Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Ford: Eagles go for it in a season already gone

BALTIMORE - All Doug Pederson wanted, all any of them wanted, was to just win a game, any game, and after four straight losses and eight in the span of 10 weeks, including six straight on the road, this one would do just fine.

BALTIMORE - All Doug Pederson wanted, all any of them wanted, was to just win a game, any game, and after four straight losses and eight in the span of 10 weeks, including six straight on the road, this one would do just fine.

So, when the Baltimore Ravens and their unexpectedly pliant defense allowed the Eagles to come back from 10 points down in the final minutes on Sunday, leaving Pederson with the win-or-die choice of going for a two-point conversion that would decide the outcome, he was happy to flip the coin and live with what the football gods decided.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, this is the way the flips have gone this season. Pederson got the all-out blitz he expected from the Ravens, Jordan Matthews got a step ahead of his defender on a quick slant over the middle, and Carson Wentz got the ball out before the rush could reach him. But all those things going right didn't help when the ball was tipped at the line and fluttered toward Matthews only to be knocked down.

"I wanted to win, whether it was desperation or not," Pederson said.

Desperation actually went out the window for the Eagles a couple of weeks ago. They are beyond clawing toward anything meaningful this season. Now they are playing to make the final record as respectable as possible. Six wins would be better than five and Pederson rightly thought that playing a longer game against the Ravens probably wasn't his best bet.

"I wanted to win the football game, and even our chances in overtime were less than 50 percent winning this game," Pederson said. "As an underdog going into the game, we were going to win the game in regulation."

There is actually no advantage for either team before the overtime coin flip, and Pederson didn't really need to justify his decision. For a football team going nowhere, giving the players a chance to steal one was the correct play. Say you believed in them, that's why you went for it, pack up your stuff and get out of there. But don't say you went for it because there was a less than 50 percent chance of prevailing in overtime.

"Those are just the numbers that we ran, being the underdog in this game and, besides, they have a great field goal kicker," Pederson said.

No doubt, underdogs win fewer overtime games than favorites. There are certainly numbers on a sheet of paper somewhere that back that up. Guess what? They also win fewer regulation games than favorites. Since when do NFL coaches concern themselves with, or even acknowledge, the point spread? Pederson's point about potentially getting into a kicking game against Justin Tucker of Baltimore on a windy day in M&T Stadium was valid, but Caleb Sturgis was having a pretty good afternoon, too.

Whatever. It was an exciting ending to a game that was strange in several ways. Before the game, as the Eagles readied to go against the No. 1 rushing defense in the league with half of their running backs injured and an offensive line that featured a fifth-string right tackle, it would have been hard to predict the Eagles would rush for 169 yards, the most given up by Baltimore this season.

Six of the 10 longest plays from scrimmage for the Eagles were running plays and Ryan Mathews finished with 128 yards on 20 carries. It was as if, for the first time since 2014, Chip Kelly's running offense worked. The Eagles zone-blocked to pinch in on Baltimore's lumbering three-man line, sent Mathews toward the edge and let him pick a hole to blast through.

"Their offensive linemen are just athletic, they're fast, so they tend to get . . . leverage on you, move you side-to-side, and it's not so much power football," Baltimore safety Eric Weddle said. "It's not a normal style of running game, but we battled."

Not all that much, they didn't, but the Ravens were able to limit the Eagles to field goals on three of their trips into the red zone. That turned out to be the difference in the game, and nothing new for the Eagles, who came into the game ranked 25th for touchdown percentage inside the 20.

It is impossible to know how much of Pederson's decision to push the run was because of the weather conditions, because it was working better than one could have hoped, or because he wanted to limited Wentz's exposure behind the suspect offensive line. As it was, the quarterback attempted 42 passes and scrambled out of another four play calls. Pederson padded the corners of the offense, however, by calling a succession of screens, slants and pop passes. His 22 completions gained only 170 yards. Wentz was under center 33 times, which is a lot for the Eagles, but they ran from that formation 27 times. If the Ravens ever caught onto the tendency, it didn't show. Wentz was sacked once and hit behind the line another five times, but the threat of the running game kept his protection from breaking down completely.

Who knew the Eagles could run the ball without Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood? Certainly not the Baltimore Ravens. Perhaps this is the start of something the Eagles can build upon.

That might be the case if the pass hadn't been tipped and Matthews pulled it in and the Eagles had been allowed to dance off the field one more time this season. Instead, it felt like another day in which the things that went right were ultimately offset by the little things that got in the way and sent the ball tumbling against them.

Maybe the coach is right, after all. Maybe it's never a 50-50 chance for the Eagles.