“It's the playoffs,” Mills said. “It's all hands on deck."
When Jalen Mills was carted off the field during the Eagles’ Dec. 22 win over the Cowboys, it looked like he’d suffered a second straight season-ending injury.
But Mills, after sitting out the regular-season finale against the Giants with an ankle issue, is expected to play in Sunday’s playoff opener against the Seahawks (4:40 on NBC) at the Linc.
While he hated to miss the 34-17 victory over New York, Mills realized it would increase the chances he’d be back for the postseason. Plus, he wasn’t ready.
Mills told reporters Wednesday that he’d be back, then was a full participant during practice Thursday and Friday.
“The coaching staff and training staff did a really good job as far as not trying to throw me out there last week, having confidence in the guys that were out there to do their jobs, which they did,” Mills said.
With starting cornerback Ronald Darby sidelined by a hip flexor injury, the Eagles need Mills, who is probably the best man-to-man coverage defender in the secondary. Rasul Douglas will likely handle most of the snaps at the other corner and Avonte Maddox is the leading candidate to play in the slot.
“You get somebody that’s confident, that’s played a lot of snaps in this scheme, in this league, is experienced and made a lot of plays for us,” said veteran safety Rodney McLeod after Friday’s practice. “Any time you add a guy like that back to the group, it only makes you better.”
With his green hair and aggressive on-field approach, Mills takes chances that sometimes result in big plays. He and Darby were repeatedly beaten on deep balls in the disappointing Dec. 1 road loss to the Dolphins.
The key for Mills, who occasionally bites on double moves, and other good corners is not to let a bad decision or poor game linger. In other words, turn the page quickly.
“You can have perfect coverage and he can make a great catch and you might get beat and he makes a great catch,” Mills said. “You’ve got to have the next-play mentality and you’ve just got to be a dog.”
That Mills suffered a foot injury in an October 2018 game in London that ended up keeping him out for nearly a calendar year — the final eight games last season and the first six contests of ‘19 — accentuated Mills’ determination to play Sunday.
“It was a must,” he said.
During his season debut in Week 7 against the Cowboys in which he had an interception, Mills noticed his muscles would get fatigued quicker than usual. Since he missed last week, he knows he has to stretch quite a bit and make sure he loosens up properly.
Confidence has never been a problem for Mills, which is important because cornerback isn’t a position for the faint of heart. You’re typically mano a mano trying to prevent a receiver who knows where he’s going — you don’t — from catching a pass.
“He plays with a lot of swag,” McLeod said. “It’ll be good to see him out there, man. He missed last year’s playoffs. He’s hungry. I’ve seen that this week with his intensity.”
A seventh-round pick out of LSU in 2016, Mills has started every game in which he’s played during the past three seasons. That Mills was on the field for all 206 defensive snaps during the 2017 Super Bowl run is a pretty good indication what defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz thinks of him.
Mills and the Eagles’ defense are well aware of the challenge Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson presents by his ability to make plays passing and running. Mills had seven tackles and two passes defended and the Birds sacked Wilson six times in a 17-9 loss to the Seahawks on Nov. 24 in South Philadelphia.
“He’s one of the top two guys for the MVP for the league,” Mills said. “(Wilson scrambling to extend plays makes it) very tough.”
Mills is eager for the opportunity.
“It’s the playoffs,” Mills said. “It’s all hands on deck. I’m going to go out there and play for my guys.”
There’s nowhere he’d rather be.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly