Brandon Graham couldn’t help but have a little Super Bowl LII flashback.
Late in the fourth quarter, game on the line, they had barely touched the opposing quarterback, everyone knew they needed to make a play.
All that should sound familiar.
But this time, as Graham’s eyes widened on his way to Andrew Luck, he was chop blocked by a running back. It wasn’t Graham who made the play of the game.
“But to see DB get it, boy,” Graham said, shaking his smiling head. “I was happy for him.”
On the crucial 4th-and-3 play, second-year defensive end Derek Barnett dipped under left tackle Le’Raven Clark and got just enough of Andrew Luck to send the Colts’ quarterback stumbling to the ground.
After the defense had failed to hit Luck for most of the afternoon, Barnett came through at the absolute moment the Eagles needed him.
Everyone on the team said they were impressed by Barnett, but the most effusive praise came from the head coach, which is a good sign for any player.
Here’s what Doug Pederson said:
Yeah, great play. The kids keeps getting better and better. I have been pleased with how he works in practice. He’s an unselfish ballplayer. He’ll play special teams if you ask him. He’ll rush the passer if you ask him. He does so many great things and we’re so excited to have a player like Derek and a young player like Derek who can play extensively and work in the rotation.
It just seems like somewhere in the game, 96 is going to show up and make a play. And he did that several times today.
Barnett, 22, didn’t have a sack in the first two games of his first season as a starter but left the Linc with 1 1/2 Sunday night. He and Fletcher Cox combined for the only other sack earlier in the game.
The Eagles are obviously hoping for big things from Barnett this season. They used their first-round pick on him a year ago and after rotating him in last year, he’s been their starter opposite Graham this year, which means Michael Bennett and Chris Long are rotational plays.
“I think Derek is a great player,” Fletcher Cox said. “I think the biggest thing is he understands the situation and knows what part of the field we’re in. You know, just doing his job. On that play right there, he didn’t do anything special. He just did his job around the edge, and that’s why we brought him here to rush the quarterback.”
Cox is right. On that big fourth-down sack, Barnett didn’t do anything special. He just used his unique bend around an overmatched offensive tackle and got a sack. But that’s what makes him so good.
It felt like it took Luck about 40 seconds to finally fall to the ground after Barnett tripped him up. Graham watched and then tapped Luck on his shoulder while he was down to make sure the play was dead. Malcolm Jenkins said by the time he turned around, Luck was already tripping to the turf. Corey Graham was actually hoping Luck would throw the ball to his man in the slot. He thought he was about to make a play of his own.
But instead, the honor went to Barnett.
Graham said with their rotation on the line, every time a defensive end is on the field, they need to go 100 mph because they never know when the play they make could win the game.
That was Graham in Super Bowl LII. And it was Barnett on Sunday.