The most irresponsible moment of Doug Pederson's first season as the Eagles' head coach came early in the fourth quarter Thursday night, and it was a decision so gobsmackingly foolish that it makes his hair-trigger tendency to throw a challenge flag or his willingness to publicly question his players' effort seem the work of a savant.
With the Eagles' leading by five points and facing a second down-and-13 situation, Pederson called a double-reverse that required Carson Wentz - the team's rookie franchise quarterback, five plays removed from returning to the game after completing the NFL's concussion protocol - to throw a block. The sequence indeed culminated with Wentz's diving shoulder-first at the feet of Giants cornerback Eli Apple and risking a graver head injury for no good reason. Yet there was Pederson at his day-after news conference Friday, acting as if he were Col. Jessup on the stand, proud to say that he ordered the code red and incredulous that anyone would question him.
"He was supposed to block," he said. "Obviously our goal in everything we do is to try to win a football game, and I think the second that you sort of hesitate in any situation is the time you get beat. I had no hesitation on making that play and putting [Wentz] in that situation."
This was madness, sheer madness, and it betrayed a macho side of Pederson's coaching personality that from now on he should do everything in his power to quell . . . if he can. He has earned laurels this season for his acceptance of calculated risk, of his gambles on fourth downs and two-point conversions, but where exactly was the calculating here? It would be unconscionable enough for Pederson to have called such a play even if Olivier Vernon had not rag-dolled Wentz to the Lincoln Financial Field turf late in the third quarter and left Wentz, by his own admission, "dizzy" and with his "bell rung." But there's no defense for calling such a play so soon after doctors had administered the concussion protocol to Wentz. The Eagles and Wentz had been fortunate that the Vernon hit had not been more serious, so why intentionally tempt fate again?
"I mean, he was cleared, came in, came out," Pederson said. "How many guys run into a concussion deal or a banged-up head injury? He ran in, ran out. We talked on the sideline. We talked before the play. We talked before the series. He was good. He was cleared."
Sorry, Doug, but My quarterback ran to the tunnel; therefore, he should throw a block doesn't appear to be recognized by the American Medical Association as an official standard for treating head injuries or exercising good judgment. The scary part for the Eagles is that no one else in their locker room seemed to appreciate the damage that Pederson had needlessly courted. He had demanded Wentz join Jason Peters in a convoy for Nelson Agholor to gain just 5 yards - in a game of minimal short-term and long-term importance to the Eagles.
Nevertheless, to Pederson and Wentz's teammates, the play was part of a tapestry of toughness that the kid wove during the Eagles' 24-19 victory. He rushed for 27 yards and spun and ducked his way out of several potential sacks, and in their minds, transforming himself into a pulling guard was just another reason to embrace him.
"He's a beast, yo," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "He's backyard football at its finest. He's a great person to have as your quarterback. Nobody's saying, 'He just went out for a possible concussion. Let's not have him be a lead blocker on a reverse.' That's what he wants to do, and when you have a guy like that, everybody wants to do it around him. So, where to the outside world it's like, 'Oh, my God,' that's who he is. That's just his nature. That's his DNA. And like I said, I'm just glad we've got him."
Matthews was right that Wentz had no compunction about trying to block Apple and making it easier for a stray foot to club him or for his head to strike the ground. "If I'm out front and there's somebody there," Wentz said, "I'm going to block them, for sure."
He's like most football players in that regard. In the heat of the moment, he wants to make the right play, no matter the cost, and it's a laudable trait. Hell, for a quarterback in Philadelphia, it's a necessary one. Asked whether Wentz really ought to be throwing blocks, whether discretion should be the better part of valor when it comes to the team's most important player, tight end Zach Ertz said: "Not in this city." Considering the criticism that Ertz sustained when he pulled up on a potential block of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, it's easy to predict what the collective reaction around here would have been had Wentz shied away from contact.
Here's the thing, though: Wentz has had and will have plenty of opportunities, within his natural responsibilities as a quarterback, to reaffirm just how tough he is. He'll have to stand in the pocket and withstand a hit to throw deep. He'll have to charge toward a first-down marker or the goal line to make or break a game's outcome. He can be a folk hero for those occasions alone. But there's a difference between a quarterback's instinct to do what must be done to win and a coach's decision to put him in harm's way.
Doug Pederson seems to think that he did his job, that it's worth putting Carson Wentz and the franchise's future in peril for the sake of a six-win season. Good luck to the Eagles if he does it again.