DK Metcalf ended Philadelphia's championship dreams with one pivotal play in January, and he might have helped end this era of Eagles football on Monday night.
Metcalf caught 10 passes for 177 yards against Philadelphia, helping the Seahawks to a 23-17 win that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Metcalf's gaudy numbers didn't include a touchdown, but that didn't end up mattering. What was more important was the style in which Metcalf racked up his stats.
Metcalf made a statement early in the first quarter that set the tone for the night when he caught a sidearm dart from Russell Wilson on a quick slant, turned upfield and absorbed a hammer of a hit from safety Rodney McLeod, wearing the blow like a champion by taking one step back before proceeding forward, with McLeod stumbling to the ground from the impact of the collision. The reception and gain of 13 sent a message: Take your best shot at Metcalf if you choose, but be prepared to feel the aftereffects.
The second-year wideout frequently used his unique blend of size and athleticism to win one-on-one matchups with prized Eagles corner Darius Slay, taking advantage of Philadelphia's stubborn refusal to adjust from man coverage en route to breaking 175 yards on the night. And while the Eagles defense brought its own punch to the fight, twice stopping Seattle on fourth down early in Monday night's contest, it was Metcalf who ultimately got the last laugh.
For those who don't remember, Metcalf had to wait some time before he was selected with the last pick of the second round. The physical freak and focus of the NFL Scouting Combine had fallen due to concerns about his ability to become a complete receiver at the professional level, which seems absurd in hindsight. Philadelphia was one of the teams that needed a receiver and decided to pass on Metcalf.
"Kind of like coming home," Metcalf said, via the Tacoma News Tribune's Gregg Bell. "A team that could have drafted me but didn't. So I have to make them pay."
As if he needed more motivation than that, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz -- the former coach of future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson in Detroit -- met up with Metcalf prior to Monday night's contest and gave him a little extra juice by telling the youngster he's "not there yet" in comparison to Johnson.
"In my mind, I'm not trying to be Megatron. I'm trying to be me," Metcalf said afterward. "I had a little chip on my shoulder the whole game."
A chip during, and a fire tweet afterward:
It was Schwartz who decided to challenge his defense by keeping them in man coverage for much of the night. It worked against Tyler Lockett, but primarily because Metcalf was impossible to ignore in one-on-one matchups -- especially against Slay, who was targeted by Wilson as the nearest defender 11 times on the night and allowed eight receptions for 143 yards and an opposing passer rating of 114.8, per Next Gen Stats.
"They got to try to do something," Wilson said of opposing defenses facing Metcalf. "Can't get in his head. It's hard to cover him. In my opinion, he's unmatchable."
Slay allowed a completion percentage of 72.7 percent, which was 20.7 points above expectation, meaning he wasn't even making the plays on the ball expected of him, even while averaging 1.7 yards of separation on his targets.
"It's by far the worst game I've ever played in the league," Slay said afterward, via WPVI-TV's Jeff Skversky.
It's important to blanket Metcalf, but it's also important to try to match his height, which is virtually impossible without some additional help over the top. Size matters.
So too does the ability to adjust when something isn't working. Schwartz simply didn't do that, and the Eagles suffered. Philadelphia's offense is stuck in a rut, which is news to no one, but these types of decisions make the going that much harder for a team that is already visibly limited. And suddenly, Doug Pederson's job might be in jeopardy.
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported after the game Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is unhappy and performances like Monday night's "will have him seriously assessing his coach's status."
Some Eagles are already well aware of how fleeting job security can be in the NFL, and of their opportunity to help Pederson remain employed in Philadelphia with the pressure only increasing with each week.
"When stuff goes bad, they trying to weed out the guys that don't want to be here," Eagles edge rusher Brandon Graham said, via FOX 29's Kristen Rodgers. "I feel like Doug got us fighting. We're trying to make sure we keep him here."
As the calendar turns to December and the weather only gets chillier, the only thing heating up in Philadelphia right now is Pederson's seat. We'll know for sure whether the Eagles' fighting saves his job -- instead of drawing a flag on Slay, as it did Monday night.