Fletcher Cox, playmaker

Posted: November 19, 2013

VERY LITTLE about the business that is the National Football League is sensible or orderly anymore. "Any given Sunday" has given way to "any given 5 minutes." It is about moments now, and about the final moments most of all. Most games in the NFL are won by an offense driving furiously, and a defense hanging on by its fingernails, and by somebody making a play in the final seconds. One play.

The reason the Eagles are 6-5 and in first place in the NFC East is because of a single play at the end: Brandon Boykin intercepting a lollipop in the end zone thrown by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, a ball that was in the air for so long that Boykin said he had time to wonder, "Is this real life?"

The reason we believe that the Eagles are now, officially, a legitimate playoff contender is because of that terrible throw, a pass that Griffin was trying to launch out of bounds. This is the NFL anymore, where opinions change and then change again based upon a single act. One throw. One pass. And the reason the ball was short of the end line, floating like a balloon, was because of pressure up the middle from Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox.

"I had it in my head that something big had to happen," Cox would say later, after the Eagles' 24-16 win was done. "I knew a big play was coming, so I stayed calm and I got pressure on [Griffin] and he threw the ball and Boykin picked it off."

Cox had a great, active afternoon. He came within a couple of inches and a millisecond of having two interceptions in the game, which should be impossible. His mid-air recovery of what was ruled a Griffin fumble caused by linebacker Connor Barwin might have been an interception if Griffin's arm had been moving forward; the millisecond. His diving play on a later pass from Griffin was ruled an interception on the field but correctly overturned after a replay review; the couple of inches.

Still, the real business was there at the end. A 24-0 lead had shrunk to 24-8, and 24-8 had shrunk to 24-16, and the Redskins were driving and the Redskins were converting on a third-and-25 and the tension was building and the whole place was beginning to shriek.

Cox, along with several of this teammates, insisted that the defensive huddle remain calm, even as the Redskins got the ball down to the Eagles' 18-yard line with 40 seconds remaining.

"I knew they were going to throw the ball," Cox said. "In order to make a big play, they needed to throw the ball. I figured I would just bring my best pass rush and get after it and get to RGIII."

Cox was being blocked on the play by Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus. For a second, Polumbus did a good job. But as Griffin kept drifting back in the pocket, back and back, Cox got outside of Polumbus and broke free. Griffin was drifting, Cox was roaring into his face, and the quarterback just threw the ball away as Cox hit him. Griffin ended up hitting the ground, face first. He likely never saw what happened.

Teammate Vinny Curry, who was on the sideline for the final play, saw Cox and saw it all unfold.

"Man, listen: This might have been his best game so far," Curry said. "He just really showed up. That's what you can get out of Fletcher Cox. He's a phenomenal player and he's definitely a playmaker."

Going into the game, according to Pro Football Focus, Cox led all 3-4 defensive ends in quarterback pressures. For a team that does not have a ton of sacks, he has been an increasingly disruptive presence.

"I think I got into a rhythm going into the game," Cox said. "Actually, a few of the plays, I called them out before they happened. It all came from studying film and knowing when things were going to happen before they happened."

Even with that, the whole idea of when you do the disrupting cannot be overstated. As coach Chip Kelly said, "What I think I'm most proud of today is how they reacted when it didn't go our way, when they faced a little bit of adversity, to kind of dig down deep and make a play when we had to make a play. That was a big sign for this team. Hopefully we can build upon that."

Make a play . . .

One play . . .

"We won - that's the biggest thing," Cox said. "We finished the game and won. Brandon Boykin made a big play at the end to close the game out."

All of which is about half of the story.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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