Pederson Walks Back a Muddled Message
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In the wake of the biggest collapse of the Doug Pederson era, the Eagles coach took a strange path as his team nears intermission on what has been a disappointing sequel to the organization's first Super Bowl title.
"These are games that galvanize football teams, and this is going to do that," Pederson said after his team coughed up what looked like an insurmountable 17-0 fourth-quarter lead by allowing Carolina to close things with 21 consecutive points. "This is going to bring us even closer together."
Some of what Pederson said was the typical coaching fare but he also veered to what it becoming his default setting -- us vs. them.
"Basically told [the players] pressure's off of us. Nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything," the coach claimed. "Pressure's off, so we can go play, have fun, and just relax. A lot of football ahead too. We still have a bunch of games, and still anything's possible, anything can happen. We still treat it as one week at a time."
Let's start with the glass-is-half-full stuff because at 3-4 and five division games remaining the Eagles are still very much in the weak NFC East where a flawed Washington team needed a snap-infraction penalty to avoid overtime against Dallas on Sunday and improve to 4-2.
The goal of a first-round bye is probably out the window for Philadelphia but if you are able to punch a ticket to the postseason dance, it's about who's playing well in January, not Halloween.
What's strange, however, is that Pederson is trying to peddle the pressure-is-off talk in a city where football is just a tad less important than life for many fans, not to mention the shift from "underdogs" to "targets" in the offseason.
Even at 3-4 the Eagles are still the reigning Super Bowl champions and a team that is circled on most of the schedules from the opposition.
Underwater, the life raft Pederson reached for was that cliched us vs. them.
"Number one, I think no one has really given us a chance anyway," the coach claimed. "Whether we're putting pressure on ourselves to perform, to play, whatever it is, live up to a certain expectation, I think that it's that point where I think that no one has given us that type of -- maybe with the amount of injuries or whatever it is -- given us much credit going into games."
"I think sometimes we force issues," he further explained. "We try to press just a little bit instead of just -- we don't have to go searching for plays. When the plays come, let's just make the plays that come to us, and right now we're not doing that. So I think that's the pressure that's off of us, and we just have to get back to playing and executing better."
Spending much of my spring, summer and fall in the frat-like Eagles media house with other reporters in an era where objective reporting sits next to fans with credentials, the narrative that most don't expect much from the Eagles simply isn't true. Whether they drink Midnight Green Kool-Aid or not, a significant majority thought this team was a potential powerhouse again.
So the pressure isn't going anywhere and Pederson actually contradicted himself in the heat of the moment by acknowledging that.
"No, [the pressure] won't be [off], but it doesn't have to come from us," the coach said. "There's enough pressure. Just the game itself brings its own sort of pressure. We don't have to go force anything. Like I said earlier, we don't have to go looking for plays. Let the plays come to you and then make them when they come, and that's where we're at."
Where we're at is flailing for answers and the coach wasn't protecting his players.
"Flat out, this is a players' game," Pederson acknowledged. "Players have to make plays. We try to, as coaches, we put them in position to be successful, so we've got to evaluate that and just coach better and play better."
Monday, Pederson further clarified his point and walked things back a bit further by emphasizing that the Eagles were pressing.
"Players, coaches, teams put pressure on themselves when they don't have to, you know what I mean? To make a play," the coach explained. "I talk to this team a lot about you don't have to go looking for plays. There's enough out there, plays are going to come to you and when they come to you, make the play in the game. ... I think sometimes we put that added pressure on top of us and sometimes that can affect the way guys play."
Carson Wentz, whose brilliant game against the Panthers was derailed by a failed final series spawned by poor decision-making on his part, was more focused in his message.
"We're going to find out what we're made of now going forward," the star quarterback assessed. "I feel like we said that two weeks ago, saying it again. We're at make-or-break time, almost. It's hard to say exactly what it's going to take. ... we just have to put it all together."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen