Down 24-23, all they needed was a field goal. Their kicker, Justin Tucker, had already nailed a 48-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 56-yarder earlier in the game.
Many of the players who took the field for the Eagles’ defense were familiar with this situation. Last season, in five of the team’s eight losses, the Eagles had the lead going into the fourth quarter. And in the final 15 minutes of those games, they were outscored, 60-3.
But one of the players who wasn’t in Philadelphia last year is DeMeco Ryans. And while there are many reasons why the defense has come through at the end of the team’s final two games, the stability provided by the middle linebacker is certainly one of them.
“Just knowing that every play made, it was the play to close the game out. The game was on the line,” Ryans said. “I told [Mychal] Kendricks before that fourth down, ‘This is for the game. So it’s time to make a play. You make a play, the game is over.’ Everybody got the message. Everybody had the right mindset, and we did a good job closing it out.”
When asked who was directing the defense on the final drive, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did not hesitate.
“DeMeco man, that’s a great add,” he said. “You got a guy coming in, play the run good, play the pass good. He’s just a leader, a natural born leader.”
Ryans finished the day with seven tackles (six solo), a sack, two tackles for loss and an interception.
The final drive started out with a pair of incompletions. The first was intended for veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, but rookie Brandon Boykin had it covered.
“Throughout the game, I didn’t really get challenged that much, maybe once or twice,” Boykin said. “But I definitely knew when the game was on the line, they were going to go against me or go to what they know, which was Anquan Boldin. And I just happened to be guarding him.”
Boykin was called on again to come through on the next play. He said when he saw Jacoby Jones in the slot, he knew Flacco was going to test him deep.
“I was actually trying to go for the ball and intercept it,” Boykin said. “And he was going for it also. He’s like 6-4, so he’s got like six inches on me. I knew I had to get up as high or higher than he did in order to make a pass break-up, and got it done.”
Jones is listed at 6-2, and Boykin is 5-9. But the rookie got up in the air and made the play.
“That last drive, when Boykin went up there, it’s a jump-ball,” said safety Kurt Coleman. “Jacoby has him by a couple inches, and you wouldn’t have known it. That’s a big-time play by a big-time player. He’s getting better every single week.”
It wasn’t a simple three-and-out for the defense. After the two targets at Boykin fell incomplete, Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for 12 yards. Nnamdi Asomugha was called for an illegal contact penalty, and Flacco hit Pitta again for 9 yards. The Ravens had a 3rd-and-1 at their own 46, needing just about 16 yards to get into range for Tucker.
But Flacco had a couple passes fall incomplete, including the final one, which was broken up by rookie Mychal Kendricks. It wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t always pretty, but the Eagles left the Linc with a 2-0 record. And it was the defense that was on the field to seal the victory.
“I think the belief is new,” Asomugha said. “I think we would say it last year, but I think in the beginning of the year, it was kind of like, ‘Well, what’s the play that we’re going to run? It was still trying to figure out what we’re doing on the field, but I think the belief is there that when it comes down to it, the end of the game, that we can finish it off. And I think everybody has that belief.”