DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks weren't here last year. They don't know that these were, as Brent Celek said after the game, the type of down-to-the-wire games that the Eagles lost in 2011. So as far as Ryans and Kendricks are concerned, this is nothing new.
Perhaps that's why, prior to the Ravens' fourth-and-1 attempt from their own 46-yard-line with 54 seconds left, Ryans told Kendricks it was time to do something special.
"The game was on the line," Ryans said after the Eagles' 24-23 victory. "I told Kendricks before that fourth down, this is for the game. It's time to make a play. You make a play and the game is over. Everybody got the message, everybody had the right mindset, and we did a good job closing it out."
It's actually fitting that the Ravens' final play was a Joe Flacco attempted pass to Ray Rice, negated by Kendricks' tight coverage. See, during the defensive meetings on Saturday night, the defense was going over their one-on-one assignments. When it was Kendricks' turn, an image of Rice flexing his muscles appeared on the projection screen. On Rice's bicep, there was a clear spelling out of the name "Kendricks" -- a not-so-subtle motivational ploy for the rookie to step up his game against the Pro Bowl running back.
"It's hard to explain," Kendricks said of that final play. "There's no feeling like it. Game's on the line; back's on the wall; what are you going to do? Are you going to make the play or are you going to fold? It's pretty epic, that feeling."
Indeed, those are the feelings to cherish. Even for a veteran like Ryans, who was brought to Philadelphia to help lead this defense, there's joy in the big moment. Like, say, a game-turning interception or a drive-killing sack.
Ryans' third quarter interception of Flacco helped turn the tide for the Eagles, as the Eagles offense converted that opportunity into a touchdown that cut the Ravens' lead to 17-14. Later, on the Ravens' first possession of the fourth quarter, Ryans sacked Flacco on a 3rd-and-14 to force a 51-yard Justin Tucker field goal. It was all in a day's work for Ryans, who actually accomplished the interception-sack double play six years ago against the Oakland Raiders.
"You can see his leadership out there," said head coach Andy Reid after the game. "What more can you say about the guy? He made big plays when we needed big plays in the last couple of games here. He's been right there making them. He brings a good energy. He has a calming effect out there, yet he is intense."
As that leader, one of Ryans' messages to his teammates during what became a decidedly physical game was to return the favor when the Ravens showed up looking to bully the home team.
"We're not going to get bullied," said Ryans. "This is our house and we have to defend our house. We're not going to get bullied here or anywhere else we go. That's not the team that we're putting out on the field."
But after all that he and the Eagles have accomplished over the first two games, Ryans was most eager to talk about the play of the rookie who plays alongside him.
"He's in a league of his own," Ryans said of Kendricks. "The ability that he has, the speed that he has, the playmaking ability that he has, he definitely has a very bright future in this league. As a young linebacker right now, making the plays that he's making, he's standing out and doing a good job."
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