ON THE EA­GLES When the stakes were raised, Ped­er­son made ev­ery right move

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - SPORTS - By Jack McCaffery jm­c­caf­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @Jack­McCaf­fery on Twit­ter

Even as he was car­ry­ing a 13-3 record into his first post­sea­son game Satur­day, Doug Ped­er­son had to know knew the usual rules, rules he may never stop hear­ing.

Un­pop­u­lar as a for­mer Ea­gle and untested as a head coach, few were go­ing to have to prove more to fans and crit­ics be­fore be­ing ac­cepted. By late last off­sea­son, the sit­u­a­tion turned un­nec­es­sar­ily cruel when a failed foot­ball ex­ec­u­tive named Mike Lom­bardi went me­di­a­hop­ping to de­clare Ped­er­son un­fit to coach pro­fes­sional foot­ball. Be­cause of how it works any more, that bab­ble went vi­ral.

That Ped­er­son would forge a strong Coach of the Year can­di­dacy by storm­ing through the NFC East and win­ning the No. 1 seed in the NFC play­offs was enough, at least, to muf­fle the noise. Still, it was right to won­der: How would he re­act in the play­offs, when ev­ery­thing changes?

The an­swer, after the Birds’ 15-10 sec­ond-round vic­tory over At­lanta: Very well. Very well, by any mea­sure. Pick one.

How about clock man­age­ment, which his pro­fes­sional men­tor, Andy Reid, has so of­ten man­gled in play­off games that it is prob­a­bly go­ing to cost him a Hall of Fame spot? Wasn’t that Ped­er­son nurs­ing ev­ery time­out (and tak­ing ad­van­tage of some breaks), to help squeeze one fi­nal sec­ond out of a five-play, 46-sec­ond drive at the end of the first half? And wasn’t that Jake El­liott mak­ing it count with a 53-yard field goal at the horn?

“In those sit­u­a­tions where you can get points go­ing in at half­time, where there’s not much time, it is huge,” Nick Foles said. “And it gives you mo­men­tum.”

How about mo­ti­va­tion? Weren’t the Ea­gles de­ter­mined, at the end, to pre­vent At­lanta from gen­er­at­ing a game-win­ning touch­down? How about play-call­ing? Wasn’t that a new wrin­kle that the Ea­gles em­bar­rassed the Fal­cons with on third-and-three in the sec­ond quar­ter, when they handed to a cross­ing Nel­son Agholor, who sprinted 21 yards around left end, set­ting up the Birds’ only touch­down?

“It’s a play we’ve ac­tu­ally had in our arse­nal,” Ped­er­son said. “We’ve had it up in game plans be­fore this sea­son. We just never got to it. We were in the right sit­u­a­tion, I be­lieve it was a third down when we called it and it was just the right time.”

He might never have needed that play. He needed it there. The Fal­cons were stunned. And the Ea­gles are a vic­tory from the Su­per Bowl. They might not get there. They might not win there even if they do. But at ev­ery check­point Satur­day, Ped­er­son showed that he was ca­pa­ble of be­ing a ca­pa­ble Sherpa.

Among the traits that has made him both en­dear­ing and mad­den­ing to Ea­gles fans has been Ped­er­son’s dis­re­gard for the ex­pected. In his two sea­sons, he has proven he will punt when he feels like punt­ing, will call a fourth­down play when he feels like call­ing a fourth-down play, and will coach the way he wants to coach, no mat­ter how sour the cho­rus.

So there was a dan­ger Satur­day that Ped­er­son would be so de­ter­mined to re­main in that char­ac­ter that he would try to make it work re­gard­less of the in­creased stakes. Such was the de­ci­sion he faced when the Birds sput­tered at the At­lanta three with 6:05 to play, up by two points. Were he a car­i­ca­ture of him­self, he would have or­dered his of­fense back onto the field to try to score a dag­ger touch­down.

“Ob­vi­ously, if you score a touch­down there, you put it to a two-score ball­game and kind of put the ball­game away,” El­liott said. “So you kind of have to look at it both ways.”

Ped­er­son did. And he chose to al­low El­liott to pad the lead to 15-10 with a 21-yard field goal, putting the pres­sure on the Fal­cons to score a touch­down. They didn’t.

“I was re­ally con­sid­er­ing that, go­ing for it,” Ped­er­son said. “Ob­vi­ously with the kick, you’re up five and you’re putting it back in your de­fense’s hands, which is a pos­i­tive, be­cause I felt like they were play­ing ex­tremely well at that time. But I also knew that if we do go for it and make it at that point, the game could be over at that time.

“I elected to take the time out, talk about it a lit­tle bit more, and then just ul­ti­mately kick a field goal.” Perfect. He coached the game. He coached the mo­ment. He didn’t smear the mo­ment by try­ing to pro­mote his im­age as a cav­a­lier gam­bler.

“The play-call­ing was ex­cel­lent,” Lane John­son said. “We have a bunch of stuff that fits in with what Nick does and what he is ac­cus­tomed to. We ran the ball ef­fi­ciently when we needed to. Ob­vi­ously down there to­wards the end, I wish we would’ve had the touch­down so it wouldn’t have made the end­ing so dra­matic. But we kept fight­ing and made plays when we needed to.”

Through­out the room late Satur­day, the Ea­gles lib­er­ally laced their postgame com­ments with praise for Ped­er­son, for his prepa­ra­tion, but also for just be­ing what so many didn’t think pos­si­ble. And as he ex­ited the field, Ped­er­son even seemed more emo­tional than usual.

“Ev­ery­thing kind of rushes through your mind,” he said. “But the big­gest emo­tion for me was the team, the guys, and the re­siliency of this foot­ball team. And our back’s against the wall. Peo­ple dis­count us. They don’t give us much credit, what­ever it might be.”

They dis­count Ped­er­son, too. That will con­tinue, be­cause that’s how it works, too. That he will en­ter the NFC fi­nal with­out Car­son Wentz will buy him some tol­er­ance in­surance in case of a loss. But he will be judged, ul­ti­mately, the way all pro-foot­ball coaches are judged: By his play­off record. As of Satur­day, that record was 1-and0. It was a strong 1-and0, too. Con­tact Jack McCaffery @jm­c­caf­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @Jack­McCaf­fery.

RICK KAUFF­MAN - DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE

Philadel­phia Ea­gles head coach Doug Ped­er­son came up on the right side of a num­ber of cru­cial de­ci­sions in the Birds’ play­off win over the At­lanta Fal­cons.

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