see report card). He was already among the best in the NFL coming into this weekend — his 107.2 passer rating before Sunday was sixth-best in the NFL. Then he went out and went 10 for 11 for 207 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions just on third down in the first three quarters Sunday, with nine of those 10 completions resulting in first downs. His third-down numbers now on the season: 36 for 51 for 573 yards, with six TDs, one INT and a passer rating of 138.8. Insane. This is a guy who ranked 28th in the NFL last year on third down. Wentz said when last year ended he wanted to focus on improving on third down, and his third-down numbers are now off the charts. Spectacular stuff.

3. Wentz was pretty good on the other downs, too. In fact, this was his best game as a pro. Other than one ill-advised interception deep in Cards territory just before halftime, Wentz was brilliant Sunday. He became the first Eagles QB with four TDs in a game since Nick Foles in Oakland back in 2013 and the first to do it here in Philly since Donovan McNabb against these same Arizona Cardinals on Thanksgiving Day in 2008. And Wentz hit the deep ball, becoming the first Eagle QB to throw two TDs of 50 yards or more in a game since McNabb had a 55-yarder to Correll Buckhalter and an 84-yarder to Donte Stallworth in a game against the Redskins in 2006. Wentz was 21 for 30 Sunday (70 percent) for 304 yards with four TDs and an INT. Five games in, Wentz has completed 62 percent of his passes with 10 TDs, three INTs and a passer rating of 97.7. This is your quarterback.

4. Let's talk the Eagles' secondary. The last three weeks, they've faced three quarterbacks who've combined to throw for more than 140,000 yards and nearly 1,000 touchdowns. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer are all potential Hall of Famers. And it wasn't always pretty, but the Eagles got through that minefield of high-powered All-Pro quarterbacks with a spotless 3-0 record. Say what you will about the Eagles' secondary. They've given up some yards, given up some touchdowns. But out-manned, out-gunned, banged-up, young, inexperienced — they made the plays they had to each week against some pretty darned good QBs. And trust me, that would not have been the case the last eight years. Even Eagles killer Larry Fitzgerald was just another guy Sunday, with six catches for 51 harmless yards and nothing longer than 15 yards. Palmer threw 44 times Sunday but didn't have a single completion of 30 yards or more. Really strong stuff from this secondary.

5. One guy in particular who really stood out Sunday was Patrick Robinson, who was just making plays all over the place. His progress from struggling veteran in training camp to the Eagles' best cornerback right now has been so impressive. He just gets better and better. This is a 30-year-old guy who's with his fourth team in four years and who really I thought this summer was in jeopardy of being out of the league. But once he grew comfortable in Jim Schwartz's defense, he just started making plays, and Sunday he was the Eagles' best defensive player. Remarkable performance.

6. I wasn't crazy about Doug's play-calling late in the second quarter. I understand he loves being aggressive, and that's fine, but be smart too. You're up 21-7, you're already in field goal range, take the three points and be happy with a 24-7 halftime lead. That doesn't mean just run the ball, but run high-percentage stuff mixed in with the running game. Try to score but don't put the ball up for grabs. I'm big on momentum. Wentz's pass intended for Zach Ertz that Antoine Bethea picked off in the end zone really had very little chance of succeeding. As it turned out, Robinson bailed out the Eagles, blocking a Phil Dawson field-goal attempt just before halftime. But it never should have gotten to that point. There's a time to be aggressive. And a time to just be happy with a 24-7 lead.

7. Gotta give big props though to Pederson for running the ball in the second half once the Eagles built a big lead. Arizona is very good against the run. The Cardinals came in with the NFL's No. 10 rush defense and were allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and 88 rushing yards per game. But for the third straight week, Pederson showed a real commitment to the run. The backs had just 10 carries for 44 yards in the first half but had 16 carries for 114 yards in the second half, and that's the most success any team has had on the ground against the Cards this year. LeGarrette Blount, with just two carries for six yards in the first half, finished with 74 rushing yards on just 14 carries.

8. How about Kenjon Barner setting up a touchdown with a 76-yard punt return a week and a half after being out of work and living in Southern California hoping for another chance to play professional football? Barner is a veteran and knows how to take care of himself (he reported in tremendous shape) and despite not even being with a team the first few weeks of the season, he turned in a pivotal big play in that 21-point first quarter that got the Eagles going. The Eagles were down three running backs Sunday — injuries to Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood left Barner in a key role, and he responded with five carries for 23 yards rushing and three punt returns for 110 yards. Props to the Eagles' pro scouting staff for plucking Barner out of Orange County and to Duce Staley and Dave Fipp for getting him ready.

9. Great to see big contributions from Agholor and Smith. Agholor had the biggest game of his career, with four catches for 93 yards, including that career-long 72-yard touchdown, the longest TD catch by an Eagles wide receiver since Jordan Matthews' 78-yarder from Sam Bradford against the Cards two years ago. Agholor doesn't make that play last year, catching the ball and then putting some moves on a couple defenders on his way to the end zone. And Smith, who's been plagued by drops this year, finally showed what kind of player he is, with three catches for 70 yards, including a 59-yard TD of his own. On a quiet day from Alshon Jeffery (three catches for 31 yards), it was great to see Agholor and Smith pick up the slack.

10. You know what I flat-out love? McLeod's play to save a touchdown on what was a meaningless play late in the game. With the Eagles up 34-7 and Cards receiver J.J. Nelson about to score along the left sideline in the final seconds, McLeod ran across the field and blasted Nelson like inches before he hit the end zone. The ball came loose and bounced into and then out of the end zone, which makes it a touchback. McLeod could have easily given up on the play and nobody would have ever known. The Eagles would have won 34-14. But this is what I love about this team. McLeod didn't care about the score or how much time was left or what the situation was. He just made a play because he's programmed to make a play. He made a play because that's what he does.

Eagles Inactives: Wendell Smallwood out Sunday vs. Cardinals

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Eagles Inactives: Wendell Smallwood out Sunday vs. Cardinals

The Eagles will be without two key players Sunday against the Cardinals. 

While Fletcher Cox was already ruled out Friday with a calf injury, running back Wendell Smallwood won't play either after coming into the weekend as questionable. 

Smallwood injured his knee last week against the Chargers and missed practice all week. Doug Pederson said Friday that Smallwood would be a game-time decision. 

Without Smallwood, the Eagles are down to LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner at running back. Blount and Clement are the only remaining members of the original five running backs to make the team. 

This is the second straight week Cox will miss a game because of his calf injury he suffered against the Giants. The Eagles have a short week coming up before a Thursday game in Charlotte this week. 

Destiny Vaeao (wrist) came into the weekend questionable and is inactive. So is Jaylen Watkins, who is getting over a hamstring injury. Watkins has missed the last two games but was a full participant in practice all week. Corey Graham (hamstring) is active and will be the team's third safety. 

Here are the Eagles' other inactives are: Ronald Darby (ankle), Shelton Gibson and Isaac Seumalo.

Beau Allen will get another start in place of Cox, while rookie Rasul Douglas gets the start at corner. 

Seumalo is a healthy scratch for the second straight week. Seumalo began the season as the team's starting left guard. 

Defensive linemen Justin Hamilton and Steven Means are both active for the second consecutive game. 

Cardinals inactives: QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Chad Williams, RB D.J. Foster, LB Scooby Wright III, OL D.J. Humphries, OL Alex Boone, DL Robert Nkemdiche. 

Humphries and Boone are the Cardinals' normal starters at left tackle and left guard. John Wetzel will start at left tackle and Earl Watford will start at left guard.