FRISCO, Texas -- Doug Pederson said it. He said it unprompted and unscripted, and he meant it.
The only question now is: Will it haunt him?
Pederson told listeners at 94WIP on Monday:
“We’re going down to Dallas, and our guys are gonna be ready to play. And we’re gonna win that football game, and when we do, we’re in first place in the NFC East.”
The Cowboys are in a tailspin after a 3-0 start to be tied with the Eagles at 3-3. They are, as you might expect, as ornery as a longhorn steer stuck in the sagebrush.
How might they respond to Pederson’s guarantee?
Tepidly, at first.
On Monday, coach Jason Garrett said, “We’re excited for the challenge.”
On Wednesday, All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott passed on the chance to respond pointedly. All-Pro guard Zack Martin and seventh-year safety Jeff Heath passed, too. None of them offered fuel for the fire, but none of them exactly shrugged it off, either.
Nose tackle Antwaun Woods’ response was not tepid at all. He made it clear: The Cowboys don’t appreciate Pederson’s bravado.
“That’s cool for him,” Woods said. “It’s easy for him to say in a little press conference, in an air-conditioned room. At the end of the day, he can’t go out there and play for his team.”
Woods paused, then continued:
“We’ll just see how it be when it’s time to put the hand in the dirt on Sunday.”
This is a fascinating turn, considering Pederson and his staff cut linebacker Zach Brown on Monday. That was three days after Brown called Vikings quarterback and former Washington teammate Kirk Cousins “the weakest part of their offense” as the Eagles prepared to visit Minnesota last week. Cousins, inspired, responded with one the better games of his career, and the Vikings demolished the Eagles.
On Monday afternoon, Pederson insisted that he was just expressing confidence in his own team; that the word “guarantee” never left his lips.
Split the hairs however you like. Whatever Pederson said, it didn’t play well in Big D.
Not all of the Cowboys will admit it at the moment, but Pederson’s bluster might be just the boost they need to come out of their three-game slide. The animosity between these franchises is palpable. Let’s face it: it’s not as though Pederson assured victory over the Dolphins. Woods, in only his second season as a Cowboy, realizes this.
He is a 6-foot-1, 318(ish)-pound immovable object, a grunt in the most glorious application of the word. Such men often have little use for the discretion of less-hearty souls. They tend to speak in truths.
This is not true for all players.
“I mean, I don’t really think it matters what he said and whenever he said it,” Elliott said. “What matters is what we go do on Sunday.”
“We try to stay away from all that in the locker room,” Martin said. “It’s all about what you do on Sunday night. It’s not something we talk about.”
“I don’t think any coach says they’re going to go down and lose the game,” Heath said, generously. “They should be confident in themselves. We’re confident in ourselves. We understand what it is when we play them.”
What it is, almost always, is the biggest series of the season. The Cowboys and Eagles account for 19 of the last 27 NFC East titles -- 11 for the Cowboys, eight for the Eagles. The Cowboys won it last year, when they swept the Eagles.
Woods isn’t DeMarcus Lawrence or Dak Prescott, but he’s not nobody, either. He was in his second year last season and started 15 games, including the two wins over the Eagles. A knee injury cost Woods three games this season, but he returned Sunday at the Jets.
And he’ll play Sunday night.
And he’ll be putting his hand in the dirt.