For all of the banal statements NFL head coaches make throughout a season, Eagles coach Doug Pederson offered an honest assessment when asked Monday if all of his players "played hard" in the team's embarrassing 32-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Not everybody," Pederson said.
That admission came after repeatedly insisting that the Eagles did not quit on Sunday. Pederson's chief example was the way the team responded in the second half after falling into a 29-0 hole. But that's different than Pederson's statement that every player did not exert full effort because he distinguished the collective from the individual.
Pederson did not specify which players he thought fell into that category.
"That's the accountability that I talk about," Pederson said. "I hold coaches accountable for that. I hold myself accountable for that because it all starts with me and I pride myself each week to make sure the guys are ready to go. But at the same time, it comes down to a mentality by each individual player."
Pederson said Monday that he "for sure" believes his job is secure with the team, and it's going to be up to him to try to improve the product during the final four weeks of the season.
Pederson meets each week with a player committee comprised of leaders from different position groups and discusses a number of issues, including the messages he wants relayed to the team. He insisted that he's being "consistent with the messaging" and the feedback has been "extremely positive" from the leaders.
"So that right there leads me to believe that we're still on track," Pederson said. "Now, do we expect to go out and play like we've played the last couple of weeks? No, we don't. Do we expect to be down 19-0 at halftime? No, we don't."
There were two plays that came up during Pederson's news conference Monday and were circulated on social media as possible examples of Pederson's confession about effort. One came in the first quarter, when tight end Zach Ertz sidestepped Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict instead of blocking him during a chase of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who scrambled out of bounds.
"I could see that Carson was easily going to make it out of bounds, and thought the play was over by the time I reached Burfict," Ertz said in a statement. "Carson and I have discussed it and there are no issues. Our full attention is now on beating Washington."
Pederson said he would ask Ertz about the play - the players were off Monday - and added that ideally, a tight end would pick up a block in that situation.
Another play under scrutiny: Safety Rodney McLeod failed to touch Bengals running back Jeremy Hill before Hill reached the end zone for Cincinnati's first touchdown. Pederson did not address that play, but his response to the question about the players' effort came after that example was presented to him.
The players are available to speak to reporters beginning Wednesday.
The question about effort was just one of the talking points to come out of Sunday's loss. Pederson - and Eagles fans - must also come to grips with a team that simply does not appear good enough to have a winning record. Pederson noted how the Eagles are using young players on both sides of the ball, have their left guard playing right tackle, and lack cohesion in a number of areas. In the 24 hours after the game, he twice mentioned the effect of losing right tackle Lane Johnson to suspension, and how the Eagles were "rolling pretty good" before Johnson's exile.
"We've had our share of adversity this season," Pederson said. "Even the night before [the Bengals game], the guys are energetic and ready. I reminded them Saturday night just how good they can be. I just felt that everything about this team right now is still right there for the taking. I don't see any quit in the guys."
Pederson even said "the dejection and the ill feelings" after the game were evidence of how much the players cared and how disappointed they were about the loss. But Pederson must reconcile that sentiment with the apparent lack of effort, and the way the Eagles played to fall into a 29-0 deficit in the first place.
The players return to the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday for meetings, and some of them will encounter a coach who questioned their effort. Now that it's out there, Pederson will see how they respond.
"I think there's a level of that tough love," Pederson said. "There's got to be that accountability that I was talking about. I implore and I challenge the leaders of the football team to stand up and really not only hold themselves [accountable] but the rest of the team. Listen, it's not a panic move or anything like that, but just, 'Hey, let's just make sure we're doing things right.' "