Cornerback Darius Slay doesn't need to score touchdowns to show the NFL world that he's among the best in the business. It's just that, here we are, and Slay has scored in three of the last four games, including Sunday's win over New Orleans in which he intercepted a Trevor Siemian pass and returned it 51 yards for six points. He punctuated the big play by leaping into the stands at Lincoln Financial Field – "I was in my Kobe (Bryant) moment," Slay said – as the Eagles went into halftime with a 27-7 lead on the way to a 40-29 win.
For Slay, his first takeaway at Lincoln Financial Field was just one of those plays that he routinely makes – in practices and through the course of his brilliant career.
"That's something I've been good at – reading routes and understanding the situation and I just did what I do," he said on Friday at the NovaCare Complex. "Executed and I made a play."
A big play. Another big play in a season full of them for Slay, who returned fumbles for touchdowns against both Detroit and Denver and who earlier in the season snagged a pair of interceptions against Carolina. The Eagles won all four of those games – not a coincidence. When the defense has needed a big play, Slay has been there to deliver in his second season as an Eagle.
Slay suffered a concussion later in the Saints game and was in concussion protocol for much of the week, but he's been cleared to play Sunday against a Giants team that features his former Lions teammate, wide receiver Kenny Golladay. New York won't have wide receiver Sterling Shepard and top draft pick Kadarius Toney is doubtful, both of whom are dealing with quad injuries. But Golladay is a large receiver at 6-feet-4, 219 pounds, and he has speed and playmaking ability. The Giants signed him as an unrestricted free agent from Detroit, and while injuries have limited Golladay to 20 receptions and 320 yards in seven games, the ability is there.
Slay is familiar with Golladay, having practiced against someone he calls "one of my best friends" when the two of them were together in Detroit.
"I was with Kenny since he was a rookie," Slay said. "I told him when he first got out there, I said, 'Man, you're going to be special.' I felt like he was a good steal for us in the third round (of the 2017 NFL Draft) where we got him. He's a hard worker, run routes, can run through traffic, catch the ball, after the catch. He's a great dude ... we're looking forward to going against each other in different jerseys."
There is no question that Slay has been one of the top playmaking cornerbacks in the league this season, but he impacts the game even when he's not around the football. Many times in his career he's been the cornerback to cover the offense's best wide receiver, no easy task in a league where the passing game is wide open and defenders can't make contact with a receiver beyond 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. Last year, Slay went out and played one-on-one coverage and had just one interception as quarterbacks threw away from Slay.
In 2021, Slay has five takeaways, within shouting distance of his career-best season in that category – 2017 when he had nine takeaways, a league-best eight interceptions and one fumble recovery – and was named a first-team All-Pro and made the first of three straight Pro Bowls.
"I only had one touchdown (in his career) before this and still had three Pro Bowls. It isn't about touchdowns. It's about the respect level and the coaches that see me, what I put out on film," he said. "The fans are involved in it, too, so the fans get to see it, especially now that I'm in Philly with a lot more fans."
Slay has been all good as an Eagle and his play this year has been at another level. It's nothing new for him. His level of confidence is sky high, as it should be at the game's most vulnerable position. And should he be voted to the Pro Bowl, Slay would be a happy man. He doesn't hide it: Making the Pro Bowl means something to him.
"It shows the hard work you put in throughout the whole year," he said. "It's always a blessing to get invited to that.
"I've always been a top guy in this league. I don't really care about a number, where I'm ranked at, it's just that I know that I'm one of the best in this game and I'm going to keep continuing trying to be that for this team and for myself."