Competitiveness Fuels Friendly Jenkins-Payton ‘Rivalry’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Yeah Sean Payton may have run up the score back in November when the then high-flying New Orleans Saints dismantled an ailing Philadelphia secondary in a 48-7 drubbing but Doug Pederson arguably did the same thing back in July when he trounced the Saints coach at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament, the second time this year Pederson got the best of his buddy on the golf course.
Either way don't buy into any "bulletin-board material" focusing on disdain between coaches or even angst between Payton and former Saints first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins, who infamously shot the middle finger at his former coach after the Payton dialed up a wheel route to Alvin Kamara on 4th-and-6 with 13:22 remaining in the game and New Orleans up 38-7.
"Listen, we get paid to play just like they do," Pederson said when asked about the Saints running up the score at the Eagles' lowest point of the 2018 season. "We just didn’t make enough plays. We have to keep them out of the end zone and we have to score. And we didn’t do either one very well."
Payton, meanwhile, couldn't say enough good things about Jenkins [and the Flyers' old LCB line of the 1970s], during his conference call with Philadelphia-area media in advance of Sunday's divisional-round rematch between NOLA and Philadelphia. In fact, Payton counts letting Jenkins walk as one of the biggest regrets during his tenure in New Orleans.
“He was probably one of the most important parts to our Super Bowl run,” Payton said when discussing Jenkins Wednesday. "And that was only his rookie season. He’s one of my guys, and I mean that. Probably one of the bigger mistakes that we’ve made, and you have to ask yourself ‘how did that happen?’ Letting him out of the building certainly wasn’t a smart decision.”
The respect isn't just a public show for Payton either.
"Sean has described [Jenkins] as the Swiss Army knife," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "I think that's a good description. Just a guy that can do everything. We drafted him in the first round as a corner so he played corner here for the first two years and then ended up gravitating to free safety, but his versatility, his ability to come down and cover a slot receiver, to cover a tight end, to cover a running back, to pressure. But more importantly he's just a smart, tough football player, instinctive, he gets everyone lined up. When there is confusion everybody looks to Malcolm and so I respect him a ton."
Jenkins has turned out to be one of the best free-agent signings in Eagles franchise history after signing in 2014 earning two Pro Bowl honors and a Super Bowl LII championship with Philadelphia as the leader of the secondary and arguably the most important player on the defense.
The middle finger was about a competitor reacting in the heat of the moment.
“I told him after the game that I love him," Payton said. "And I know the feeling is mutual. I just have a ton of respect for him as a player, and also as a person. He’s a fantastic, fantastic player, and just as good of a person.”
Jenkins sent a similar valentine in the other direction.
“Sean and I genuinely have a good relationship,” the veteran said. “I loved playing for him. He’s obviously one of the brilliant coaches in this league. He and I are probably some of the most competitive people you’ve ever been around."
Back in November Jenkins was actually far more upset about the reaction of some of his teammates rather than the final TD in a 41-point ass whopping, questioning the demeanor of certain players after the setback, a motivational technique that seems to have worked with the Eagles winning six of seven since the blowout and earning a shot at redemption in the postseason.
As for Payton's effusive praise, though. Those feel-good moments can wait another week.
"That's what they all say," Jenkins mused when told about his former coach's kind words.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen