PHILADELPHIA − Darius Slay didn’t hesitate.
He intercepted Kirk Cousins’ pass early in the third quarter at the Eagles’ goal line and ran the ball back to the 19. But Slay didn’t stop there. He kept running through the Eagles’ sideline, past the bench and to the first row of stands where he gave the ball to 76ers’ star James Harden.
And yes, that meant a lot to Slay.
“Well, honestly, I didn’t even know he was there at the game until they (showed him) on the Jumbotron,” Slay said. “And you know, he’s one of my favorite players. Shoot, I’m like, ‘Why not? I get the chance to meet James Harden, a Hall of Fame basketball player.’ If I make a play tonight, definitely a pick, I gotta give him the ball because he’s well respected in the league, one of my favorites.”
After the Eagles’ 24-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, the two met in the runway leading to the Eagles’ locker room. Harden had Slay sign the ball that he gave him. Then they posed for photographs.
“He just said, ‘Much respect, man,’” Slay said about Harden’s reaction. “He was shocked that I gave it to him, too. But like I told him, ‘You’re one of my favorites. I respect your game.’ I’m looking forward to seeing him going crazy (on the court).”
Meeting Harden wasn’t the only highlight of Slay’s night, though.
Slay also had a second interception midway through the fourth quarter, when he was one-on-one with Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson in the back of the end zone. The Eagles had sent an all-out blitz at Cousins on 3rd-and-goal from the 9, yet they trusted Slay to leave him alone on Jefferson.
In fact, Slay pretty much shut down Jefferson, who finished with just 48 yards on 6 receptions.
This after Jefferson set an NFL record with 3,016 yards receiving in the first two years of a career. He was well on his way to continuing that record through three seasons when he had 184 yards receiving in the Vikings’ opener last week.
“You can’t just go in with one plan,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said about covering Jefferson. “There were different disguises, different coverages. But make no mistake about it, a lot of it was to stop (Jefferson). He’s a heck of a football player.
“But when Slay had to cover him one-on-one, obviously he did an unbelievable job. When you bring all the guys on Slay’s second interception … you can’t help. There is no help when you bring all those guys.”
Added Jefferson: “He’s a competitor, for sure. I knew that I was going to get that from him. I mean, he’s a great cornerback. He’s a great player.”
Slay actually could have had at least one more interception and possibly two. Still, Slay became the first Eagles with 2 interceptions and at least 5 passes defensed since Lito Sheppard in 2006.
It was all in a day’s work for Slay.
And really, the Eagles need Slay to lead the defense just as much as they need quarterback Jalen Hurts to lead the offense.
That was especially true in the second half.
The Vikings opened the second half driving the ball down the field after falling behind 24-7 in the first half. They reached the Eagles’ 19 when Cousins threw into the end zone for Jefferson. Just as Cousins threw the ball, Javon Hargrave, who was being held, hit Cousins’ arm on his follow through.
The ball floated and Slay picked it off.
“I’ve got to be flatter if Slay’s going to sit on that type of route,” Jefferson said. “I’ve got to come flatter and be in front of him instead of going behind him. So, that one’s on me.”
The Eagles couldn’t take advantage, however. Hurts led the Eagles down to the Vikings’ 22, but Jake Elliott’s field goal was blocked. Kris Boyd picked the ball up and ran it back to the Eagles’ 30. A few plays later, Avonte Maddox leaped high and intercepted Cousins at the Eagles’ 15.
Again, the Eagles couldn’t take advantage.
Then Hurts made his only mistake of the game, dumping the ball off over the middle to Kenny Gainwell, who couldn’t corral the pass. The ball went to Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks, who returned it to the Eagles’ 9 yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
It was probably too late for the Vikings. Still, Slay made sure it wasn’t an issue, picking off Cousins in the back of the end zone to seal the victory. For Slay, it atoned for an interception he dropped earlier in the drive.
“I told him he gotta get on the JUGS with me,” Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith said. “He gotta catch that, especially when they’re giving it to you.”
But Slay got his second interception anyway.
Slay said he kept that ball, and is giving it to his son.
When asked why, Slay responded: “(Jefferson) is his favorite receiver, so I gotta give it to him.”
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.