GREEN BAY, Wis. — Before little-known Craig James made the game-saving play in the Eagles’ 34-27 win over the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday night, Malcolm Jenkins had a message for him:
“You know where the ball’s coming.”
Jenkins knew it. James knew it. Heck, all 77,509 fans in Green Bay on Thursday night knew where the ball was going.
Of course Aaron Rodgers was going to try his luck against a cold and inexperienced cornerback who was thrust into action after watching one of his teammates leave on a stretcher. So on his third career NFL defensive snap, James was ready.
It was a battle between a future Hall of Fame quarterback and a second-year undrafted free agent from Southern Illinois. By now, you already know how the story ended. David slew Goliath.
Rodgers tried to squeeze the football to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a slant route from the 3-yard line with 28 seconds left, but James timed it and attacked. He tipped the ball in the air and Nigel Bradham, who dropped an easy interception earlier in the game, didn’t drop this one.
“I just played the inside hard,” James said. “I couldn’t let him inside. Right when I seen him take that inside release, I attacked.”
I’m the guy nobody knows about, just coming into the game,” James said. “When you see that new guy, you’re like, ‘we gotta target him. That’s the weakness of the defense right now.’ You can’t blame them.
James, who played three games with the Vikings last year, didn’t arrive to the NovaCare Complex until earlier this month. It’s been a wild few weeks:
9/2: Signed to the practice squad
9/11: Promoted to active roster
9/15: Made Eagles debut vs. Falcons
9/17: Waived from active roster
9/18: Signed to practice squad
9/24: Promoted to active roster
9/27: Made game-winning play in Green Bay
Ping-ponging back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster hasn’t been easy for James, but he says, “You just gotta keep a stable mind.”
While Thursday night was James’ fifth-career NFL game, his game-winning PBU came on his third-ever defensive snap. His two defensive snaps on Thursday came on the last two defensive plays of the game. He admitted it can be difficult to wait all game for a chance, but he tried to remain ready. He made it count.
After James tipped the ball in the air, Bradham picked it off for his third-career interception and his first since 2016.
"I got my first chance to do a Lambeau Leap,” Bradham said. “I got denied. But it was fun."
Thursday was definitely fun for James too. As he was getting interviewed by about a half dozen reporters, his teammates kept playfully ribbing him. One shouted, “OK, James!” Another jokingly asked if James took off his shirt for the interview. But they were all happy for him. And so was Doug Pederson. As the head coach walked past James, he gave him a slight tap on the shoulder, universal code for “good job.”
Because on the third defensive snap of his NFL career, James knew the ball was going his way. And he helped the Eagles escape with a much-needed win.
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