Season Savers Will Matchup in NFC Championship Game
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - When Stefon Diggs was saving the Vikings season with the "Minnesota Miracle," sending U.S. Bank Stadium into a purple-tinted frenzy to the soundtrack of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," Jalen Mills, the Eagles cornerback who ensured his team's Super Bowl hopes remained alive about 24 hours earlier, was in his kitchen, making the prudent decision of breakfast for dinner.
“I was actually in the kitchen. I was cooking pancakes,” Mills said at his locker on Tuesday.
Diggs, a very good receiver, became a star when 46 million viewers saw his 61-yard walk-off touchdown from Case Keenum, the first time an NFL playoff game had ever ended that way in regulation.
“I was watching with my older brother and was just like, ‘Whoa, did [Marcus Williams] really miss that tackle?’" Mille explained. "And he was like, ‘Yeah, he missed it.’ And I was like, ‘Man, that’s crazy.’”
Crazy enough to send the Vikings' detour east in hopes of making it back to Minneapolis to be the first NFL team in history to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
To do that, however, Minnesota will have to win the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field, not exactly the easiest place to play.
The Eagles come into the game having allowed 10-or-fewer points in four consecutive home games, matching a franchise record first accomplished in 1992.
Mills has been a big part of that defense as a Pro Bowl alternate and Jim Schwartz's unit has a chance to make it five consecutive stifling performances in large part because the LSU product provided lockdown coverage on Atlanta superstar Julio Jones on a 4th-and-the-season play from the 2-yard line late in Philadelphia's win over the Falcons.
It's ironic that the two players who lifted their respective teams to the NFC title tilt will match up against each other quite a bit on Sunday.
Mills went from pondering the physical Michael Thomas and the New Orleans Saints while flipping flapjacks to now worrying about the explosive Diggs and his second-team All-Pro running mate, Adam Thielen, a split second later.
Because Schwartz generally doesn't have his cornerbacks travel with opposing receivers that means Mills, a second-year player who may be the Eagles' most improved of the 2017 season, will see plenty of both.
Back in August that might have worried quite a few people but now the brash and confident Mills is expected to hold his own against what could be the NFL's top receiving duo.
"Technique," Schwartz answered when asked how a former seventh-round pick transformed from a weak link to a Pro Bowl-level performer. "It's one thing to have confidence. That's just not the sole requirement for the position. There's a lot of technique that goes along with playing, and I think if you look at that last play [against Jones], he did a great job of staying square. Meaning his shoulders were perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. If you get turned, what the receiver there is trying to do is get you turned so he can come back for the ball. He could never get Jalen turned."
"I think every player makes a big jump from year one to year two, as far as knowledge of scheme and knowledge of opponents and things like that," Schwartz continued. "[Defensive backs] coach [Cory] Undlin and Jalen have worked really hard. He's haunted the hallways quite a bit, even on off days this year, just trying to improve his technique. It hasn't been by chance that his technique has gotten better. It's a lot of hard work that's gone into it from a coaching standpoint and from a player's standpoint."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen