When Doug Pederson pulled Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld early in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s season finale against Washington, many Eagles players and coaches were shocked and outraged, team sources told The Inquirer.
Some were angry. Two defensive players had to be held back from approaching Pederson. Center Jason Kelce and another offensive starter went to the coach to ask him why he had pulled the starting quarterback with the Eagles trailing by only three.
Hurts was distraught, as well. Even though he had been told Wednesday that there was a chance Sudfeld could play, he couldn’t understand why Pederson would make the switch, sources close to the situation said.
The NBC broadcast caught Hurts on the bench after he was replaced apparently saying, “That’s not right.”
“As a competitor, I play to win,” Hurts said after the game when asked for his reaction. “You have to trust [Pederson’s plan].”
In many cases, Eagles players and assistants had no inclination that Sudfeld was part of the offensive game plan, and if they did, they figured it had been abandoned because of the tight score.
Pederson said after the game that he was trying to win, but that he wanted to get Sudfeld some playing time. The third-stringer hadn’t played the entire season, and promptly struggled once inserted in what would be an eventual 20-14 loss.
On Monday, Pederson again defended his decision, although he contradicted comments he said after the game about the change being strictly about Sudfeld. This time, Pederson also referenced the offensive struggles as a reason.
“We were struggling just a little bit to move the ball,” he said during a video conference call. “Defensively, they kept us in the game with a couple of takeaways late. And my plan was to get Nate in the game.
“Nate’s a guy that’s very capable of running our system and executing, and [had] an opportunity to pull that game out last night.”
Many of the Eagles players knew their only chance of coming back, even with an already bare-bones unit, was with Hurts, sources said. Sudfeld tossed an interception on his second pass, fumbled a low Kelce snap on his next possession, and couldn’t move the Eagles down the stretch.
The Eagles were criticized by many across the NFL spectrum for what was perceived to be an apparent tanking, especially with Washington able to clinch the NFC East with a victory.
NBC broadcasters Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth questioned Pederson’s motivation. Fans of the 6-10 New York Giants, who would have back-doored their way to the playoffs with a Washington loss, went ballistic on social media.
Giants coach Joe Judge, a Lansdale Catholic product, weighed in on Monday and without mentioning the Eagles or Pederson by name, said they disrespected the game.
Some Eagles staffers still weren’t sure what was behind Pederson’s decision a day later, if he was under orders from owner Jeffrey Lurie and/or general manager Howie Roseman, although most speculated that it was most likely related to draft position. The Eagles will have the No. 6 overall draft pick, rather than the No. 9 pick had they won.
Some speculated that most wouldn’t have cared had Pederson communicated his plans to the team, or publicly stated his intention to treat the finale like a preseason game and insert Sudfeld at some point.
But the way it unfolded left a bitter taste in many of the Eagles’ mouths and they felt embarrassed. Kelce, who made an impassioned plea against tanking last month, hasn’t spoken with reporters since the game, and didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Defensive end Brandon Graham said that he had known Sudfeld was going to play and that he was happy he got the opportunity. The Eagles captain also said that he thought Pederson was playing to win.
“They wanted to win, for sure,” Graham said Monday. “We went out there all week saying how we wanted to go out there and win the game and make sure that we [didn’t] allow them to celebrate on our watch, especially as a defense, especially because we knew [defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz, this was his last game with us.
“It was just tough not to send him off the right way.”