Doug Pederson wrote the book about being FEARLESS.
So there was never a question whether he'd go for it on fourth-and-1 with 2 minutes and 39 seconds to play in … well, in the season, frankly. Pederson didn't even care if he had to dip into Chip Kelly's old playbook.
"Gosh, I mean, at that point I was going to win the game," Pederson said.
He won the game.
This is Pederson's DNA. No coach has gone for it on fourth down more than Pederson, who is now 8 for 15 this season. In fact, no coach has gone for it more than Pederson since he was hired in 2016; this was his 68th attempt. Of course he was going for it.
Pederson went for it with Nick Foles against Bill Belichick in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. That play — the Philly Special — earned him a statue. So, Pederson had to go for it with Carson Wentz against Pat Shurmur in the fourth quarter, with the season on the line. The other options: try a 57-yard field goal into the wind; or punt, and trust a patchwork defense that gave up 346 yards in the first half Sunday and 48 points the week before in New Orleans.
Failure to convert the fourth-and-1 would give the ball back to Eli Manning, who has 27 fourth-quarter comeback wins. Manning would have gotten the ball at the Giants' 42 with 2 minutes to play, with a timeout, and with Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. Failure would probably mean a seventh loss for the Eagles and no chance to defend their Super Bowl title.
But Pederson penned FEARLESS: How an Underdog Becomes a Champion. For Pederson, failure was not an option. Or even a consideration.
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Wentz hit Nelson Agholor for 12 yards on what Agholor called "a staple play." That framed the winning, 43-yard field goal, which supplied the 25-22 final, which moved the Eagles to 5-6 and kept them relevant in the playoff race.
If the play looked familiar, it should. It was a version of Kelly's mesh/wheel route that Pederson learned in the 2016 preseason from Sam Bradford, before he traded him. The next year, Pederson used the play four times in the biggest game of his life.
"That was the same play that everyone was talking about in the Super Bowl. Just different positions," Agholor said. "We had a man option and a zone option."
It was the third time Pederson called the play Sunday. The Giants even called a timeout as the Eagles lined up, but Pederson didn't change the play. If the Giants defended it, so be it.
The play is designed to beat man-to-man coverage, said tight end Zach Ertz, but it works against a zone, too. The Giants played zone.
The play bunched three receivers on Carson Wentz's left, a tight end on his right and a running back in the backfield. The widest receiver — Golden Tate — crossed in front of the linebackers. The next receiver, Alshon Jeffery, went deeper, then crossed, occupying two defensive backs. The tight end, Zach Ertz, crossed from the right side. The running back, Corey Clement, wheeled out of the backfield. All were covered.
Wentz looked at Clement, waited for Ertz and Tate to wash through the middle of the field, then fired to the slot receiver, Agholor, who was sitting alone in the soft spot of the zone, inside the hash marks, 8 yards downfield.
Pitch. Catch. First down. Ballgame.
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Wentz needed just over 3 seconds to throw the pass, which was no guarantee. He'd already been sacked three times. The Giants had blitzed plenty during the game, but they didn't blitz on that play. The guards and center picked up the defensive tackles, which left tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters on islands. They kept Wentz clean. The only pass rusher who got close to Wentz was linebacker Olivier Vernon, whom Peters handled just long enough.
"It was '82' protection," Peters said. "We knew we had to hold 'em off, give Carson some time. We executed it. Doug believed in us. We blocked it up well."
Pederson's belief in his offense hasn't been quite as steadfast lately. He regretted not going for it on fourth down deep in his own territory at the end of the first possession last Sunday, which might have kept the Saints' offense off the field. This week, at the end of the Eagles' first drive, with his defense having given up a TD on the Giants' first possession, he didn't go for it on fourth-and-5 from the Giants' 47. The Giants scored on the ensuing possession and took a 9-0 lead.
Tied at 22 in the fourth quarter Sunday, Pederson never hesitated. His offense had scored on four of its last six possessions. It was functioning, finally, for the first time in three games; for the first time since the bye week.
"I had confidence in the play call. I had confidence in our guys," said Pederson. "They played zone on the play, and Nelly popped right over the ball."
He sounded utterly fearless.
For the moment, at least.
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