COSTA MESA, Calif. — Doug Pederson's decision to keep the red challenge flag tucked away drew scrutiny in the hours after the team's first loss in more than two months. Russell Wilson appeared to pitch an illegal forward pass on a third-down conversion in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 24-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but Pederson did not challenge it.
The Eagles coach did not seem to regret his decision on Monday. He reiterated that with the information the Eagles had at the time and facing the possibility of using their last challenge and second timeout, it wasn't the "right time" to throw the flag. He is not afforded the same timely information as the fan watching at home, although those kinds of critical decisions are a major part of a coach's game-day responsibilities.
"I don't get the luxury of the television bringing out protractors and straight rulers and drawing lines like I guess they did and saying, 'Oh, yeah, this is probably a forward pass,'" Pederson said as the Eagles settled in Orange County for a week of practice before Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams.
"I've got to make it within 10 to 15 seconds of them running the next play. So at that time, I didn't feel like it was necessary to challenge it when we all felt like it wasn't going to be in our favor."
The Eagles trailed by seven points with just more than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and backed the Seahawks up with a third-and-8 at Seattle's 42-yard line. If the Eagles stopped them, the Seahawks likely would have punted the ball away. Wilson scrambled 6 yards and pitched the ball to running back Mike Davis, who rushed for 17 yards for a first down. The play was ruled a legal lateral.
When dissecting the game footage, it appeared Wilson released the ball at the 46-yard line and Davis caught the ball past the 47. Even though Wilson tried tossing the ball backward, his momentum meant the ball would move forward while fighting inertia, like a bomb dropping out of a moving airplane.
Pederson communicates with staff members in the coaching booth to hear what they see on the play. Jon Ferrari, the director of football compliance, and coaching assistant Ryan Paganetti offer guidance. But they're limited — especially in a road stadium — to whatever live or replay angles the television initially provides. The Eagles don't have the ability to study several angles in real time to throw the challenge flag, and it doesn't help them when more angles of a replay emerge as the game progresses.
"We're getting whatever feed we can get," Pederson said. "Of course, on the sideline, we don't get the luxury of replay. The big screen in the stadium doesn't hold any water for us. And yet, sometimes you're only given what the network can give you at the time. So that's been our protocol. It's been a really good protocol for us this whole season."
The Seahawks rushed to the line and it took them only four plays to score a touchdown and build a 14-point lead. Complicating Pederson's decision was that the Eagles lost a challenge in the third quarter and might have needed that final challenge or the second timeout later in the game. Of course, if the play was overturned, the Eagles would have forced the Seahawks to punt and regained possession with a chance to tie it in the fourth quarter. But that was the type of game-changing play that could warrant a challenge flag if there was any seed of doubt.
"Well, now we're playing a hypothetical," Pederson said. "If you throw it, yeah, it's sort of 50/50. It's kind of like the third-down call that I challenged that we felt like … it was cut-and-dry that we were past the line to gain and we didn't get that. Then I got another play later in the game that was out of my control from a review standpoint that we didn't get and now this was the third one we didn't get. Things just didn't stack up great for us at that time, and I didn't want to risk another timeout."
Pederson is .500 on challenges in his career. He has challenged four plays this season, with one overturned and three upheld. Six of his 10 challenges were overturned last season.
Pederson has earned praise for his coaching decisions this season, and 10 wins certainly help his credibility. When they lose, the decisions and play calls are scrutinized. Pederson prided himself on being aggressive, although he was more cautious with fourth downs Sunday against Seattle. Every game situation is different and depends on the opponent, but Pederson wants to stick to the same coaching principles that allowed him to reach this point.
"You have to stay aggressive, Pederson said, "especially in football games like that."