DeAndre Carter waited through four seasons and five teams before fulfilling the promise he had made to a dying brother that he would become a receiver in the National Football League.
The vow was sealed when Carter survived the Eagles' final cutdown and dressed for the opener against Atlanta, but perhaps it wasn't real until early in the second quarter, when Nick Foles found Carter in the right flat for a 10-yard completion. Carter wasn't just on the team. He wasn't just in the game. His statistic went in a book and will never be erased.
The only thing Carter allows himself to take for granted about football is that he will be successful if he gets a chance. There have been too many stops and too many disappointments to assume anything further, however. Even last week with the Eagles, a team paper-thin at receiver, he wasn't sure what would happen.
"You never know. Practice is practice, and the game is the game," Carter said. "Whatever they ask of me, I'm going to do to the best of my ability."
Heading into Sunday's game in Tampa Bay, the Eagles have gone into full fire-drill mode concerning the receiver position. Maybe it won't affect Carter, who has done everything right since signing two days into training camp, but, as the man said, you never know.
With Mack Hollins on injured reserve and Alshon Jeffery appearing to be weeks away from a return, the Eagles signed three receivers to the practice squad — Braxton Miller, Reggie Davis, and Dorren Miller — and reportedly brought in two others — Breshad Perriman and Corey Coleman — for private workouts. The three practice-squad players have varying degrees of NFL experience, and the two workout candidates are former first-round picks (Coleman signed with the Patriots on Tuesday.). Additionally, on Wednesday morning, the Eagles brought back veteran Kamar Aiken, one of their final cuts, and released Markus Wheaton, another veteran who was hoping to catch on.
That's a lot of movement and a clear indication the Eagles aren't happy with what they have at the moment. Whether that dissatisfaction extends to Carter is anyone's guess. He knows enough not to figure the bull's-eye is on someone else.
"In this league, you've got to fight to get in, and you've got to fight every day to stay in," Carter said. "I've been around the block a couple of times, and I've seen the right way to go about a situation like this. Whether you're at the bottom or the top of the depth chart, you just focus on yourself."
Those lessons were absorbed starting in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. Along the way, he was signed and then waived or released by Baltimore, Oakland, New England, and San Francisco, and, finally, signed by the Eagles. He never got closer to the field than the practice squad at any of the previous stops.
It looked as though time might be running out on the 5-foot-8 Carter, who was a record-setting star at Sacramento State. It was during his college career that his younger brother, Kaylen, a high school player, collapsed during a weightlifting session because of an undetected heart abnormality. Kaylen Carter fell into a coma from which he never awoke, and his brother knelt at his bedside and promised he would achieve the dream of playing in the NFL for both of them.
That is part of what made DeAndre Carter's arrival into the NFL fraternity such a feel-good story last Thursday. But this isn't a league built on sentimentality. It is built on production, and one catch for 10 yards isn't much of a resume. That was the only play in which Carter was targeted by Foles, but nevertheless.
"I got the one ball thrown to me, and I caught it," Carter said. "I really can't be concerned how many balls get thrown my way."
It wasn't much of a night for any of the wide receivers, aside from Nelson Agholor, who caught eight passes on 10 targets, although for a scant average of 4.1 yards per catch. Mike Wallace, whose lack of production has been a mystery, was targeted three times in 66 snaps and didn't catch a pass. Shelton Gibson and the ill-fated Wheaton got on the field very briefly and were not involved. Carter was given a healthy 53 of the 72 offensive snaps, almost entirely in the slot position, but had only that lone target.
Foles had something to do with the skewed numbers. He seemed most comfortable with low-risk, short passes to the backs and tight ends, or quick poppers to Agholor. It could be there's nothing wrong with the receivers at all, aside from the scheme, but that certainly isn't how the team is acting this week.
"We're in the season. We have to win right now," Carter said. "We don't have any time to get the gears in gear."