Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie saw the play. He was back at safety, after all, surveying the entire field. He saw the Browns quarterback scramble, the pass deep down the sideline and the breakup of the play by a fellow defender.
What did not register with him was the player.
So when he got to the sideline and saw his Giants teammates slapping defensive end Olivier Vernon on the back, he was a bit confused.
“I was lost,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas was in a similar situation. He was rushing the passer and not paying attention to what was happening down the field.
“And then they said something about O.V.,” Casillas said.
It wasn’t until after the game that Rodgers-Cromartie and Casillas were able to watch the film and see what everyone else saw in Monday night’s game against the Browns: Vernon, the Giants’ 262-pound defensive end, going stride-for-stride with speedy tight end David Njoku some 30 yards down the field before leaping in the air to swat the pass away for an incompletion.
“Man, that was nice,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “You wouldn’t expect an end to do that.”
“That was amazing,” Casillas said. “When I saw it on film, I said, ‘Wow.’ He did it with ease. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s one of those guys that every day on film, every play, you see him and say, ‘Wow.’ From what he does against tight ends and tackles, his get-off, the way he uses his hands, he’s definitely a tremendous player. I definitely think he’s one of the most underrated players in the NFL.”
Not to the Giants. They hold him in very high regard because they see his work ethic and his play almost every day.
Monday’s pass breakup, though, seemed to take that to a whole new level.
“He is a very talented man,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “He plays the game hard. I think it speaks more to the effort and finish in the second preseason game and the desire to compete. It was a great example for everybody on the team.”
“It’s surprising the effort he put into it, but you know, that’s just how he is,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He doesn’t say much, he just goes out and plays ball.”
Vernon downplayed the feat.
“Basically, we just had to drop on the tight end and just had to stick on him until I found some help,” he said. “And unfortunately, it didn’t come, so I just had to stay on him.”
He did. All the way across the field.
“At the end of the day, it’s football,” Vernon said. “It’s about doing your job. You have to be out there doing your job and you don’t want to look bad on tape. You’ve just got to be out there, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. And that’s always been my mentality when I’m out there, preseason or not. You’ve just got to do your job and make it look good.”
The only thing Vernon didn’t come away with was the interception. He seemed to be in pretty good position to make a pick.
“Man,” he said, “I just wanted to bat the ball down, that’s all.”
Vernon said he was used in a similar way, dropping into coverage, when he played for the Dolphins the first four years of his career. The Giants may be doing that with him a bit this year, although likely not often since his best strength is rushing the quarterback not covering receivers.
“It’s going to be a long game for me if I have to do that all the time, you know?” Vernon said.
Even those he impressed agreed with that.
“Leave him where he’s at, let him rush that passer,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “We’ve got that back.”