The Detroit Lions inked Darius Slay to a four-year, $48 Million contract extension back in July as training camp was starting.
The extension showed the team’s desire to retain the cornerback that they selected with pick No. 36 in the 2013 NFL draft. The origination was willing to make Slay one of the game’s highest paid corners and he rewarded them Sunday, in a critical game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In football, so much can be determined by winning the turnover battle. At 1-3, the Lions entered this week’s contest having forced only one turnover while facing an opponent that was doing well protecting the football.
With 2:41 left in the game the Lions were minus one in turnover differential and losing. The Eagles had the ball and had moved it 22 yards on their current drive. The defense needed a stop if the Lions were going to avoid their fourth-consecutive loss.
The fourth-year cornerback made a strong tackle on Eagles running back Ryan Mathews and forced the ball out, leading to a Detroit recovery.
“We just came back on defense like, ‘we need to make a play, so let’s all make a play’,” Slay said after the game. “We knew they were going to run the ball, so we were being a lot more aggressive, so I just came up there and I think I stuck him pretty good. The ball came up.”
The Lions offense took over and gave Detroit the lead seven plays later.
Still, the game was far from over. The Eagles had about 90 seconds and needed only a field goal to win.
Quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense took the field knowing the situation. Wentz read the coverage and knew he’d have a one-on-one matchup with Slay. He thought he could exploit it and sent the ball deep.
“It was something that we had seen from them out of the first half at the end from their two-minute drives, one of the coverages, so it was kind of an alert I had breaking the huddle,” said Wentz of the play.
Although the coverage didn’t surprise Wentz, he certainly wasn’t expecting Slay to be able to track the ball and beat receiver Nelson Agholor to it.
“It wasn’t a perfect throw, obviously I tried to give Nelson a chance to make a play,” said Wentz. “I left it too far outside. The cornerback made a great play, hats off to him. “
Slay was surprised he even got the chance to make the play on the previously un-intercepted Wentz.
“I was surprised he even threw that,” said Slay. “I was in great position, so I’m like, ‘OK,’ But then I looked in the air and I said, ‘Oh, the ball is coming for real. He’s really throwing this. Oh well, it’s time for his first career pick.’ I was like, ‘Oh, this is me right here, for sure.’”
Slay’s two forced turnovers on two consecutive plays doubled the Lions takeaway total heading into the game and sealed a much-needed win for his team. It’s the type of play you expect from one of your best players.
“I believe (Slay) played extremely well,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “He’s one of those guys that has an inordinate skill level, he can run with you, he can make plays… Overall, it was a heck of a ball game for him.”
For a franchise that has lost some big-name players over the last few seasons, it is a welcomed sight to see a potential emerging star in the defensive backfield. Slay hasn’t reached a level where he has large name recognition outside of Detroit but he’s playing at a level that is comparable to the best players at his position.
If he keeps making big plays, he will soon be recognized as one of the top players amongst his peers – and he fully intends to keep making big plays.
“That’s my nickname; Big Play Slay,” he said. “So I try to make every play I do big.”