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Spadaro: Michael Clay's outstanding special teams unit braces for another big test 

Eagles Special Teams Coach Michael Clay
Eagles Special Teams Coach Michael Clay

The message from Special Teams Coordinator Michael Clay to his players is this, and it's simple and it's direct and it's very impactful: Live in the moment and know that you can change a game with the play right in front of you.

Philadelphia's special teams are doing just that.

Whether it's a Britain Covey punt return to flip field position, or a Jake Elliott field goal, or a Braden Mann punt, or a gunner crashing down on a return man like Sydney Brown and Patrick Johnson did on Sunday against Buffalo, the Eagles' special teams are setting the tone and have contributed mightily to this 10-1 season to date.

"Maybe we can spark some energy in our team, and I've been seeing that," Clay said on Tuesday after his press conference at the NovaCare Complex, "In Kansas City, Britain returned a punt 26 yards and sparked us. On Sunday, Jalen Carter did that by blocking a field goal. Covey again did a heck of a job with his 18-yard punt return.

"I always tell them to live in the moment, take it one play at a time. Win that battle on that one play and we'll come back and find our next opportunity."

The special teams have had a series of successes this season, from Covey leading the NFL with a 14.5-yard average on punt returns, to a coverage unit that has been solid all season with changing parts, to Braden Mann averaging well over 50 yards gross and posting a strong net average these last five weeks – the last two in terrible weather for kickers. Then there's Jake Elliott and he's just been money all season, converting 19 of his 21 attempts.

All very, very good measurables for the third phase of this football team.

"I think we're taking steps in the right direction as a special teams unit," Clay said. "We always want to make as many contributions as we possibly can to the rest of the team. Through 12 weeks, we've done a really nice job, but I've also been a part of teams where you're in the penthouse one week and the outhouse the following week.

"The job is never finished until the season is over, so we're going to keep grinding it out and helping this team as much as possible. The guys have done a really good job of contributing thus far."

Take an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the buildup and aftermath of Sunday's thrilling overtime victory over Buffalo.

There is no letup, no sense of "we've arrived," because Clay and the players understand how competitive this league is each and every week. The San Francisco 49ers come to town with the dangerous Ray Ray McCloud returning kicks, with veteran Mitch Wishnowsky directionally outstanding on his punts, with a coverage unit as good as any in the league, and with a big-legged rookie in kicker Jake Moody who has the complete confidence of the coaching staff.

In other words, this is every bit the challenge for Clay's group, and nobody is even thinking anymore about the superlative performance in Sunday's win over Buffalo that included the Carter blocked field goal, another missed field goal from Buffalo, Elliott's 59-yarder to tie the game and send it into overtime, Covey's clutch return, the great coverage on punts.

This is a new week and a new task at hand.

"You have to play it that way because there is always a new test ahead of you," Clay said. "The 49ers are outstanding in every phase on special teams."

The Eagles, though, have legitimately played very well on special teams in part because everyone knows his role and excels at it.

"That's my role right now and I'm embracing it. I'm a gunner on kick coverage and I love it," said Brown, a third-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. "I'm out there trying to impact the game. I give it everything I have and it's a great test every rep I take. We try to make a difference and change the game on every play."

Two great teams meet Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, the special teams included. Don't sleep on the kicking game, not for one second. We've seen how the specials have stepped up and made a positive difference for the Eagles through 11 games this season.

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