Despite 27-point Lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving Tackle Had Meaning

If Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson had scored there with a minute left, nobody would have really paid attention. In the big picture? It wouldn't have mattered.

The final score would have been 34-14 instead of 34-7, and the celebration would have been just as raucous, the jubilation just as intense.

It's a play that didn't matter.

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Just don't tell Rodney McLeod.

"Nothing's here for free," he said.

Here's the situation: The Eagles took a 34-7 lead over the Cards Sunday at the Linc with 2:05 left on Jake Elliott's second field goal of the game.

As the final seconds ticked away, Carson Palmer drove the Cards down to the Eagles' 29-yard-line, where on 1st-and-10 he threw a short pass near the left sideline to Nelson, who broke a Patrick Robinson tackle and made a bee-line for the end zone and appeared to score the Arizona's second touchdown of the game.

A meaningless touchdown but a touchdown nonetheless.

McLeod wasn't having any of it.

He raced over from the middle of the field and belted Nelson just as he was about to enter the end zone. Replays showed the ball not only coming loose before Nelson crossed the goal-line but also bouncing out of the end zone for a touchback.

The touchdown was overturned, the Eagles ran out the clock, and 50 years from now, when Eagles fans look back at the 2017 season, they'll see 34-7 and not 34-14.

All because McLeod made an incredible play when it didn't matter a bit.

Which is exactly why he's a guy you want on your football team.

"Man, it's just how we approach every day, every week as DB's and as a defense as a whole," McLeod said at his locker. "I know in our room, we always talking about loafing, and we stress that a lot in practice, and so a play like that, it just becomes second nature, and that's what it was.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard. We look at a loaf as a traitor in our room, so everybody holds one another accountable. I don't want to let my brothers down."

Eric Allen is the greatest cornerback in Eagles history. Buddy Ryan found him while watching tape of an Arizona State blowout loss in 1987. With the Sun Devils hopelessly trailing Cal in the final minutes, he saw Allen race down the field and knock a Cal player out of bounds just short of the goal-line, and he decided that's a guy he wanted on his team.

If you're a pro, you're not out there thinking about the score or the standings or the postgame celebration. Even up 37-7 with a minute left.

You're thinking only one thing.

Make a play.

"That was a play where Patrick, unfortunately, missed a tackle, but me and Kamu (Grugier-Hill) were there hustling to make a play, and that's what this defense is about," McLeod said.

"Hustle plays like that make up for guys missing tackles and you begin to trust one another. It's just that mentality. Never give up."

Why are the Eagles 4-1 and in first place in the NFC East with the second-best record in football?

Exactly because of that mentality.

"Just being there for my brother," McLeod said. "It's just a part of our DNA. Once you hit that field, you give 100 percent and you're all in, and that's what we were.

"It is contagious. It rubs off a lot. You come to practice, we do it each and every day. We don't take that lightly."

Robinson was kicking himself for that missed tackle, which came at the end of what may have been his best game in eight years as a pro.

Robinson was all over the field Sunday. He knocked down three passes, made four tackles, blocked a field goal and was generally mistake-free in his coverage.

Really, he played perfect football for 59 minutes. Then missed a tackle.

"I was like, 'Man, how did I give up that cheap catch? That cheap touchdown?'" Robinson said. "Then I saw the replay, and I was just so grateful for those guys to turn that into a touchback. I was so grateful they picked me up.

"But that's what it's all about. Being a team. Doing your job. We play till the last whistle. We play till it's 0-0-0, and that's what Rodney and Kamu did."

McLeod and Robinson both said they initially thought McLeod had saved a touchdown but the Cards would have a 1st-and-Goal on the 1-yard line.

Then they realized it was a touchback and the game was over.

"OK, add that to the stat sheet," McLeod said with a laugh.

The Eagles got to 4-1 by beating Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer the last three weeks. That's three potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks. All three rank in the top 13 in NFL history in passing yards.

McLeod's play might not have made a difference in the standings, but it sure exemplifies exactly what this football team is all about.

"Being a team," Robinson said. "Having each other's back. That's exactly what it is."

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