Ped­er­son’s fourth-down for­mula fails the Birds

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

EAST RUTHER­FORD, N.J. >> It was ob­vi­ous in the first half that Ea­gles head coach Doug Ped­er­son wasn’t him­self Sunday.

Not be­cause of the weather, 56 de­grees and sunny, the bonus hour from day­light sav­ings time or the week-long dis­trac­tion we’ll call Josh Huff.

No, Ped­er­son was hav­ing fourth-down flash­backs. You can trace them to the first quar­ter of the Dal­las Cow­boys game, when he re­gret­ted kick­ing a field goal in­stead of tak­ing a penalty that would have given him fourth-and­short at the seven-yard line. The Ea­gles lost by six points in over-

time and he felt he’d let his guys down play­ing it safe.

It was déjà vu time for Ped­er­son early in the first half against the New York Gi­ants. Star­ing at the same type of sit­u­a­tion as last week, Ped­er­son, who en­tered the game 4-for-4 on fourth down, wasn’t go­ing to have any sec­ond thoughts this time around.

In­stead, Mr. Fourth Down made a se­ries of fourth-and­short de­ci­sions that cost the Ea­gles at least two field goals in a 28-23 loss to the Gi­ants. You do the math.

“There’s a fine line be­tween be­ing crazy, bor­der­line crazy and do­ing the right thing,” Ped­er­son said. “But at the same time I felt like, at the time, it was the right thing to do. It’s mo­men­tum. It was an op­por­tu­nity, the way we were play­ing and mov­ing the ball, to re­ally show con­fi­dence in our of­fense.”

Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing on fourth down and this week Ped­er­son’s tim­ing was aw­ful. Maybe not even nec­es­sary. Un­like the Cow­boys, the Gi­ants will beat them­selves if you get out of the way. You re­ally don’t need fourth down to de­feat Big Blue. The Ea­gles had won four straight in the se­ries, in­clud­ing three in a row at MetLife.

Ped­er­son tried any­way and it dug a deeper hole for the Ea­gles, Car­son Wentz fool­ing no one on a boot­leg that lost yardage on fourth-and-one at the 23yard line. It’s safe to say the stop roused the Gi­ants, who led, 14-3, courtesy of backto-back Wentz in­ter­cep­tions.

Stub­bornly, Ped­er­son laid all his cards on the ta­ble again later in the sec­ond quar­ter. This time Dar­ren Spro­les was stopped on fourth-and-one at the six­yard line of the Gi­ants. The Ea­gles got noth­ing out of Spro­les’ 66-yard punt re­turn to the 15. Who needs an­other field goal any­way?

“I felt re­ally good about the way we were mov­ing the foot­ball,” Ped­er­son said. “It was my de­ci­sion, again, to stay ag­gres­sive on the field and stay ag­gres­sive with our team. It just came down to the way we were oper­at­ing at that time.”

By the time Ped­er­son re­gained his senses, try­ing a field goal on fourth down at the 22 of the Gi­ants with 1:07 left in the half, the tone had been set. Ja­son Pierre Paul snuffed Caleb Stur­gis’ 40yard field goal at­tempt, end­ing a streak of 18 straight makes, and the Gi­ants swag­gered into the in­ter­mis­sion with a 21-10 ad­van­tage.

The flash­backs, and the Gi­ants, kept on com­ing at Ped­er­son.

After the Ea­gles and Gi­ants traded third-quar­ter touch­downs, Ped­er­son went out of body with 6:32 left in the fi­nal frame.

With time run­ning out, he or­dered a pass on fourt­hand-nine at the 46-yard line of the home team. Wentz dropped a post­card per­fect throw into Jordan Matthews for a 25-yard gain.

The con­ver­sion led to a 38yard field goal, pulling the Ea­gles to within five points with two time­outs and 3:51 left.

At that point Ped­er­son couldn’t tell you the dif­fer­ence be­tween reck­less­ness and ag­gres­sive­ness, although there were lu­cid moments.

Ped­er­son, for ex­am­ple, ac­tu­ally called a go route … re­mem­ber that? The re­ceiver runs and runs, the quar­ter­back airs the ball out and two of the things that can hap­pen on such plays are pos­i­tive. Rookie Bryce Treggs hauled in Wentz’s 58-yard ball to set up the first Philly TD of the game, an eight-yard run by Ryan Mathews.

Ped­er­son’s con­fi­dence in the de­fense was re­warded with two takeaways, Jordan Hicks and Nolan Carroll pick­ing off Eli Man­ning, who other­wise found all the holes in the sec­ondary with four TD passes in an­other typ­i­cal Ea­gles-Gi­ants war.

The Ea­gles could even make a case for a costly of­fi­ci­at­ing gaffe. Billy Vi­novich, the best ref­eree in pro foot­ball, missed an ob­vi­ous rough­ing the kicker penalty that should have given the Ea­gles a first-and-goal around the 8-yard line rather than a field goal.

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