In the end, Ped­er­son was re­warded for his con­fi­dence

The Review - - Sports - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­; fol­low him on Twit­ter@ Jack­McCaf­fery

The one ab­so­lute about the most important play in a vic­tory that could de­fine the Ea­gles’ season Sun­day was that none of the credit was likely to slide to­ward Doug Ped­er­son. That’s be­cause long be­fore the Ea­gles would com­plete a 27-24 vic­tory over theNew York Gi­ants, he’d al­ready been widely char­ac­ter­ized as fool­ish.

Even in an or­ga­ni­za­tion that Jef­frey Lurie con­sis­tently hums will never be risk-ad­verse, Ped­er­son is an over-will­ing, play-call­ing gam­bler. Leonard Tose, re­puted to have had a habit of split­ting queens at At­lantic City blackjack ta­bles, will al­ways be the fran­chise stan­dard. But in less than two full sea­sons as the head coach, Ped­er­son has so wildly ig­nored con­ven­tional football thought that he al­ready has hus­tled up for the place money.

So be­fore Car­son Wentz would con­nect with Al­shon Jef­fery at the New York 43 with a sec­ond left in reg­u­la­tion Sun­day, Ped­er­son was al­ready run­ning a game-coach­ing deficit. For it­was also at theNew York 43 with 2:36 left in the first half, that Ped­er­son made a de­ci­sion that left the masses stumped.

Fac­ing fourth-and-eight, lead­ing 7-0, and with the Gi­ants look­ing typ­i­cally stumped by all-things-Ea­gles, Ped­er­son elected to go for the first down. So he mo­tioned Car­son Wentz into shot­gun for­ma­tion and or­dered some kind of a pass play. But Wentzwas sacked by line­backer Devon Ken­nard, lost six yards and needed to un­ravel him­self fromthe pile as if still re­cov­er­ing from the jostling. The Gi­ants took over at the 49 and even­tu­ally made it to the Birds’ one be­fore fail­ing to score. By then, the in­com­ing in­ter­net fire was ro­bust, with even some rea­son­able chirpers sug­gest­ing that Ped­er­son was in­ad­e­quate for his pro­fes­sion.

“It is risky,” Ped­er­son said. “It is risky. But I take into con­sid­er­a­tion our of­fense. Our de­fense was play­ing ex­tremely well. First half of the game, early in the game. And I ended up mak­ing that de­ci­sion to go for it, and ob­vi­ously we didn’t make it. But I stand by my de­ci­sion.”

Though that is the head coach’s call, and while Ped- er­son did not apol­o­gize, it seems there was some sort of num­bers-cruncher-forhire in his head­phones, eg­ging him on.

“I was in touch with the guys help­ing me up­stairs with an­a­lyt­ics,” he said, “and­where we were on the field, and what we were do­ing at the time, of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively.”

It’s what Ped­er­son does, and what ev­ery­one knows he does. He likes to use fourth downs to at­tack, not sur­ren­der. That’s not wrong. It’s un­ortho­dox. For the record, un­ortho­dox sel­dom suc­ceeds in pro foot- ball. Just ask Chip Kelly. But Ped­er­son coaches his way, and his way, this season, has been good for a 2-1 record, in­clud­ing 2-0 in the NFC East.

Had the Ea­gles lost Sun­day, Ped­er­son would have been made to do the talk­cir­cuit perp walk. Coaches are crit­i­cized for not us­ing an­a­lyt­ics, but are de­famed when they use an­a­lyt­ics and fail. It’s the new re­al­ity. But the Ea­gles did not lose. And they did not lose be­cause as re­cently as Satur­day Ped­er­son had de­manded two-min­ut­edrill pre­ci­sion in prac­tice. In par­tic­u­lar, he stressed quick, side­line, get-out-of­bounds, save-time plays. Specif­i­cally, he or­dered a re­hearsal of the ex­act play Wentz ran with 0:07 show­ing. It in­volved Jef­fery sprint­ing into the sec­ondary and bust­ing a right, catching the ball and bend­ing out of bounds for an im­me­di­ate clock stop­page.

“It’s a side­line route,” Ped­er­son said. “We’re trying to at­tack the side­line, get out of bounds, save some time. Lis­ten, it’s a lit­tle bit like a ‘Hail Mary,’ a lit­tle bit of a des­per­a­tion at­tempt. But it is some­thing we step through and walk through ev­ery week. We just did it Satur­day and it paid off.”

Jef­fery caught Wentz’s pass and stepped across the side­line with exactly one sec­ond to go. Same 43 yard line. Same side of the field as that ear­lier car­ryon. By then, rookie kicker Jake El­liott was us­ing body lan­guage to cam­paign for a chance to kick a 61-yard field goal, even though he’d never made one longer than 56 yards in any game, not even at theUniver­sity of Mem­phis.

Though Ped­er­son didn’t have an over-sup­ply of op­tions, he picked a field-goal at­tempt over a des­per­a­tion end-zone heave. He knew hewas right the in­stant he heard the crack of the bat.

“Quite hon­estly, I had so much calm­ness stand­ing there,” Ped­er­son said. “I had just watched him kick some kick­offs ex­tremely deep into the end zone. And it was pretty awe­some. It sounded like a can­non off his foot. Great snap. Great hold. The pro­tec­tion was there. Yeah. Awe­some.”

Be­cause the Ea­gles prac­ticed a play Satur­day, they ex­e­cuted it with pre­ci­sion Sun­day, giv­ing them the one clock-tick they needed. Be­cause Ped­er­son was pay­ing at­ten­tion to his rookie kicker ear­lier, he calmly used him late. And be­cause his play­ers know he will call plays with con­fi­dence, they ex­e­cute with con­fi­dence, too.

Un­like three weeks ago in Wash­ing­ton, Ped­er­son didn’t win a Ga­torade bath for his ef­fort Sun­day. But on an in­ter­est­ing day, he won a football game.

That, and some muf­fled re­demp­tion.


Ea­gles kicker Jake El­liott, left, is em­braced by head coach Doug Ped­er­son, right, after hit­ting a game-win­ning 61-yard field goal. Ped­er­son gave El­liot a shot from that dis­tance, de­spite the rookie hav­ing nev­er­made a kick that long in col­lege or the pros.

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