A thrilling Week 17 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys certainly lived up to the hype. The Eagles never trailed but needed a game-sealing interception from cornerback Brandon Boykin to preserve a narrow 24-22 victory.
Boykin’s pick was the obvious moment of the game, as it propelled the Eagles into the playoffs as NFC East division champions. But there were a handful of notable plays that made the difference between the Eagles hosting the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, and the Eagles watching the postseason.
All of the plays featured here came on the defensive side of the ball. That's not to say the offense wasn't good—Nick Foles put up another 100-plus passer rating and LeSean McCoy ran for 131 yards on the ground.
There were a handful of plays that could have made the list. But this was a tremendous performance by the Eagles' much-improved defense, beginning with a play from future Pro Bowl linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
5. Mychal Kendricks’ interception
Mychal Kendricks can flat out play football. He struggled as a rookie, getting beat in pass coverage and missing his fair share of tackles. But he's blossomed in year two, particularly down the stretch. It seems as if a game doesn't go by without Kendricks getting a key interception, forcing a fumble or sacking the opposing quarterback.
In this contest, his forced fumble on running back DeMarco Murray in the first quarter was huge, but Kendricks’ interception right before halftime was his play of the day.
The Dallas Cowboys lined up near midfield with Kendricks in coverage on Jason Witten.
For the day, Witten had a very productive game, hauling in 12 receptions for 135 yards. Pro Football Focus charted five of those receptions coming with Kendricks in coverage. Kendricks definitely got the best of Witten on this play, though.
The pass from Kyle Orton was slightly behind Witten, but was still catchable.
Witten just saw it bounce off his hands, and Kendricks made a spectacular play by being in position to still catch it. That's a huge turnover when the Eagles really needed it.
Here's another angle of the interception by Kendricks.
On the very next play, Nick Foles hit Brent Celek deep, and then threw a touchdown pass right afterwards. This gave the Eagles a 10-point lead when Dallas had been driving to take the lead.
4. Brandon Boykin's knockdown of a deep pass to Dez Bryant
This was one of the more underrated plays of the game, and a testament to the athleticism of second-year nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boykin was left alone without safety help on a deep ball to Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, who checks in at four inches taller and almost 40 pounds heavier than the 5’10” Boykin.
Here's first an image of the deep pass to Bryant, with Boykin all alone on Bryant.
This was the result, with Boykin leaping three feet off the ground to knock the ball away. That’s a tremendous play.
It's not one that will show up on the stat sheet as anything more than a pass defended. But it played a big role in saving the game, especially considering the Dallas Cowboys were held to a field goal.
3. Connor Barwin's batted pass on fourth down
The Philadelphia Eagles love Connor Barwin, and no one more so than defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Barwin has just five sacks on the season, but he's been so much more than that. He's been asked to drop back in coverage numerous times, and he came up huge for the Eagles on this play.
It was the fourth quarter, and Dallas elected to go for a 4th-and-1 on the Philadelphia 40-yard line, down 17-16. It was probably the right call—that's a 57-yard field goal should the Cowboys have attempted a kick.
Connor Barwin was lined up at the bottom of your screen, in a standing position in front of All-Pro tight end Jason Witten.
Orton took the snap and rolled to the right, looking for running back DeMarco Murray in the flats. That's when Barwin made the play of his season, jumping up and swatting away Orton's pass and giving Philly the ball back.
DeMeco Ryans may have still tackled Murray, but Murray may have been past the first-down marker anyway, by that point.
The Eagles never trailed in this game, and had the Cowboys converted this play, there's no telling if Philadelphia would still be hosting a playoff game this weekend.
2. Cary Williams' two-point conversion knockdown
I was not a fan of the Cary Williams signing before the season. He was repeatedly torched down the stretch for the Baltimore Ravens a year ago, and I thought he was overpaid.
I was wrong.
Williams has been very impressive all season, and he’s matched up well against some of the best receivers in the league.
He held Pierre Garcon to just two catches in a midseason game, becoming the first corner to keep Garcon under five catches. He rendered Calvin Johnson a non-factor in the Snow Bowl game, and he made a dynamic knockdown on this play.
The Cowboys had just scored a touchdown when safety Patrick Chung was inexplicably left in single coverage against wide receiver Dez Bryant on 4th-and-9. Bryant's touchdown cut the Eagles' lead to 24-22, and the Cowboys elected to go for the game-tying two-point conversion with just under four minutes to play.
Williams was matched up against Bryant in coverage, and Orton immediately threw a low line drive to Bryant in the corner of the end zone. Williams made a remarkably athletic play, reaching back across with his left arm to knock the pass away.
That's a Pro Bowl play, and it quite literally saved the game.
1. Brandon Boykin's game-sealing interception
What other play could be first on the list but this one?
Once again, Boykin came up with a monstrous play when it mattered the most. The Eagles’ second-year corner already has a penchant for making big plays.
He intercepted Robert Griffin III in the end zone in the second game against the Washington Redskins, and this one made him the first Eagle with multiple game-sealing interceptions in the final minute since Lito Sheppard in 2006.
In this one, the Cowboys had just gotten the ball back following a Donnie Jones punt. They had the ball about 40 yards away from being in range for Dan Bailey to kick a game-winning field goal, and there was plenty of time on the clock.
Boykin was lined up against Miles Austin in the slot, a role in which Boykin has excelled this season.
Orton dropped back and threw a quick slant to Austin. It was a poorly thrown ball, as Orton later admitted, and Boykin just jumped the route.
What tremendous anticipation by Boykin to anticipate the pass, jump the route and secure the ball. The result was an Eagles’ turnover and subsequently a division title for Philadelphia for the first time in three seasons.