As I boarded the plane on my way back to California -- and after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles -- there was no bigger smile than mine, knowing I proved to myself, my teammates, and my fans that I had returned to my old form. There's no better feeling than going into the bye week with a win, because if you lose it means extra days at the facility when you could be spending time with your family and friends. More than anything, you have two whole weeks until you play another game, so winning is key going into a bye week, mentally and physically.
Against Philly, I felt that it was one of the most complete games that we had played as a defense. We held the league's then-ranked No. 2 offense to zero points and did a great job as a defense limiting one of the top running backs, LeSean McCoy, to 48 yards rushing. I thought our cornerbacks, Trumaine McBride and Prince Amukamara, did a great job of allowing me, Antrel Rolle, and Will Hill to roam the field and make plays -- it was incredible teamwork. Going into the game, I knew that I was going to have a big game because I had such a good week of practice. There's no better feeling as an athlete than having all of your preparation and hard work payoff for you come game day. When you're struggling as a team or as an individual and you keep persevering but you also keep losing, at times you start to doubt your work (and yourself in general). But this week, finally all of our hard work paid off as a team.
On Tuesday morning, I think it was around 7:30 a.m., my phone started going off with dozens texts and Twitter alerts -- that's when I find out that I had been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Man, there are no words to describe how I felt in that moment. It was like everything, all of my hard work, sacrifices, and the trials and tribulations finally made sense. I mean I've been writing you guys for eight weeks to tell you how blessed I am and what I've been through, but as an athlete you always hold yourself to a high standard and I knew that it would take a while for me to get back mentally and physically. Unfortunately, when you're also not winning, it seems like it's just taking forever. The honor for me to win that conference-wide honor really solidified everything that I had put myself through to get back to that point. When you're losing, you can start to second-guess everything that you've been doing, but this was just a reminder that no matter how many times you get knocked down, you can always get right back up. In life things will seldom be perfect, if ever. The majority of us go through things, and God finds unique ways to challenge and to test all of us. When you continue to have faith, He will reward you.
Coming off of our bye week, everyone was so happy for me -- from my teammates, to everyone around the facility, reporters, and fans. I had been in California that week, so this was the first time I was seeing these people since I had received the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award. But honestly, I felt like I hadn't done that much yet. Obviously I was happy with both my individual and our team's effort and perseverance against the Eagles, but I wanted to do it again, to do it repeatedly. I felt like it was about time, and I remember telling a reporter that it means nothing unless you can do it back to back.
Going into our next game, which was last weekend against the Oakland Raiders, I put a lot of pressure on myself to continue playing at the level I had established I was capable of against the Eagles because I felt like I had set a standard for myself for the rest of the season. I also didn't want to let my teammates down, and, if you're like me, when something works for you, you don't change it -- you ride that thing until the wheels fall off. So I prepared in the same fashion that I did for Philadelphia -- same time spent with film work, treatment, workouts, massages, you name it.
I felt confident going into the Oakland game because I thought our coaches did a great job of putting us into position to make plays. To be technical, I felt that, for me, I was prepared to rob a double slant route that they use as one of their go-to wide receiver routes whenever they need a big play or a third down conversion. All game long, I was waiting for them to run double slants. I was also baiting their quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, into thinking I was playing man on the slot receiver. Finally, late in the third quarter and on third down, they gave me every indication that the double slant was coming. They motioned the slot receiver to see whether I was in a man defense or a zone, and I tried to make them believe that I was in man. As soon as the ball was hiked, I went with the slot receiver with my eyes on Terrell Pryor the whole time, and as soon as he took his hand off the ball I broke on it. I intercepted the pass and ran it back 65 yards just shy of scoring a touchdown, which our offense did a few plays later, making a big play for our defense.
Now this is debatable, and has been talked about in our locker room, but I'm pretty sure that if Justin Tuck, our All-Pro defensive end and one of our captains, would have pinned Pryor to the sideline that my cut back would have been the key play, BUT he didn't and I should have stayed to the sideline and probably would have had a pick 6. While I was very disappointed in myself that I was so close to returning my first pick in 35 months to the house, there was no greater feeling than seeing my man Andre Brown cap it off with his first touchdown of the season. Talk about fresh legs, "Dreday" was a huge spark for our offense in his first game back after breaking his leg in the preseason.
Now here we are with an overall record of 3-6, and it's Thursday night. As soon as I got home, I watched my third down cut up (just another word for film) like I do every Thursday, so that I would be free, because last night as a team we all went go-kart racing. There's no better feeling than winning with a group of men that you consider to be your brothers, who will take time out of their busy schedules so that we can bond and keep gelling to make this run.
One day, one week, one game at a time...
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