In the end, Pederson was rewarded for his confidence
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.