It’s amazing what can happen when your quarterback doesn’t actively lose the game for you. You might even wind up in first place.
Doug Pederson rediscovered his daring, thrilling style Sunday night at San Francisco. Going for 2, just because. Fourth-and-crazy? Sign him up.
Last week Doug Pederson had had enough of all of it. At 0-2-1, with his quarterback playing horribly and his team playing dead, Pederson wanted everyone to know that this developing catastrophe wasn’t his fault — that his recent conservative decisions were his only option — so Doug dished like a caffeinated hairdresser.
He revealed that 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters was too tired to finish Game Three. That running back Miles Sanders, who missed most of training camp and Game One with an injury, was not in peak shape.
And — most incredibly — that his coaching staff needed to simplify the offense for struggling quarterback Carson Wentz in order to declutter Wentz’s mind. This is an offense constructed in its entirely around the strengths of that $128 million, fifth-year, former Pro Bowl quarterback.
Further, by the end of last week, Pederson had lost Peters to a foot injury, which brought the injury total to six of the 12 primary offensive players. And twice on Sunday night, Pederson briefly lost right tackle Lane Johnson to his nagging ankle injury.
With that team, after these revelations, Pederson defeated the 49ers and clever coach Kyle Shanahan. Mike’s only son became Doug’s most recent victim and joined an impressive list: the Rams’ Sean McVay (1-2), the Bears' Matt Nagy (0-2), the Packers’ Matt LaFleur (0-1), and, of course, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick (0-1, in the Super Bowl).
So, the Eagles are Gulliver in the Lilliput division. It’s better than being Boston Scott in Brobdingnag.
Afterward, Pederson, ever the sore winner, was terse. Testy. On the field, he was the old Doug. Dangerous Doug.
Doug Pederson had lost his magic over the first three games. The man who called the “Philly Special” became … ordinary.
Pederson punted late in overtime to preserve a tie against the Bengals last week, a clear indication that he neither trusted his offense to make it nor his defense to hold the Bengals. On Sunday night, on fourth-and-4 midway through the fourth quarter, he did not cower. He did not try a 55-yard field goal, and he did not punt and cross his fingers.
“It was just a decision to go. I just decided to go," Pederson said. "Trust the players.”
Trust the players.
That’s what Real Doug Pederson does.
He hadn’t trusted his payers the previous week. This week, four plays after Wentz converted the fourth-down pass to fifth-round rookie John Hightower, Wentz dropped a 42-yard gumdrop into the bucket of practice-squad graduate Travis Fulgham. The Eagles were having fun for the first time all season.
That’s why the team played with so few mistakes this week after punching itself in the face three games in a row. Doug relieved the pressure.
“Quite frankly, we didn’t talk about this as a must-win,” Pederson said. They’d played badly, so, “We just owned it.”
We just owned it.
That’s the Doug Pederson Eagles.
He didn’t go for two points last week when he had a chance. Why did he attempt a two-point conversion on the first score of the game Sunday, in the first quarter? To send a message?
“Just my decision to go,” Pederson said. “I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the ‘why’s’.”
Here’s why. Here’s the message: We have nothing to lose.
That’s how Real Doug Pederson wins. He’s not afraid to fail. Why’d he go for two? Here’s why: Because his team was a 7.5-point underdog, playing a superior team, on the road, in prime time, with a patchwork roster. Points would be beyond precious, so he maximized the chance to score them.
Wentz? He was fine Sunday, finally. He threw an early interception, but he ran around some and was otherwise efficient in executing the abridged, apparently dumbed-down playbook.
The defense showed out, too. Of course, the defense faced Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup, Nick Mullens, but it got Mullens benched in the fourth quarter, and it forced three turnovers, and it scored a touchdown.
It was weird, and maybe a little psychedelic, but Pederson and Wentz and that cast of understudies left San Francisco with an unlikely, underdog win. It was sort of an unlikely, underdog win that has marked the five-year Pederson era, and has stamped him as an elite NFL coach.
Elite, that is, when his quarterback doesn’t sabotage him.