Well, that boring and awful football game Sunday night at the Linc sure got interesting fast, huh?
For two days now, Doug Pederson and the Eagles have been ducking flak, or trying to, from media, fans, NFL coaches, NFL executives, NFL officials, and even some of their own players for (allegedly) tanking in their 20-14 loss to Washington, an outcome that clinched the NFC East championship for the Football Team.
The fury’s spark, specifically, was the removal of Jalen Hurts and the insertion of Nate Sudfeld at quarterback in the fourth quarter. The Eagles were down by just three points when Hurts went out and Sudfeld came in for his first action of the season. Sudfeld promptly committed two turnovers. The Eagles lost to finish 4-11-1, securing the sixth pick in this year’s NFL draft – they would have had the ninth pick had they won – and preventing the New York Giants from qualifying for the playoffs. And from Giants coach Joe Judge to ESPN’s Mike Greenberg to Jason Kelce and a few other Eagles, hellfire has rained down on One NovaCare Way ever since.
It’s not often that a team that is down by double digits and rallies to take the lead before halftime – with a promising rookie leading the comeback, with a playoff berth at stake for its opponent – gets credibly accused of tanking. But hey, give the Eagles high marks for diversifying the ways in which they hold our interest. Sometimes, the season-long meltdown of a franchise QB and his intensifying cold war against that franchise just aren’t enough to keep the clicks coming, the hot takes roaring, and the talk-radio lines humming. So let’s sort through the confusion, contradictions, and hypocrisy of this controversy (without such specious and egregious alliteration) …
Here’s how layered this situation is: Already, it’s fair to doubt the presumption underlying that question. Was it really Pederson’s decision? He had made it clear that he planned to play Sudfeld at some point during Sunday’s game, and as a former backup quarterback himself, Pederson was probably empathetic to Sudfeld and the position he was in.
But given Pederson’s standing in the organization’s power structure (well below owner Jeffrey Lurie and vice president Howie Roseman), given that 10 starters were already inactive for the game, and given the long-term benefit that the Eagles would derive from losing the game (i.e., a better draft pick), it seems safe to assert that Pederson didn’t have final say here. It also seems safe to say that Lurie and Roseman would likely have found the net result from a loss Sunday, however that loss came about, acceptable.
If anything, because he’s the one donning the Kevlar in public on behalf of his bosses, Pederson ought to feel safer in his job status, though he is sacrificing a good bit of self-respect.
Not exactly. Some of it absolutely was. Had he put in Sudfeld, say, at halftime or just started him, Pederson probably would have avoided this mess altogether. The timing and context of the decision – so late in a game the Eagles had a chance to win – were jarring, particularly to Pederson’s own players, which was his second big mistake. It was on him to make sure all the players were aware of and prepared for this possibility, and apparently, they weren’t.
It is, as far as the players are concerned. But the notion that teams – their owners and front offices – don’t tank or would never tank or haven’t previously tanked is wrong, and the notion that fans and media are intellectually consistent in their outrage over tanking is ridiculous. Take two examples from the city that is the source of much of the blowback against the Eagles: New York.
This season, the Jets lost their first 13 games. They were on course to earn the first pick in this year’s draft and select the consensus No. 1 player, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But when they won in back-to-back weeks, assuring that the Jacksonville Jaguars would get the No. 1 pick and Lawrence, it was regarded as a colossal screwup by a franchise that specializes in colossal screwups. So either the Jets are dumb because they should have tanked to help themselves in the long term, or the Eagles are bad because they tanked to help themselves in the long term. Pick one.
As for the other example, the Giants, Judge’s self-aggrandizing speech Monday about how he and his players would never disrespect The Game would be more persuasive if it hadn’t been on behalf of a franchise guilty of a far worse breach of competitive integrity than the Eagles were Sunday. In 2004, the Giants were 5-4 and still in contention for a wild-card spot when they benched Kurt Warner and replaced him with a rookie named Eli Manning. They lost their next six games as Manning completed 46% of his passes, compiled a passer rating of 47.5 – including a 0.0 rating in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens – and threw eight interceptions.
Actually, I can, because in principle, they’re exactly the same: A team played a lesser player to help itself over time. That the Eagles are facing such withering criticism now doesn’t change the fact that having the sixth pick is better than having the ninth pick. That Eli Manning was a superior quarterback to Nate Sudfeld doesn’t change the fact that, at that stage of Manning’s career, he immediately made the Giants worse. If you believe Manning’s development justified benching Warner, who at the time gave the Giants a better chance to win each week, that’s fine. Just get off your high horse about what the Eagles did Sunday night. You’re making an ends-justify-the-means argument, just like they would.