It could hardly have gone worse.
“I’m out,” Doug Pederson growled over a chorus of questions as he left the dais. “I’m out.”
Pederson had spent the previous 12 minutes, 4 seconds on a witness stand, responding to 33 questions about Carson Wentz’s broken back and the fitness of the team’s medical staff. So, he was hostile. Understandable.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman sent Pederson to meet a press corps bent on determining whether the team, in hopes of squeezing out an extra win or two this season, betrayed the health and the future of Wentz, the most significant player in its history.
Exactly when did Wentz get hurt? If the injury “evolved over time,” as Pederson said, why did Wentz continue to play? Why did it take nearly two months to determine it was a stress fracture? What does this mean for Wentz’s future, and the franchise’s future, considering Wentz is due a massive contract extension before next season?
No answers; just 12 minutes, 4 seconds of obfuscation and frustration. That was no surprise. unsurprisingly. Pederson lacks both the knowledge and the power to answer those questions. What should have happened at Pederson’s mandatory Friday press conference?
Roseman should have been sitting at a table, and next to him, the revamped medical staff: New head team physician Dr. Stephen Stash; Dr. Christopher Dodson, promoted in August to head orthopedic physician; and Dr. Alexander Vaccaro, the team’s spine specialist for the past 15 years; and maybe new athletic trainer Jerome Reid, just to round out the principals.
The doctors should have been wearing white coats, stethoscopes around their necks, little triangular rubber hammers is sticking out of their pockets. Perhaps Vaccaro should have brought an over-sized replica spine like you see in a chiropractor’s office.
They all should have been patient, and severe, and so completely transparent that you’d have thought their jobs depended on it. Because their jobs should depend on it.
This season there have been far too many Eagles who never really got better, like Mack Hollins and Sidney Jones. There have been too many players who came back and either couldn’t play the way they used to, like Brandon Graham, or couldn’t play at all, like Timmy Jernigan.
Wentz first reported discomfort after Game Five. It wasn’t Pederson’s decision to keep playing him. Roseman and his medical staff decided Wentz was fit to play eight more games, to run the ball 24 times, to get sacked 19 times, and to take about 100 other hits. Wentz appeared on the injury report three consecutive weeks with a back problem that limited him during one midweek practice each time.
Since then, nothing ... until Tuesday, when the symptoms resurfaced and more intensive testing began. And showed a stress fracture that Pederson said will need three months to heal.
Incredibly, Pederson also said that Wentz and his broken back will travel 5,474 air miles, take six bus rides and spend the weekend in a hotel this weekend -- part of an ill-conceived ruse, because, he said there’s a possibility that Wentz might still play Sunday against the Rams.
Three months to heal, but maybe he’ll play Sunday.
You can’t make this stuff up.
It appears that the Eagles knew exactly when Wentz hurt himself, and they knew that it might worsen, but they let him play anyway; let him play on a reconstructed knee, behind a decimated offensive line, with a receiving corps so depleted that they traded for Golden Tate five games ago.
Again: none of these are Pederson‘s decisions. He plays the players he is given. Still, it was left to Pederson to explain the protocols of returning to play and to beg for understanding that setbacks are part of the process.
Pederson wouldn’t even call the injury a stress fracture on Friday; he called it a “stress injury." He also refused to pinpoint the moment the injury happened and the timeline since, because, he said, "It’s in Carson’s best interests.”
Balderdash. It is in no one’s best interests to lie, either by misdirection or omission, about this injury, or about any injury. It makes the players doubt the team’s motives. It also degrades the professional reputations of the medical personnel involved. Some reasons to withhold this sort of information: the player wasn’t forthcoming about his own health; the team did, in fact, knowingly put him in peril; or that the medical staff made mistakes.
At one point Pederson said Wentz never played hurt; that he displayed “no symptoms.” This, of course, contradicts Wentz’s three consecutive appearances in October on the midweek injury reports.
Pederson has indicated that he isn’t pleased with the epidemic of injuries this season, but he’s been a good soldier and he has not questioned the medical staff. This likely betrays his true feelings.
Pederson is, at base, a players' coach, and he knows football players seldom fully trust a team’s medical staff. He sympathizes with their anxieties. He understands their fears and paranoias. He knows the terror of having your career end due to injury; coincidently, specifically, by a back injury, which ended Pederson’s playing career as a backup quarterback in 2004. He wants his players to trust the organization, because more so than any other sport, football demands blind loyalty and obedience, and mistrust affects performance on the field.
It also affects his performance at the podium.
Two minutes into Friday’s press conference Pederson angrily declared the subject of Wentz’s injury closed (it wasn’t). He seemed genuinely outraged that he’d received no queries concerning Sunday’s game against the Rams (it’s irrelevant). He seemed genuinely astonished to be grilled about well-being of the franchise quarterback -- questions both beyond his depth and scope.
In the latter portion of Pederson’s interrogation, he wryly acknowledged the absurdity of his position -- head coach acting as medical messenger: “I get the pleasure of coming up here.”
In fact, press conferences for Pederson are, sometimes, a pleasure. He enjoys the chance to explain his strategies. He is the best sort of coach: teacher, innovator, enthusiastic experimenter.
You want to go for it on fourth down? You want to run a trick play? You want to win a Super Bowl? Doug Pederson’s your guy.
You want to explain why the face of the franchise played eight games with a deteriorating back?
That’s a job for the doctors, and their boss.