Doug Pederson stood on the Art Museum steps in February and spoke to Eagles fans about the "new norm" in Philadelphia. There's even a sign that the players pass in the NovaCare Complex about the "new normal," setting the standard that playing deep into the postseason is the expectation now.
Throughout the offseason, Pederson wanted his players to "embrace the target." He told them to "rip off the dog masks and no longer be the underdogs."
After seven games, though, Pederson's message to his players has apparently changed. He's going back to a version of the underdog card despite the fact that the Eagles have been favored in all seven games this season – and they're early favorites for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
Instead of putting the heat on the players, Pederson said that his message to the team is that the "pressure is off," that "nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything," and that the Eagles are not getting much credit.
Whether it's accurate apparently doesn't matter. Pederson is using it to try to galvanize his team after it lost a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead Sunday in a 21-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers to fall to 3-4.
"They've kind of written us off, so to speak," Pederson said Monday of outsiders, doubling down on his postgame comments. "From that standpoint, yeah, the pressure should be off. We shouldn't have any pressure going into football games. …
"Don't misunderstand, there's pressure with every football game. Pressure to win, there's all of that. Sometimes players, coaches, and teams put pressure on themselves when they don't have to, you know what I mean, to make a play. I talk to this team a lot about how you don't have to go looking for plays. There's enough out there. Plays are going to come to you. When they come to you, make the play in the game."
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Pederson's point was that the Eagles can put too much pressure on themselves. He doesn't want the players to think they need to make every play. He didn't think that the outside pressure would dissipate despite his insistence that they're being counted out. As the defending champions in a wide-open NFC East, the Eagles are not yet being counted out.
In the locker room after the game, the players did not necessarily agree with the notion that the pressure is off them now. They know what the expectations are in Philadelphia. They know how they're viewed after winning the Super Bowl. Pederson did not deny that the team thrived with the underdog mentality last year, and he wouldn't mind if that message can resonate with the group again.
"I think part of it can be that," Pederson said. "I think it's an important part of kind of where we are, kind of the identity of the football team."
Pederson bristled Monday when questioned about the play-calling, suggesting that it's easy to second-guess from the press box. He said reporters don't spend 18 hours watching film and putting together a game plan or making decisions on the sideline. He didn't reveal in which hour the Eagles devised third-down or red-zone plans, considering they were 3 of 12 on third downs and 2 of 4 in the red zone.
But it's clear Pederson did not want to appear as appalled as the fans who left Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday after the second consecutive home loss, resisting finger-pointing or assigning blame. Pederson insisted that winning cures everything, and that what they're doing worked one year ago.
"So now we're going to sit here and scrutinize everything and point the finger and point the blame game, and do all of that when quite frankly, yeah, we can go back and use that as fuel, as emotion, but it's a different team, different year," Pederson said. "We're in this situation. We've kind of dug ourselves in a little bit of a hole.The great thing about where we are is we still control our division. We still have games in our division ahead of us. We have nine games left. So there's a lot of ball, a lot of football."
Plus, Pederson doesn't look at the Eagles' 3-4 record as four decisive losses. He believes only a few plays have decided those games. They couldn't stop a fourth-and-15 against Tennessee. They couldn't stop a fourth-and-10 against Carolina.
"It's coming down to two, three plays and we're sitting here at 5-2, instead of 3-4," Pederson said. "We're only talking about a couple of plays and this thing is different. We're talking a whole another deal."
Of course, the Eagles won two games on the last drive, too. If Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck threw goal-line touchdowns, the Eagles could be 1-6. That's the NFL. Most teams are a few plays from a different record. The Eagles were one play away from losing their first playoff game last season. The "underdogs" card would be viewed differently if that happened.
Pederson has spent more than two decades in NFL locker rooms. He knows what resonates. And his goal is to try to turn the Eagles around, even if the message might seem perplexing or inaccurate.
"I have so much confidence in this football team and coaching staff that we're going to get this fixed," Pederson said.
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