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November 28, 2022

Reed Blankenship steps up at safety after C.J. Gardner-Johnson goes down with injury

The Eagles won, the workings of an unsung hero were there, but "The Reed Blankenship Game"? It might have stopped a little short of that.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson went down after a collision over the middle of the field in the first quarter, needed help off of it, then had to be carted back to the locker room with a rib injury that left him unable to stand without hunching over. 

He was ruled out for the remainder of Sunday night's game against the Packers and any potential time missed beyond that presents a huge blow to the Eagles defensive backfield. 

But in the short term, undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship stepped in at safety and did admirably in the 40-33 win that improved the Eagles to 10-1 on the season. 

That doesn't mean he was perfect, of course. 

An unnecessary roughness call midway through the third quarter, when Blankenship launched head first at a diving Christian Watson, turned an 11-yard gain into a 26-yard one for Green Bay.

Then in the fourth, Blankenship got caught flatfooted on a post route by Watson across the middle. All he could do was try, and fail, to give chase as the Packers' rookie wideout took off down the sideline for a touchdown that suddenly made it a one-score game late. 

Probably too much to expect an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State to come in and totally lock it down, but the workings of an unsung hero were definitely there. 

In the second quarter, with the Packers driving after Gardner-Johnson left the game, Aaron Rodgers dropped back on a 1st and 10 from the Eagles' 28. His eyes caught tight end Tyler Davis open downfield and let the ball fly, but Blankenship read the play the entire way. He jumped the route and snatched the ball right out of the air, shifting momentum with his first career pick, and off a future Hall of Famer no less (...until A.J. Brown fumbled it a few plays later).

"Lowkey jealous too a little bit, I ain't gonna lie because he got it before I did," said cornerback Darius Slay, who's had more than his fair share of matchups against Rodgers from all of his years in Detroit. "I've been in the league 10 years and he's...a f***ing rookie...

"Yeah, I'm lowkey a little jealous though, man, because he got a pick before me off A-Rod... I've been in [his] division for seven YEARS and I couldn't get his ass, and he got him. But good for him!"

Blankenship also helped create a Packers three-and-out at the top of the second half when the Eagles held just a 27-20 lead. On 2nd and 8 from midfield, he once again read the play perfectly, detecting the run and anticipating Aaron Jones' move toward the outside so he would be there to meet him at the line of scrimmage. Blankenship made the tackle and a one-yard gain was all there was to the play as he got up and flexed in celebration. 

There was always something to the 23-year-old Blankenship. Head coach Nick Sirianni said guys he worked with in Indianapolis saw it at Middle Tennessee State and told him about it after the Eagles had signed him to his rookie deal. And he and his staff really got to see what it was when the pads went on in training camp. 

"When we went live with our young guys, because we went live pretty much once a day with our young guys when we had pads on, and it just seemed like every time he was coming up and making tackles," Sirianni said. "You were like 'Man, this guy...' We liked him without pads on and now we really like him when he's able to show his physicality out in the field."

That display carried over into the preseason game against Miami, Sirianni continued, and through the remainder of camp. Then it showed up again Sunday night when Blankenship's number was called, with the interception and six tackles for the game. 

"That was a big-time play," Sirianni said. "And he made some big-time tackles."

There were still those blemishes though, ones big enough for the Eagles to want Gardner-Johnson, who leads the NFL in interceptions, back as soon as possible, hoping the rib injury isn't as bad as it initially looked. 

The Eagles still won, the workings of an unsung hero were there, but "The Reed Blankenship Game"? Yeah, it might have stopped a little short of that. 

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