It took less than 48 hours for an Eagles player to publicly question the team’s approach to its season finale.
The Eagles have drawn the ire of the football world after pulling quarterback Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfeld during their 20-14 loss to Washington on Sunday. Hurts was pulled at the start of the fourth quarter with the Eagles trailing by three points, and the move was perceived by many as an effort to lose the game in order to secure a higher draft pick. The loss came at the expense of the New York Giants, who needed an Eagles victory to win the NFC East.
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Eagles running back Miles Sanders was among those disappointed in the decision.
“If I’m being honest, nobody liked the decision. Nobody. That’s all I can say,” Sanders said during an appearance Tuesday on WIP-FM (94.1). “I don’t know who was the main person behind that decision, but all I know is a lot of people on the team were confused.”
Sanders wasn’t alone. The former Penn State standout’s comments came one day after The Inquirer reported that some players and coaches were shocked to see Sudfeld go in for Hurts. Some were angry: Two defensive players had to be held back from confronting Pederson about the decision. Center Jason Kelce and another offensive starter also approached Pederson to ask why he made the change.
Shortly after Sanders’ radio hit, fourth-round rookie safety K’Von Wallace tweeted about having the mentality to win every game. Wallace later said that he was referring to wanting to win every game next season and that he wasn’t referring to the Washington game.
“If that ain’t your mentality to win them all then what you playing for?” Wallace wrote.
Hurts, like Sanders, also played for high-caliber college programs that rarely lost and tout strong cultures. He said after the game that he didn’t question Pederson’s decision.
“As a competitor, I play to win,” he said. “You have to trust [his plan].”
It’s worth noting Pederson defended his decision to bench Hurts in favor of Sudfeld both after the game Sunday night and again Monday morning. The coach, who is expected to return next year after a catastrophic 4-11-1 season, gave two different explanations.
On Sunday night, Pederson said Sudfeld earned some playing time. The 27-year-old has been the Eagles’ third-string quarterback each of the last three seasons and hadn’t played in a regular-season game since 2018.
“Nate has obviously been here for four years and I felt that he deserved an opportunity to get some snaps,” Pederson said after the game. “Listen, if there’s anyone out there that thinks that I’m not trying to win the game ... all our top guys are still on the field at the end. So, we were going to win the game.”
The following morning, Pederson said he made the change because the offense was stagnant.
“It’s been a multitude of issues that we’ve had, and again, last night in that game, we were in a situation where we failed to score as an offense,” he said. “We failed to score there at the end of the third quarter [after an interception gave the Eagles the ball at the Washington 15-yard line]. We were struggling just a little bit to move the ball.”
The Eagles’ loss secured them the sixth pick in this April’s NFL draft. With a win, they would have been in the ninth slot. The team held a handful of starters out with injuries, including Sanders, Dallas Goedert, DeSean Jackson, Fletcher Cox, and Derek Barnett.
The perceived lack of effort from the Eagles has garnered no shortage of outrage from the football world. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy argued the Eagles should be docked a first-round pick and that Pederson should be suspended.
“Remember Deflategate? The Patriots lost their first-round pick, a fourth-rounder, got fined a million bucks, and saw Tom Brady suspended four games just for taking a little air out of the footballs,” Shaughnessy wrote. “The Patriots were punished for breaching the integrity of the game. Tampering with the footballs was deemed a competition violation. This was much worse.”
This came one day after Giants coach Joe Judge said he wouldn’t have “disrespected” the game by hurting his team’s chances to win because of the commitment his players make.
Former Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who was on the 2017 Super Bowl team, pointed out the decision to put Sudfeld in for the final stretch of the game was likely an organizational decision made above Pederson’s head on his podcast, although Pederson said after the game the quarterback change was solely his call.
“Who do you think made the call?” Long said. “Is that what you’re telling me, that Doug Pederson made that decision all by himself? So, if you are telling me that, I think you don’t know how pro football works. If you’re not telling me that, then you should be honest and you should [mention owner] Jeffrey Lurie, or you should [mention general manager] Howie Roseman, or both of them when you talk about Doug Pederson.”
Also, Peter King said he didn’t agree with the Eagles’ approach in his weekly Monday-morning column on NBC Sports’ website.
“Normally, I’m a you-gotta-do-what’s-in-your-team’s-best-interests guy,” King wrote. “But there was something about this that I thought broke the honor code among teams. Down 13 in the fourth quarter, up 17, with nothing at stake, do what you want. Fine. But in a three-point game with a dangerous mobile QB who’d already run for two touchdowns in the game, with another team on the edge of its seat, dreaming of a playoff berth, and Nate Sudfeld? I hated it.”