PHILADELPHIA – It was so bright on that national stage for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on Sunday night that the Eagles’ safety had to wear shades.
After a two-interception night in an emphatic 26-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys, CGJ was the first Eagles player to the podium after his team reached 6-0 for just the third time in franchise history.
Gardner-Johnson, of course, has never lost as an Eagles after being acquired on Aug. 30 from New Orleans, along with a 2025 seventh-round pick, for a pair of late-round draft picks in 2023, in theory the last piece of the puzzle for Jonathan Gannon’s defense.
Despite the team’s success, the late start hasn’t been without its hiccups for Gardner-Johnson, 24, who is in the final year of his rookie contract after being selected in the fourth round by the Saints in 2019.
“I am blessed to be there,” Gardner-Johnson said before admitting he isn’t quite comfortable after moving from slot cornerback with the Saints to a safety spot opposite Marcus Epps in Philadelphia. “I cannot say (I’m) too comfortable, because once you get comfortable, you don’t get better. I think every day is a learning process for me.
“I still left some plays on the field.”
A noted trash talker with a big personality, Gannon and secondary coach Dennard Wilson have been on Gardner-Johnson to back up the swagger with his play on the field and the Florida product has taken well to the “bad cop” approach.
“Everybody knows me as a talker, that’s flashy,” Gardner-Johnson said. “But just playing with guys who have a chip on their shoulder who all have the same goal in mind, it’s a humbling experience for me because I had to swallow my pride when I first got here.”
The high expectations surrounding the Eagles now have only ramped up the serious part of things at the NovaCare Complex. As the only unbeaten team in the NFL, Philadelphia is going to get the best punch of each opponent moving forward.
“It’s all tough love,” Gardner-Johnson said. “When coach is talking to you, you have to take heed to it, and I think just listen to how they play ball. Like he said, this is our first time playing together, so I think it’s just a blessing to be a part of a humble group, all young men who just like to play ball and focus on what we can do.”
CGJ’s first interception against the Cowboys helped set up A.J. Brown’s 15-yard touchdown catch and the “double positive” came on the heels of the Eagles’ first score, quickly putting a limited Dallas team in trouble at 14-0.
The second turnover came late and was a perfect example of Gannon’s rush and cover, cover and rush mantra. It was a big hot on Cooper Rush by Brandon Graham that left a throw short enabling Gardner-Johnson to corral it.
In between, Gardner-Johnson had to leave for 16 defensive snaps to have his left hand X-rayed. It was heavily wrapped when CGK was able to return to the Eagles’ bye week is coming at an opportune time for Gardner-Johnson.
“Tough, that’s what we is, we are tough guys,” said cornerback Darius Slay, who also had an interception of Rush. “This is a physical sport. We were all just praying for him when he went down … For him to come back in and get that sealing pick, come on, man, that’s what dawgs do.
“He got a big dawg on his chest.”
The scary part is that Gardner-Johnson is still learning a new defense and already making plays, something that should only continue as he gets more comfortable.
“I came in right before the season, so I didn’t have a full camp preseason, so just being around them guys and understanding where they come from, how they play ball, is different. I love it,” he said.
“He’s an energy guy,” said Slay. “Brings a lot of energy. Works hard. Like I said, he’s a good dude.
“We appreciate him in the group … He brings a lot of swag to us. He’s doing his thing for us. He’s buying in, fitting into the room. That’s the biggest thing about our group. When you buy into it, it’s a good group.”
Gardner-Johnson has already figured that out.
“I was the new guy coming in, coming in loud, showboating, but I’m not here to showboat you,” said Gardner-Johnson to his teammates. “I’m here to get better, improve and help this team win. I think the best thing I can do is to gradually adjust and gravitate to the group.”