Some team had to win.
They had no right winning after more mistakes, more dubious decision-making from Doug Pederson and more sloppy quarterback play from Carson Wentz. The Eagles clearly had superior talent and depth than the Giants. But they again couldn’t get out of their own way for much of the night.
Wentz tossed a wretched interception. Jake Elliott missed a chip shot field goal. The defense failed to account for quarterback Daniel Jones on a zone read keep. And Pederson made a mind-boggling call on fourth down that will only be forgotten because the Eagles rallied.
But that play shouldn’t be erased from history. Nor should the player who was the intended target – Hakeem Butler.
Remember the name. When this season is looked back upon, no matter any plausible outcome, he may end up being etched alongside the other names that have become a part of Eagles infamy.
It’s not entirely fair to the tight end, who had never played a snap on offense before Thursday night. Butler could have been Pederson’s Waterloo. It’s safe to assume that many in the Delaware Valley turned off their TVs or radios or phones when the Eagles failed to score on a fourth down and goal early in the fourth quarter.
Their team had played sloppy football for three quarters, and trailed, 14-10, but a touchdown would offer some redemption. Pederson rolled the dice as he’s done successfully so many times before. It wasn’t exactly necessary here.
But his team needed a spark. So when Wentz was stopped four yards short of the goal line on a curious quarterback keeper, the offense stayed on the field.
What could the Eagles have cooked up? A Jalen Hurts play? Something nifty with the returning DeSean Jackson? Maybe the surprise of the season, Travis Fulgham, would be involved? Richard Rodgers? John Hightower? Boston Scott? Bueller … ?
Maybe even tight end Jason Croom, who caught a touchdown Sunday in his lone snap against the Ravens?
No … Butler was the guy. Of course. Because that would shock the Giants. But the converted tight end didn’t even know where to line up before the snap. He split wide left when he was supposed to be right. He got over in time before the snap, but the loft on Wentz’s fade was low, and Giants cornerback Logan Ryan locked up (held?) Butler.
“When he got back to the right side of the formation, he was uncovered,” Pederson said. “And when he snapped the ball, the defender had gotten back over there just in enough time to knock the ball away. He’s a big, athletic guy, and we put that play in specifically for him, and the Giants made a play.”
It was an inexplicable turn of events in a season full of them. That the Eagles didn’t exactly roll over after the Giants took over on downs and scored a touchdown the other way is a credit to Pederson and his squad, however.
Wentz hit Hightower on a bomb. Greg Ward caught a three-yard touchdown pass. The defense held even though Evan Engram dropped a third down pass that would have sealed it for the Giants.
And Wentz marched his troops the other way, wheeling and dealing in a late-game scenario, which has become his modus operandi. If only he could play as inspired for all 60 minutes. Early in the third quarter, he seemed cooked after taking another beating.
When left tackle Jordan Mailata scraped him up off the turf and Wentz wobbled off the field after another three and out, it was hard not to think that the hits were starting to take their toll on the 27-year-old.
“I feel great because we got the win, and I feel great because we got a long weekend,” Wentz said. “Any time you play two football games in a four, five-day stretch, it’s tough on your body. But the fact that we got a win, the fact that we got a little time off, the body will be just fine.”
Wentz is a football warrior, if anything. He rebounded on the next drive by completing four straight passes for 60 yards – the last a dart to the twisting Fulgham. The drive stalled, however, thanks to a lack of imagination from Pederson.
He had Hurts on second down run a pedestrian-option right that was stopped for no gain. Then Wentz ran a the keeper from the 7-yard line that was stopped well short. And then the icing on the cake, a fourth-down corner fade to Butler.
Butler, a career wide receiver, was signed to the practice squad last month as a tight end. But he had only played on special teams until Thursday night because of the injuries at tight end. The Eagles, little could anyone have imagined, had been saving just the moment to unveil their secret weapon.
Some will wipe the moment from their minds, like some horror picture. But it shouldn’t be forgotten. Pederson has had a series of questionable calls or non-calls this season. The punting in overtime vs. the Bengals. The timeout not called at the Steelers. The odd two-point conversion play against the Ravens.
The Eagles didn’t win those games. They beat the Giants and Pederson won’t likely have to answer much for his corner fade call to Butler. But that he can still get his players to compete for him after that ill-fated play shows why he’s been successful for most of his Eagles tenure.