MINNEAPOLIS — The man in the midnight green visor coached the game of his life, the game of our lives, achieving what Dick Vermeil, Andy Reid and the other 11 mentors who have led the Eagles during the Super Bowl era could not.
At one point Sunday night, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth mused that you never know how people might change under pressure, whether an aggressive coach such as Doug Pederson might rein it in a little, or a lot, in the hot spotlight of something such as Super Bowl LII. “If anything, Pederson has ramped it up,” Collinsworth concluded.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are a duo for the ages. Pederson, an offensive coach, had to leave the job of containing them to his defense, and coordinator Jim Schwartz, and that little matter very nearly kept the Eagles from winning their first-ever Super Bowl title, as the Eagles and the Patriots combined for the most yardage ever in the 52 year-history of the game, 1,151. Brady threw for 505.
Pederson’s job Sunday night was to convince his team that it could derail the New England dynasty, steaming toward its sixth Lombardi Trophy in 18 seasons. Pederson did that.
Afterward, he stood at a lectern in a dimly lit room and in a raspy, spent voice, tried to put into perspective what had just happened.
“I trust my players, I trust my coaches, and I trust my instincts,” Pederson said. “I want to maintain that aggressiveness with the guys. In games like this, against a great opponent, you’ve got to make those tough decisions that way, and keep yourself aggressive.
“Our fans have been waiting a long time for this. Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie has been waiting a long time for this. I’m so excited to be a part of it, and, obviously, to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Philadelphia. I just can’t wait to get back there and celebrate with our fans.”
With his backup quarterback, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, Pederson put up 538 yards and 41 points on Belichick’s defense, converting 10 of 16 third downs, winning the game, 41-33, and launching the city of Philadelphia into orbit.
Pederson went for it on fourth down more than any coach in the NFL this season. It became Pederson’s signature, and when he stood on the biggest-stakes sideline for the first time as a coach, Pederson seized the chance to scrawl his name in giant letters across the Super Bowl ledger. Fourth-and-goal from the 1, Eagles up, 15-12, final minute of the first half.
Pederson did not kick the field goal. Direct snap to running back Corey Clement — undrafted rookie running back Corey Clement, no less — who flipped it to tight end Trey Burton for what looked like an end-around. But, no! Burton, a high school quarterback in Venice, Fla., calmly launched a rainbow to … Foles, trudging through the end zone on the right side.
Foles looked over his right shoulder, saw the ball, caught the ball — a detail that minutes earlier had eluded Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on a similar gadget play, and the Eagles took a 22-12 lead into halftime.
Burton said the play is called “The Philly Special,” and Pederson later confirmed that.
Later, another fourth down, another conversion, on a 2-yard pass to Zach Ertz, keeping alive the drive for the game-winning touchdown, scored by Ertz, on an 11-yard Foles pass over the middle.
“I knew that we were going to have to score a touchdown in that situation,” Pederson said. “A field goal wasn’t going to be good enough, not against Brady and the Patriots, so we stayed aggressive. … Play after play, guys really stepped up tonight.”
If the Eagles’ defense couldn’t find its equilibrium until that final, desperate Brady strip by Brandon Graham, with 2:09 left, well, New England’s defense never could say it found anything. Pederson’s running game rambled for 164 yards, his passing game ate up 374, wearing out the lead in New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s ubiquitous pencil. Patricia will head off to coach the Detroit Lions now; it’s a good thing he nailed down the job before Sunday.
Pederson and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland kept Foles clean, Carson Wentz’s backup completing 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns, an interception that wasn’t Foles’ fault, and a 106.1 passer rating.
Yes, the Lawrence Taylor-era Giants once won a Super Bowl with Jeff Hostetler quarterbacking, won it, 20-19 over Buffalo, Hostetler throwing for 222 yards. This was not like that. Nobody ever did anything like this with his backup QB.
The guy whom former NFL general manager Mike Lombardi called the least qualified NFL head coach he’d ever seen, just before the season, did as fine a job this year and in this game as Belichick, Landry, Noll, Gibbs, or even Vince Lombardi have ever done, nine years removed from coaching at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, La.
Pederson, who turned 50 this week, was all smiles as the confetti sparkled around him, on the impromptu podium wheeled out in front of the U.S. Bank Stadium end zone where Ertz scored the winning TD, and rookie kicker Jake Elliott nailed the door shut with a 46-yard field goal following the Graham strip sack and Derek Barnett recovery, with 1:05 left.
‘It’s all Doug, man. Doug’s a great man and a great play-caller,” said wideout Nelson Agholor, who caught nine passes on 11 targets for 84 yards.
“Doug’s a great coach,” said wideout Torrey Smith, who caught five passes for 49 yards. “He figures out ways to play to your strengths.We never go into a game unprepared. We have answers for everything, all the time. I know he took as much heat as we did [going into] this year, people not believing in him. For him to lead this team to its first title, that says a lot about him.”
Frank Reich, Pederson’s offensive coordinator, was a backup QB on four straight Buffalo teams that got to the Super Bowl but couldn’t win.
“He does not waver,” Reich said, when asked about Pederson. “He’s got a lot of guts, and he believes in his players.”
“You can’t put it into words. Doug is a star, man. He doesn’t want to be a star, but that’s what you love about him — he’s all about the team. But make no mistake about it — he’s been a stud leader, he’s been a stud play-caller, in every sense. Just his knack and his feel for the players. He’s the best.”