Rodney McLeod becomes the latest clutch player to tilt the scales in a one-sided rivalry

NFL: SEP 20 Rams at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 20: Philadelphia Eagles free safety Rodney McLeod (23) looks on during the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles improved to 8-7 with a 34-10 victory over the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. After an ugly start kept the game at a 3-3 tie at halftime, Rodney McLeod kickstarted an Eagles rout with an interception on the opening drive of the third quarter that proved to be the turning point of the game.

The Giants began a nine-game winning streak against the Eagles in 1997 that culminated with a victory in the NFC Wild Card round in 2000, but the rivalry has been one-sided ever since. The Eagles took the torch when they knocked off the Giants 10-9 in Week 6 of the 2001 season and never looked back. 

Even after regrettable splits the past two seasons, the Eagles are 13-3 against the Giants since 2014. Philadelphia fans still glorify well-documented memories like Jake Elliott’s 61-yard field goal in 2017 and all three Miracles at the Meadowlands

Although the recent heroics haven’t been as dramatic, the Eagles have turned the tides against their NFC East rivals with interceptions at key points in three of the past five seasons. The first two proved to be important momentum-changing plays in the only two seasons since 2009 that the Eagles have earned at least one playoff victory, and they hope that Mcleod’s play leads them to a similar fate.

Ronald Darby Pushes for Home-Field Advantage

Eagles 34, Giants 29 (December 17, 2017)

The Eagles faced stunning adversity when they lost red-hot quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL in Week 14 of the 2017 season. Nick Foles went under center at the Meadowlands in Week 15 against the 2-11 Giants at a time of puzzling uncertainty. Eli Manning torched the Philadelphia pass defense with touchdown drives on New York’s first three possessions.

The Giants led 20-7 just over midway through the second quarter. Cornerback Ronald Darby sparked an Eagles resurgence with an interception and a furious 37-yard return deep into opposing territory. Foles capitalized with a touchdown pass to Zach Ertz on the ensuing drive. The defense contained Manning and the passing attack to just nine points the rest of the afternoon and ultimately survived a 34-29 shootout in less than ideal fashion.

The victory put the Eagles in position to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC in Week 16, when Darby picked off Derek Carr to set up the game-winning field goal in the final minute against the Oakland Raiders. The ability to rest starters in Week 17 and regroup during the first-round bye week allowed Doug Pederson and the assistant coaching staff to make the adjustments necessary for Foles to lead the Eagles to their only Super Bowl in franchise history. 

Malcolm Jenkins Salvages the Season

Eagles 25, Giants 22 (November 25, 2018)

The Eagles limped out of the gates with a Super Bowl hangover in 2018. They hit their low-point when the New Orleans Saints embarrassed them in a 48-7 massacre in Week 11 and dropped their record to 4-6. Sean Payton’s (unnecessarily resentful) game plan attacked an injury-riddled secondary with Cre’Von LeBlanc, Sidney Jones, and De’Vante Bausby in significant roles.

The Giants had the defending champs on the ropes the following week. Manning took advantage of the patchwork secondary with easy pitch-and-catch plays to Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley. Wentz struggled in his attempts to force plays without ideal options surrounding him on offense, and the Giants built a 19-3 lead in the first half.

The Eagles faced the prospect of a devastating 4-7 hole, but Malcolm Jenkins turned the tides of the 2018 season with an interception at the goal line in the closing seconds of the first half. The turnover kept the Giants off the board before the half, kept the score within reach, and allowed the struggling young defensive backs to rally around their unquestioned leader. 

A Philadelphia defense that looked like they couldn’t buy a stop suddenly clamped down and found a way to hold the Giants to three points in the second half. Wentz helped guide the Eagles with a fourth-down pass to Nelson Agholor late in the fourth quarter, and Elliott iced the victory with a field goal in the final minute. The spirited comeback win began a 5-1 stretch that earned the Eagles a playoff berth. 

Jenkins is one of the most impactful defensive players in franchise history. He was an irreplaceable leader for the Super Bowl LII champions, and it’s fair to wonder if the 2018 Eagles would’ve faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs without the crucial turnover. The intangible importance of his momentum-changing interception appropriately represents the resilience of the Eagles during the Doug Pederson era and their ability to find ways to win when facing adversity, especially late in the season.     

Rodney McLeod Upholds Playoff Hopes

Eagles 34, Giants 10 (December 26, 2021)

After an October loss to the Las Vegas Raiders dropped the Eagles to 2-5, McLeod challenged his teammates to stay motivated and turn the season around, asking “are you committed to making this run?” in an authentic postgame speech.

The Eagles exploded after McLeod intercepted Jake Fromm on Sunday. They asserted dominance and built a 31-point lead by the 10 minute mark of the fourth quarter. 

Veterans like Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson deservedly dominate the headlines with reputations as the leaders of the team. Their value on and off the field has helped the Eagles reinvent themselves in the second half of the season. McLeod is not in the prime years of his career, but he is another Super Bowl winner who can bring value through experience and well-timed plays like the interception on Sunday.  

The Giants dropped to 4-11. Next season, they will likely retain a head coach and QB with less than impressive track records. They are tied with the New York Jets for the worst record in the NFL over the past five seasons. The Eagles have won 47 regular season and playoff games over that span, and the two New York teams have combined for just 44 wins.

The Eagles themselves turned the ball over four times in a loss to the Giants in Week 12. They repeated their mistakes during the first half against the Washington Football Team in Week 15, and they were lucky not to get burnt for their early mistakes on Sunday. They probably could’ve captured the momentum sooner if Darius Slay hadn’t dropped an easy interception in the second quarter.      

The Eagles are far from the perfect football team, but they own a claim of dominance over their incompetent division rival. Even in difficult circumstances, they’ve found ways to come out on top in this NFC East matchup. The trend continued in Nick Sirianni’s first win over the Giants on Sunday, and the first-year head coach should aim to continue to build a team with enough character to claw out victories in whatever circumstances they face.

They hope that McLeod’s big play can lead to an NFC playoff berth and another memorable season.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire