As one of two Eagles on the bottom of a pile full of Saints players, Duke Riley had an important message for Jalen Mills:
“We ain’t letting go. I don’t even care if we stay here till 12 o’clock tonight. We’re not letting this ball go.”
Mills was happy to oblige.
Because it was eventually Mills who escaped from the pile of players with the football in his hands after the Saints’ nearly pulled off an onside kick attempt late in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Eventually, Mills left the pile with the football, icing the 24-21 win for the Eagles and snapping their four-game losing streak.
But it was a tense few seconds for onlookers, especially as the FOX high camera angle showed this:
You can’t even see Mills or Riley at the bottom of that pile but they were there, refusing to let go of the football even after they didn’t have to.
“The ref was actually telling us, ‘It’s y’all ball. 21 you can get up. It’s y’all ball,’” Mills said in a Zoom interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark on Monday. “I told him, ‘Nah, I’m not getting up until you get all these dudes off of me. So I can get up with the ball clean.’”
The Eagles were prepared for the trickery from the Saints at the top of the onside kick with their kicker and punter, where they could kick it either way. It was something special teams coordinator Dave Fipp had gone over with them during the week.
Twice during each week, the hands units get to practice onside kick recoveries. They even go over those slow-rollers. On this particular one, though, it rolled into Corey Clement’s foot as he tried to block his man. That’s when Riley and Mills pounced on it.
There was no way Mills was giving up the football.
“I was going to block my man, I seen it hit one of my teammates and it spun out,” Mills said. “Literally, like I think two of their guys may have had it. I end up putting my hands on it, so did Duke Riley and we were just underneath that pile just prying it away from those guys, pulling it towards us. And once we got it close enough, I just jumped on top of it and tried to, like, ball up on top of it. Duke made sure he stayed right next to me, he had his hands on it.”
The scrum lasted for a while and things got heated as Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he began tossing Eagles players off the pile. Refs saw him set aside tight end Richard Rodgers.
The whole time, Mills and Riley were under there with a death grip on the football, trying to ensure the Eagles’ first win since Nov. 1.
“Definitely the fingers are trying to get pried off the ball any type of way,” Mills said. “They’re grabbing fingers, they’re pulling your arms, your jersey, there’s a lot of scratching, clawing going on down there. It’s a lot of grimy stuff going on to try to get that ball."
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