PHILADELPHIA - Doug Pederson made sure to note “it takes a village” after Sunday’s 24-21 upset over New Orleans.
Some members of the village were far more high-profile like rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts winning his first professional start or explosive running back Miles Sanders taking one 82 yards to the house.
Even big money defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and emerging edge rusher Josh Sweat earned council positions with two sacks apiece.
The glue of the village against the Saints, however, was defensive back Jalen Mills despite a stat sheet that read two tackles.
Mills started at his safety position against New Orleans and was his typical steady self when the attrition began piling up, first cornerback Avonte Maddox (knee) and then safety Rodney McLeod (knee) and CB Darius Slay (concussion).
When it was all said and done, Jim Schwartz had lost 75 percent of his starting secondary and the Saints were bearing down after falling behind 17-0.
The decision was to move the versatile Mills back to left CB and allow the safety spots to be handled by players who at least had some experience in the defense - second-year player Marcus Epps and rookie fourth-round pick K’Von Wallace.
Mills’ biggest play came after the Saints' final touchdown with 1:24 left.
Will Lutz’s watermelon onside kick was a good one and it slowly neared the 10-yard barrier when it hit Corey Clement’s leg with the backup RB engaged in a block.
Players from both sides dove at the football and the Saints seemed to have the advantage at first but it was Mills, with a little help from Duke Riley, that secured the ball and made sure there would be no miraculous NOLA comeback.
“In my head, I’m just looking for the ball,” said Riley, who had a big day of his own with six tackles and an interception. “I could see a lot of people but the ball didn’t go 10 yards. But I think one of our guys tried to touch it. Then one of their guys kicked it so I dove on it.
“I just reached out with my arms and pulled it closer to me and Jalen landed on top of my arms. So it was kind of like we both had it. I was just telling him the whole time, we ain’t letting go. I don’t care if we stay here until 12 o’clock tonight, we’re not letting that ball go. We wanted to come up with the win.”
Mills emerged and the village started celebrating.
“He came into the season, we moved him back to safety. He was willing to go back there and fill a big role for us there and has done a great job,” coach Doug Pederson said when discussing Mills. “But his versatility to be able to play corner, and he's done that a couple times throughout the season, I think it's a credit to him and his versatility, the way he approaches the week, the way he attacks the week.
“But great leadership on and off the football field, and he was another one that helped us win this game.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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