10. Ced Thornton trips up Matt Forte for a safety (Week 16)
When you think of the resurgence of the Eagles 3-4 defense under Billy Davis, you will think of guys like 2012 1st-round pick Fletcher Cox, outside linebacker Trent Cole, middle linebacker Mychal Kendricks, and cornerback Brandon Boykin. One of the most underrated players, however, was defensive end Cedric Thornton. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 2nd-best run defender in the NFL among 3-4 defensive ends behind just Houston’s JJ Watt, largely considered to be the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.
He finally got some recognition on this play, however, busting through the Chicago line and tripping up running back Matt Forte in the end zone.
9. Shady rushing TD vs WAS (Week 1)
In the first of three McCoy plays you’ll see on this list, Shady made his mark early on in this season as one of the league’s top backs. He carried the ball 31 times for 184 yards, including this 34-yard touchdown run where he made several Redskins miss and then outran the rest. More on McCoy a little later.
8. Boykin rips ball away from Cruz for INT (Week 5)
Boykin will be remembered for the play that is No. 1 on this list, but this play, in terms of level of difficulty, is definitely better. With Eli Manning flushed out of the pocket, Giants wideout Victor Cruz, one of the top wideouts in the NFL, cut across the middle to make a play. Manning put the ball right on the money, but with Boykin draped all over him, Cruz could not get a firm grip on the ball. As they fell to the ground, a heady Boykin snatched the ball out of an unwary Cruz’s hands, securing an Eagles victory.
7. Brent Celek 25-yard TD catch vs NYG (Week 5)
No one on the Eagles roster deserves more admiration, in my opinion, than tight end Brent Celek. Despite preseason talk that he could lose his job to rookie Zach Ertz or free agent James Casey, Celek continued to work hard as a leader of this relatively young team. Statistically, this was not his best season, but that happens when you split snaps with a young rookie. He was still as efficient as ever, catching 32 balls for 502 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was also instrumental in the run game, blocking linebackers and opening up space for McCoy.
Known as a bruiser, Celek is remembered more for his battering ram-like hits on would-be tacklers than his acrobatic catches. This play, however, falls among the latter, and is one of his best.
6. Zach Ertz TD catch vs MIN (Week 15)
Ertz is the only rookie to appear on this list, although offensive tackle Lane Johnson and nose tackle Bennie Logan all had key impacts this season. Although he split snaps with aforementioned Celek, Ertz finished with 36 receptions for 439 yards and 4 touchdowns. He struggled with drops early on, but showed his receiving ability throughout the entire second half of the season, making key receptions for the team all over the field; that ability was spotlighted in the red zone, where he made impressive touchdown catches like this one.
5. Cooper 1-handed grab + spin move vs ARZ (Week 13)
The only play on this list that did not result in points for the Eagles or a turnover, this catch by Riley Cooper describes his performance this season: making plays on the outside week-in, week-out. There were probably a dozen times where Foles threw a ball that most receivers in the NFL would not have caught, but Cooper used his height and hand-eye coordination to reel it in for a big play. This play was even augmented by a spin-move that even Shady would marvel at.
4. Shady spin-move TD vs CHI (Week 16)
In a game where everything went right for the Birds, this play may have gotten lost in the minds of Eagles fans, but the incredible spin-move McCoy uses to get into the end zone is one that few backs in the league could replicate. His ability to make defenders miss early in plays is why he led the league in big runs (20+ yards) and won the NFL rushing title.
3. DeSean’s incredible 55-yard TD grab against Green Bay (Week 10)
It’s hard to imagine how this ball was not intercepted. Two Packers defenders were draped all over DeSean Jackson, and Nick Foles’ throw was short by about 8 inches. Nonetheless, when the dust cleared, the ball was in Jackson’s hands and in the end zone. While some can be attributed to poor ball skills by the Packers defensive backs, a lot of the credit goes to Jackson for staying with the play and handling a bouncing ball in the air while accelerating downfield.
2. Shady’s electrifying 40-yard TD in the Snow Bowl (Week 14)
This is the run that changed the momentum of the entire game and helped extend the Eagles’ win streak to five games. After struggling for the first 37 or so minutes of the game in the snow offensively, a couple of fluky passes led to a first touchdown and then Shady took over. He established himself with this long TD run and then gave the Eagles even more of a boost with a longer run later in the fourth quarter.
1. Boykin’s game-winning, season-saving INT vs DAL (Week 17)
This is the play that defined the season of the Philadelphia Eagles defense. Just two minutes after giving a long touchdown drive capped off by a broken tackle and Dez Bryant touchdown reception, they ended the 2013 season with two huge plays: first, a batted ball by Cary Williams on Dallas’ two-point conversion that would have tied the game, and then this interception by Boykin that guaranteed the Eagles a spot in the playoffs and an NFC East title.
Kyle Orton just made a bad throw here, placing the ball on Miles Austin’s back hip where Boykin could make a play on it. And make a play he did, with his 6th interception of the year, tied for 2nd in the NFL.