For the Philadelphia Eagles, 2013 has been the season of offense. Since the day Chip Kelly took the job, long before we ever saw a snap, the media salivated. His quirky offense made all the headlines. Nick Foles blistered defenses with a 27 TD : 2 INT ratio and LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards. That is what caught the nation's eye.
While the spotlight focused almost exclusively on Philadelphia's offense, a star quietly emerged on the other side of the ball. Listed at just 5'10 185lbs, 2nd-year slot cornerback / special teams gunner Brandon Boykin has established himself as the biggest playmaker on the Eagles defense. He's developed a penchant for making game changing plays at the most critical moments - including three game sealing interceptions (all against division rivals). And made a solid argument to be considered the best slot cornerback in the league.
Boykin's 2013 season includes 6 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, a defensive touchdown, 17 pass deflections and numerous punts downed inside the opponents 5-yard line. Those 6 interceptions by the way are tied for second-most in the league behind only Seattle's Richard Sherman.
And while Boykin has primarily played the slot cornerback position, he's also proven capable of holding his own against larger #1 receiving options, such as this touchdown saving pass deflection against Dez Bryant in Week 17's win-or-go-home season finale:
How is it then that Brandon Boykin wasn't invited to this year's Pro Bowl? I'm not going to rip in on any of the cornerbacks who were selected - they've all made convincing cases as well. But I do believe that Boykin deserves more recognition than he has received. Therefore I've gathered and ranked what I believe to be Brandon Boykin's top five plays of the 2013 regular season. With hopefully more to come in the postseason.
The Top Five Brandon Boykin Plays of the 2013 Regular Season:
In Week 10 the (4-5) Philadelphia Eagles visited the (5-3) Green Bay Packers. In the 2nd Quarter, with the Eagles leading 7-0, the Packers offense had moved the ball nearly the full length of the field on a drive that had started on the GB 4-yard line. (the Packers had started this drive deep inside their own territory because Brandon Boykin had downed a Donnie Jones punt at the GB 4-yard line). 18 plays and 91 yards later, the Green Bay offense was looking at a 3rd-and-3 on the PHI 5-yard line. They had the Eagles defense on the ropes and a touchdown looked inevitable. Scott Tolzien lobbed a pass intended for Jordy Nelson into the back left corner of the end zone... Boykin cut in front of Nelson for the interception and returned the ball 76 yards to the save the Eagles from giving up any points.
In Week 2 the (1-0) Philadelphia Eagles hosted the (0-1) San Diego Chargers. With approximately 2:30 left in the first half, and San Diego leading 13-10, the Chargers were only 26 yards from the Eagles end zone. Philip Rivers connected with an open Antonio Gates over the middle, Gates turned upfield with what appeared to be a wide open path between himself and the endzone. As Gates rumbled toward the endzone, Patrick Chung flung himself at Gates' feet. Gates momentum was temporarily slowed but he remained on his feet, less than five yards from paydirt, and still moving. That's when Brandon Boykin came flying out of left screen and punched the ball loose at the 2-yard line.
This was only the 3rd fumble of Antonio Gates career. The Eagles recovered and avoided giving up seven points.
It was Week 5, the (1-3) Philadelphia Eagles were visiting the (0-4) New York Giants. In the 4th quarter, with approximately 10 minutes left in the game, Philadelphia was leading by a one possession score of 29-21. On a 3rd-and-10 from the NYG 20-yard line, Eli Manning looked to his biggest playmaker, Victor Cruz, on a route over the middle. Brandon Boykin leaped in front of Cruz, and Cruz began to close his hands on an otherwise completed pass, Boykin ripped the ball out of Cruz's grasp and fell to the ground, rolling to protect the ball.
The play was reviewed and upheld. This gave Philly the ball at the Giants' 38-yard line. Four plays later the Eagles offense scored a touchdown to stretch the lead to 36-21. At this point the Eagles lead became insurmountable and the Giants would not recover.
In Week 11 the (5-5) Philadelphia Eagles hosted the (3-6) Washington Redskins. Philadelphia took control of this game early. They led 24-0 heading into the 4th quarter. The game looked like a lock for the Eagles. That's when the Redskins offense came alive and the momentum of the game shifted completely.
Washington had three possessions throughout the final quarter. They used their first two to score touchdowns and converted both two points conversions. Philly now only led by a one possession score of 24-16. The wind had gone out of their sails. The offense couldn't move the ball and the defense couldn't make a stop. Washington got the ball back for their final possession with 3:26 left. They had started off on their own 4-yard line. 17 plays and 77 yards later, RGIII had the Redskins offense down to the red zone with a great opportunity to tie the game.
On a 3rd-and-1 from the Eagles 18-yard line, and :40 remaining on the clock, RGIII was under pressure and lobbed one up for Pierre Garcon in the middle of the end zone. Boykin got there first and made the interception to end the game. Once again Boykin had saved the Eagle's butts.
The #1 Brandon Boykin play of the 2013 season was none other than the interception that clinched Philadelphia's NFC East division title.
In the final week of the 2013 regular season, (9-6) the Philadelphia Eagles visited the (8-7) Dallas Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys owned the division tie-breaker, making this a win-or-go-home game. The winner gets the #3 seed in the playoffs and the loser sits out the postseason.
With Philadelphia leading 24-22, and 1:49 left on the game clock. The Cowboys started off a drive on their own 32-yard line. And with a single timeout remaining in their back pocket, Dallas had plenty of time left to get into field goal position to attempt a game winning kick. On the very first play of the drive, Kyle Orton attempted a short pass to Miles Austin. The pass was slightly off mark, Boykin took advantage and came away with the pick. This play not only gave Philly the win, it put them in the playoffs.
This is only a sample of Brandon Boykin's biggest plays of 2013. It doesn't include two interceptions (including a pick-six), a forced fumble and numerous punts downed inside opponent's 5-yard lines. And that's okay. My goal is not to list every play he's made, but simply to get the word out that he exists, hopefully generate some more buzz talking about this guy, and maybe we can see him get his just due in 2014.