With 4:09 left in the third quarter, the Eagles awaited a kickoff from the Lions after Detroit cut the Philadelphia lead to 31-21.
Hoping to catch his former team off guard, Lions Special Teams Coordinator Dave Fipp called for an onside kick. His successor and former assistant Michael Clay had the Eagles prepared for the moment.
Kicker Austin Seibert strode toward the ball, but slowed down just before reaching it. Clay said his players noticed the change of pace and sure enough Seibert popped the ball up 16 yards in the air instead of booting it deep. Zech McPhearson awaited the ball, caught it, and – most importantly – secured it to thwart the Lions' attempt to get an extra possession.
That proved noteworthy as the Eagles capitalized on the short field with a 1-yard Boston Scott touchdown run for what proved to be the game-winning points as the Eagles beat the Lions 38-35 to open the season 1-0. McPhearson was recognized for his moment by being named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday. It is McPhearson's first career weekly honor in his second NFL season.
"Kudos to Zech to stay disciplined, stay in there at that time of the game not to panic," Clay said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "He stayed patient right there.
"It was actually pretty cool listening to the guys talk about it. They noticed – and we always talk about we have rules on our kickoff return team, always see the ball kicked. But for him to stay in there and kind of alert – there was a different pace by the kicker in terms of that."
McPhearson tied for the team lead with 25 special teams snaps in the win over the Lions, tying a career high with two tackles in addition to the big recovery. Last season, McPhearson led the team with 325 special teams snaps becoming the first Eagles rookie to accomplish the feat since 2012.
In his second year as coordinator, Clay's crew is no stranger to league accolades. T.J. Edwards earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after blocking a punt in the win at Carolina. Jake Elliott captured the weekly award last season after his 16-point performance in the triumph over the Saints last November, eventually taking home the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month award as well.