Let’s face it: When an afternoon at the football stadium includes the nationally televised playing and then slow-motion replaying of a man on all fours pretending to be a dog urinating on the field, the bar for stranger occurrences is set pretty high.
Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field was an odd one, everyone would have to agree. That includes the delirious Eagles fans who stuck around after the team blew two leads and allowed 24 fourth-quarter points. Their reward was an improbable 27-24 win over the New York Giants when rookie fill-in kicker Jake Elliott made a 61-yard buzzer-beater of a field goal that nuzzled the inside of the right upright.
Elliott prevented overtime and, given the somewhat ugly nature of the game, that’s a good thing, not just for the Eagles and their season, but for the sport itself. It’s unknown how much more bad officiating, dumb penalties, poor tackling, mounting injuries, and questionable decisions one afternoon can safely hold. Sunday was about the limit.
But when you sort everything out, including Odell Beckham Jr. and his fire hydrant routine, the most puzzling aspect of the game was still Doug Pederson’s decision to attempt a fourth-and-8 from the Giants 43-yard-line, late in the first half with a 7-0 lead.
As it turned out, after Carson Wentz was sacked on the play and Eli Manning drove the Giants to a first-and-goal at the Eagles 10, the Giants didn’t take advantage of Pederson’s gift, something the coach actually pointed out later, as if that made his decision to not punt somehow all right.
The Giants didn’t score because they can’t run the ball and because they were ridiculously unlucky on that series. They got it to the 2-yard line with a pass to Beckham, who celebrated by rolling on his back and kicking his legs into the air. Then a sideline completion to Sterling Shepard, which was originally ruled a touchdown, was placed at the 1-yard line instead when the replay showed Shepard had missed grazing the pylon on his way out of bounds by an inch or two. On third down, Manning hit Shepard in the corner of the end zone, and he took three steps before crossing out of bounds and falling to the ground, where the ball came loose. If that’s the rule, that’s the rule, but it could have been called a catch, and no one would have said anything.
Then on fourth down, the Giants finally ran the ball up the middle – and went backward, with Orleans Darkwa getting his behind powdered by the entire Eagles defense. Almost every team in the league, including the Eagles, would have gone to a quarterback sneak on third down and inches, but the Giants don’t believe in exposing Manning like that. OK, fine. But the Giants didn’t have a better option. In their three losses, New York has rushed for a total of 146 yards. That’s for three games. The Eagles, in a major change of direction, rushed for 193 on Sunday alone.
So, yeah, the Giants didn’t score before the half — and Pederson skated away a little more cleanly from his fourth-and-8 howler — and they could have used those points at the end of the game, when the Eagles’ defense was gassed and porous and let them back in. That doesn’t mean he skated away totally clean, though, and a decision like that makes you wonder if Pederson will be able to win an important battle of wits when the opposing coach is someone other than Ben McAdoo, who is so sure of himself that he won’t even take a stand on whether he thinks pee-pee pantomimes are in bad taste.
“It was something that I discussed with the guy that’s helping me upstairs with some of the analytics and where we were on the field, what we were doing offensively at the time,” Pederson said. “The defense was playing extremely well. Had an opportunity to keep ourselves on the field at that time, so I elected to go for it at that point. Obviously, we didn’t get it and the defense held. … I stand by my decision.”
Well, that’s great, and it’s very new-millennium of the team to have a guy upstairs with his spreadsheets on the horn with the head coach during the 15 seconds he has to make a decision like that. I’m sure it’s the kind of thing the organization is proud of, very cutting-edge. But, boy, that’s not the way to coach football, and the call was dead wrong.
It wasn’t fatal, of course. The Eagles survived that and their later failings. They won a game that could have great impact on the outcome of the division this season. They made a hero out of a guy no one had heard of two weeks ago.
There were a lot of positives, but there was also a huge gaffe by a coach who has still not proved himself to his staff, his players, the front office, or the team’s followers. It’s hard to imagine Bill Belichick going for it, given the down, distance, and juncture of the game. It’s even harder to imagine him waiting to be told what to do by the math major upstairs.
Get insights on the Eagles delivered straight to your inbox with Early Birds, beat writer Zach Berman’s new twice-weekly newsletter for Eagles fans. Click here to sign up.