There is always a next challenge, so the window of opportunity to celebrate a great victory (and all of them are great in the NFL) or lament "one that got away" is very short. For cornerback Darius Slay, Monday night's reveling after a 24-7 win over Minnesota lasted until he woke up later that morning and turned his attention to Sunday's game in Washington and the excellent set of receivers the Commanders will offer.
Before then, though, it was worth the admission to the party, because that's exactly what Slay had as the Eagles opened the home portion of their 2022 schedule at Lincoln Financial Field. A cornerback who has had more than his fair share of great football moments – remember, Slay has been selected to four Pro Bowls and has once been voted an All-Pro player now in his 10th NFL season and third with the Eagles – is among the most acclaimed at his position. He's an elite cornerback and has been one for many seasons.
But what he did on Monday night was special as Slay registered two interceptions and five passes defensed. He spent most of the night covering Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson one-on-one, shutting down a player who in his previous 34 games had more than 200 receptions, 3,200 yards, and 19 touchdowns. On Monday night, Jefferson caught six passes for 48 yards on 12 targets.
The league noticed and on Wednesday morning Slay was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. It is the second time that an Eagle has earned honors in the young season after Zech McPhearson was the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week following the win over the Lions. This is Slay's fifth career weekly award and second as an Eagle.
"I take no matchup lightly, but he is one of the best in the world," Slay said. "I am one of the best in the world, too. I was looking forward to the matchup."
Slay demonstrated again why he is, indeed, one of the best in the world by taking Jefferson out of the mix and, in the process, thwarting two drives with interceptions that ended Minnesota drives and changed the momentum of the game. The first interception came on Minnesota's first drive of the third quarter when Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for Jefferson on the left side of the formation. Jefferson turned the route he was running up the field as he neared the goal line and Cousins threw it as if he was expecting Jefferson to flatten out the route, and Slay jumped the pass, reading Cousins perfectly, made the interception at the goal line, and returned the ball 19 yards.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles' offense turned the football over in their own territory and Minnesota threatened, with a chance to get back in the ballgame. But a few plays later and just one play after a near-interception, Slay had Jefferson blanketed and made a leaping interception on a jump-ball throw from Cousins in the end zone to turn the ball over once again.
"Huge plays. Plays that change the entire game," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "But that's Slay. That's what he is. He's a big-time player and he rises to the occasion."
What made those plays possible, Slay said later, was the film work he had done in the days leading up to the game. We know Slay as a man who is described as the life of the party in the Eagles' locker room and while it is true that he likes to keep the mood light because, as he says, "I enjoy the game of football. I love being in this position. I'm going to have fun while I'm here because it's not going to last forever," he's a ferocious student of the nuances of the game. He's a leader, having been named a captain on this 2022 team by his peers.
He's a great player on the field for a lot of reasons including his athletic ability and his understanding of what it takes to be a great pro, and that includes putting in all the time he can studying film.
"Those two interceptions, I just know the route concept they use in the red zone and on the first one, I read the route pretty good and jumped it, made a play and that was that," he said. "The second one, back of the end zone, I knew it was going to be a fade or a slant and I played it right and I went up and got it."
There are times when Slay isn't going to win and that's just how the game works. This in the NFL, where the best players in the world go to work every day. He says, "I can't beat a great ball, because that's what it takes to beat me most of the time." But the memory is short and the anticipation for the game is great and the competitive nature that Slay displays is apparent to every player in the locker room.
"Being around Slay, it's just a gift," second-year cornerback Zech McPhearson said. "I soak up everything he says, everything he tells me to do. The way he approaches the business is something I try to copy because he's a great player. You don't just go out there and play. You have to put in a lot of work and detail that work. That's what separates him from the rest."
Slay has been one of the best in the business for many seasons, but Monday was special. It just was. The Eagles were opening their home schedule. The game was on national television. The Vikings, coming off a convincing week in Week 1 over Green Bay, had a touted offense visiting Philadelphia.
The stage was set for great moments, and Slay delivered them.
As Slay walked into the Eagles' locker room and prepared to take off his uniform and enjoy some relaxing hours, I asked him, "What does it feel like when you're dominating out there?"
His answer was perfect Slay – confident, yet unassuming and truthful from a man who genuinely believes in himself and the way he prepares to be the best.
"It feels normal," he said, "because I'm used to that feeling."
And with that, on to Washington and the start of the NFC East season against Washington against a highly respected set of pass catchers that will test the Eagles' defense, the kind of next-moment that excites an ultimate competitor like Slay.