The ball came spinning towards Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton, and his heart skipped a beat. The pass from San Fransico 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens hit him directly in his hands and he started moving upfield.
Meanwhile, in his family home in Thousand Oaks, California — roughly a five-hour drive from Levi’s Stadium — Singleton’s mother, Kim, was jogging on her treadmill while watching the game. When the ball was flung in her son’s direction, her heart froze as well.
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As Singleton sealed his grip on the ball and started running, his mom was also picking up speed, simultaneously gaining ground but roughly 340 miles away.
While Kim jogged “with” her son, she could hear his biggest fan, Singleton’s sister, Ashley, screaming and crying in the other room. Singleton’s dad, Steve, and younger brother, Matt, were celebrating outside with friends.
The Singleton family wasn’t in the stadium on Sunday night, but their celebration could have been heard throughout the neighborhood.
“It was just unbelievable,” Kim told NJ Advance Media after the game. “It was just like ‘wow.’ The screams from the backyard. It was awesome. I was just so happy for him.”
The family has a running joke about Singleton’s history with interceptions. He’s dropped quite a few during his career. Ashley, who is a multi-sport Special Olympics athlete, often says her brother needs to get “stickier gloves.”
Singleton’s fourth-quarter pick-six against the 49ers might have curbed that joke for at least a few weeks. It also helped the Eagles finally nab their first win of the season.
The defensive score put the Eagles up 25-14 with 5:42 remaining in the game. Philadelphia would end up winning, 25-20.
“I was just so excited,” Kim said. “It would have been awesome to be there, but it was just great being here with family.”
Singleton’s snag for a score was his first since his junior year of college at Montana State.
His family has a picture of that college highlight play hanging on a wall in their house. It’s been a while, but his latest highlight, which was seen by millions on NBC, was well worth the wait.
“To be able to make a play for this team, it’s what you do it for,” Singleton said. “As much as I enjoy it for myself, I’m happy this team won, because if we don’t win at the end, you’re sick to your stomach, whether or not you scored or not.”
Singleton had only played 11 defensive snaps in 13 career games before Sunday’s primetime win. The former CFL all-star didn’t touch the field — outside of special teams — during his debut season last year.
After starter T.J. Edwards went down in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, Singleton replaced him and immediately made an impressive stop as a run defender.
A little while later, Singleton made the biggest play of the game, catching the interception and running 30 yards to the end zone.
Singleton’s patience as a deep reserve linebacker paid off, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson was elated for the under-the-radar contributor.
“He’s kind of the unsung hero,” Pederson said. “He’s a four-core special teams player, he’s a backup role player on defense, and he just battles. He comes to work every day, he’s always in a great mood … Guys rally behind him and I was happy for him to get that pick-six.”
Hard work pays off
Most Eagles fans know Singleton as a gritty special teams ace.
Over the past two seasons, he’s collected 10 special teams tackles. Along with special teams captains, Duke Riley and Craig James, Singleton is considered one of the energy guys on the kickoff team.
But, what most spectators don’t see is how hard he works on defense in practice. While he’s had to wait his turn, Singleton’s teammates know what he brings to the table at linebacker.
“I’m so happy for him,” cornerback Jalen Mills said. “The dude works extremely hard — not only on special teams — but now he got his opportunity on the field, and he made the most of it. I know that’s not going to go unseen by the coaches.”
The defensive coaching staff has consistently preached the need for turnovers over the past four weeks. However, the group came into this past weekend as one of only three teams without an interception this season.
That drought ended in the second quarter, as safety Rodney McLeod was able to pick off Mullens in the red zone. Then, in the fourth quarter, cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc produced a strip-sack on the quarterback.
Singleton’s pick-six, the Eagles’ third turnover of the game, served as the coup de grâce for the evening.
“We knew we had to come out with some turnovers to win this game and that’s exactly what we did,” LeBlanc said. “Alex with the pick-six, Rod with the pick and me with the strip-sack. We ended up getting three right there, doing our job and sealing the deal.”
While Edwards’ injury timeline isn’t known, hamstring injuries can be tricky. The middle linebacker could be out for an extended period of time.
Singleton’s showing against the 49ers proved that he deserves more snaps on defense. If his number is called again, the linebacker, who was previously known as just a special teams player, will be ready to make more plays for his defense.
“It’s like Coach (Pederson) always talks about: ‘next man up,’” Singleton said. “You don’t want to be the weak link, you want to be the strong link.”
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