Sidney Jones hadn’t taken a snap on defense since Week 8. In fact, he was only in for one play of the Eagles’ 23-17 overtime win over the Giants on Monday — and everybody knew the ball was coming his way.
“100 percent,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. “I felt like hopefully he would know, but I wasn’t gonna freak him out or anything.”
As anticipated, Eli Manning targeted Jones on 3rd-and-3 with the score tied and 1:35 remaining in the fourth quarter. The third-year cornerback rose to the occasion, breaking up the pass intended for Darius Slayton, who already torched the Eagles secondary for 154 yards and two touchdowns on five catches.
The Giants were forced to punt and would not have another meaningful possession.
“No bigger stop than that one,” said Jenkins.
A second-round draft pick in 2017, this was supposed to be the year Jones seized a starting job, perhaps even show signs he could develop into a shutdown corner. Instead, he suffered injuries – a recurring theme — and uneven performances.
The Eagles lost confidence in Jones to the point where he was a healthy scratch for several weeks, losing playing time to unheralded players like Craig James.
It was surprising to see Jones on the field at all, let alone in such a pivotal moment — especially considering James played the hero on the final play of a Week 4 game in Green Bay earlier this season.
“(Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas) started cramping and then coach is like looking around,” said Jones. “Instead of Craig James, he said ‘Oh, Sid.’”
Jones was ready. Understanding the situation and seeing how the Giants offense lined up, he had a good idea what might be coming.
“It was two-by-two formation,” said Jones. “They had run it earlier in the game, double slants on one side and slant-flat on the other side, and I think that’s what they did this time, so just being cognizant of what you’re gonna get throughout the game.
“It was 3rd-and-short, so those were the routes I was prepared for.”
He may have known what was coming, but he wasn’t necessarily ready physically. Coming off the bench late on a rainy December night, Jones admitted he didn’t even have a chance to get loose before the play.
“We had confidence in him,” said Jenkins. “To come off the coach cold and to make a play like that was big.
Widely considered a top-10 talent in the 2017 draft, Jones suffered a torn Achilles during his pro day workout, perhaps altering his career trajectory permanently. He appeared in one game as a rookie and nine games last season before injuries cropped up again.
Coming off a strong offseason and training camp, Jones appeared poised to take the next step in 2019. Instead, he’s found himself on the bench or inactive list in the second half of this season.
Clearly, Jones is still preparing as if he’s going to make an impact in any given week.
“I can imagine this has been a frustrating year for him not necessarily getting the time that he wants,” said Jenkins. “But you never know in this league when your number’s gonna get called, and we of all teams know anybody could come in on any play.
“His number got called for one play and he made a huge one.”
As for whether Jones actually knew the ball was coming his way though, he didn’t say exactly.
“Expect anything, honestly,” said Jones. “At that point, you’re fighting, scrapping.”
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