He wasn't even supposed to be in the starting line-up yesterday, but when he had his opportunity, Saints 2nd year CB Ken Crawley made the play that potentially can launch All-Pro caliber careers for young players in the NFL.
Crawley's leaping grab in the end zone on a 1st down-and-goal play right in front of Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas -- a man who physically is 4 inches taller and nearly 75 pounds heavier -- was a classic case of out-hustling his man in tight coverage; and a true testament to just how far the 24-year old former University of Colorado star and undrafted free agent has come after some struggles as a rookie last season.
“I saw it,” Crawley said, dismissively. “It’s a tight end ... and I just played the fade.” Crawley
"It was a momentum swing, and after that, we were able to shut them out," Crawley said to ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett and other reporters in the locker room after the game.
Crawley told NOLA.com beat writer Josh Katzenstein that he didn't even know he would be in the starting line-up until Saturday, when #2 CB P.J. Williams -- the normal starter at the outside boundary position opposite of #1 CB Delvin Breaux (who's still out healing from a broken fibula) -- was benched by head coach Sean Payton for disciplinary reasons.
"P.J. is the starter," Crawley said. "I just came in and did my job."
Katzenstein says that with Crawley playing so well as he has, first in place of Marshon Lattimore in last week's win over Carolina and then again yesterday in the place of for Williams; there's a very good chance he could see the field more after surprisingly being inactive the first two games.
And deservedly so.
Much like a fine red Cabernet Sauvignon wine, Crawley just keeps "getting better with age".
But if you're not much of a wine drinker, then think of it this way: every time that Crawley steps onto the field for the Saints, he's improving and getting better overall as an individual player, with each snap of the football.
In 2 games now -- both Saints wins -- Crawley has been targeted a total of 18 times, and only has allowed 8 catches for a total of 66 yards, and has one pass defensed / batted down, along with yesterday's interception that set the tone for the Saints defense for the remainder of the game.
Pro Football Focus yesterday noted that Crawley allowed only a ridiculous passer rating of 22.9 when targeted by Dolphins QB Jay Cutler; who although has had his noted struggles against New Orleans in the past, is still a more-than-capable NFL QB who can burn DB's with his strong arm.
Ken Crawley had himself a day! pic.twitter.com/nH4pTokAlB
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 1, 2017
Crawley told Katzenstein that for him personally, it's all simply just a matter of trusting his own instincts.
"I'm getting smarter as the season is going, watching more tape and just trusting it," Crawley said. "I just say I've been trusting what I'm seeing out there."
Getting smarter, for sure. And getting BETTER, without any doubt.
Last year, the Washington, D.C. native and former H.D. Woodson High School star (and former Washington Post D.C. Area Player of the Year award winner as a high school senior in 2011) found himself pressed into action after the Saints lost BOTH starting CB's in Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams.
Crawley struggled at times as all rookie NFL CB's often do, and was even victimized a few times on some big plays, most notably in a Week #2 loss against the New York Giants.
And although Crawley's play improved throughout the season, though he was no "lock" to make the Final Roster this year coming to Camp with the return of all the Saints starters and the addition to the secondary of the team's top 2017 Draft pick in Marshon Lattimore.
But Crawley bounced back strong with a phenomenal Training Camp, and here at Saints News Network we even listed Crawley as THE most improved player during the entire 2017 Saints off-season.
Now 2 months later and 4 games into the 2017 regular season, Crawley is making his great performance from back in late July and most of August, turning out to be a very legitimate one.
And yesterday's huge interception is evidence of that fact.
"It was a momentum swing, and after that, we were able to shut them out,"
"I feel like the last game, that shutout, it was expected. That was our goal through camp. I feel like guys came together. We know what kind of defense we want to be. We always hear about other defenses around the league. We want to be that."
"We’re a young group. I feel like it’s giving us momentum. I feel like we’re going to go somewhere with this type of defense."
There isn't any doubt that Crawley's going somewhere, and that somewhere just might be a more expanded role within the Saints defensive secondary.
And if we see more plays like the one that we saw against the Dolphins?
It could be the beginning of what eventually becomes a solid if not spectacular NFL career.
And hey -- who knows? Maybe an All-Pro caliber one, at that.
Like a fine wine, Crawley just keeps getting better with age. And hopefully, the entire Saints defense will continue to get better, right along with him..........