Doug Pederson put his locker room on notice Monday when he questioned the Eagles' effort, suggesting that "not everybody" played hard Sunday in the loss to Cincinnati.
Not everybody agreed with their head coach, either.
"I know the intent of the guys that I practice with and play with every day, and I didn't see effort being an issue from my standpoint," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the key leaders on the Eagles. "He didn't put anybody's name on it, so . . . if the shoe fits, wear it. Personally, I felt like I played hard throughout the game, and I know most guys - if not all guys - felt like they gave 100 percent effort."
That seemed to be the consensus among a handful of regular players interviewed Wednesday after the first practice leading up to Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins. It even applied to the two players who came under the most scrutiny: safety Rodney McLeod and tight end Zach Ertz.
McLeod stood still at the goal line on a 2-yard touchdown run by Bengals running back Jeremy Hill. On film, it appeared that McLeod passed on diving at Hill.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz explained Tuesday that McLeod had a different run-gap responsibility on that play. McLeod said Wednesday that he thought the play was going elsewhere, and when it came to react, Hill had already crossed the goal line. If McLeod dove at that point, he would have been charged with a personal foul. His technique could have been better to avoid being "caught flat-footed," but McLeod thought criticism of his effort was unfair.
"It definitely hurts," McLeod said. "I know what type of player I am and take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are all things that got me where I am. That's what my game is built on. When somebody questions or has doubt, it does hurt. . . . I really don't see [why the play drew criticism]. If you look maybe a play before then, any game, any practice film, I'm probably one of the guys that's giving his all out there."
McLeod said that he did not believe any player was the target of Pederson's comment and that the coach wants the players to do anything "to give us the spark or an edge."
Ertz drew criticism for sidestepping the Bengals' Vontaze Burfict instead of blocking him while the linebacker chased Carson Wentz in the first quarter. Ertz said he would not explain the "minute details" going through his mind on that play.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said the non-block was inconsequential to the run. Ertz understood the way the play looked when watching it on film, but he defended his effort.
"I think I could have gotten in his way to maybe impede his progress a little more to ensure he didn't get near Carson by any means, but like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there's a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play," Ertz said. "I did give my all. That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, but if you watch that game for four quarters, I was cramping up during the game and battling each and every play."
Ertz added that potential injury was not the reason he avoided contact, and that if injury creeps into a player's mind, it would affect his performance. He said that as one of the "building blocks" for the franchise, every one of his plays is analyzed. But he reiterated that "I've given my all for this city for the past three-and-a-half, four years, and it's not going to stop."
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said the problem is that the Eagles need to play better - not harder. If the Eagles were winning, Cox said, he did not think these questions would arise.
Veteran tight end Brent Celek said, "This team cares a lot," but late in the year, players cannot fall into the habit of letting up at the end of a play.
"We've just got to give a little more," Celek said.
Pederson addressed his comment during a meeting with the team. He said the response has been "great" and players have been positive.
"I've been in that chair before, and so I get it," Pederson said. "I think that's the great thing about having played the game, is you can relate to those guys and you know exactly what they're going through."
But his statement served as a challenge to the team and left the players answering for it Wednesday. They'll have to answer for it on the field Sunday.
"I think it puts us in a little bit of a tough position as players, because now everybody wants to know who you're talking about," Jenkins said. "But that's not something we're worried about. I think everybody in this room understands that our effort, that will be the last thing to go. We're not quitters, and we trust that the guy next to us aren't quitters, either."