By Al Thompson
Shortly after midnight, Monday morning, Eagles coach Doug Pederson stood in front of the Zoom camera looking out at about 50 media members who were ready to ask him about his team’s gutty 25-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
After the Birds tied the Cincinnati Bengals the week before, the fifth-year head coach had been second-guessed about his decisions in the game more times than after Scottie Pippen, in 2002, decided to spend $4.3 million on a Gulfstream II Jet that couldn’t fly.
Pederson appeared angry at the podium, probably knowing the first question he would be asked would be why he went for a two-point conversion after the first-quarter, 11-yard touchdown run by Carson Wentz. It was the first score of the game, and the decision to go for two was unusual, since his kicker Jake Elliott was fine.
He was right. The first question he was asked did pertain to that decision to go for two, probably because it worked and had an impact on winning the game in the fourth quarter.
“Just my decision to go, I’m not gonna spend a lot of time on the whys,” Pederson said with a frown. “I just elected to go for it, we executed the play and got the two.”
He did relax a bit after that and credited his quarterback. Wentz looked much better than he had in his three previous starts this season, going 18-of-28 for 193 yards, one touchdown pass and an interception off a batted pass. He was sacked three times but did not fumble.
Wentz rushed seven times for 37 yards, scored a touchdown, and showed several Harry Houdini escapes that had been missing from his game for quite some time.
“Very good, he played very well,” Pederson said. “He played inspired. He led the football team tonight for the win. I mean, it might not have been perfect but, you know, he gutted out several plays tonight and my hat’s off to him for just just continuing to battle and continuing to stand in there and make some tough throws and some tough decisions. He did a nice job. This is, more importantly, though, really a team effort team win tonight.”
On Monday, Pederson seemed more relaxed and sounded like a coach whose team had ascended to first place in the NFC East, even though it was achieved with a dismal 1-2-1 record in the worst division in the NFL. Pederson was asked what he’s learned about his team after the first four games.
“I think the one thing that’s really stood out this first month is just how resilient this football team is,” he said. “We have not played our best football, I don’t feel. We’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the first three, four weeks here. Finally overcame some of the mistakes yesterday to put ourselves in a position to be in first place in the NFC East. But there’s a long road ahead. We’ve got to learn from the first four weeks, but at the same time, learn from it and carry it forward.
“We’ve just got to keep working, and this is what I appreciate about our guys is they come to work every day no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the situation. They practice. It’s always been a next-man-up mentality and they go to work, and that’s what I’ve learned, and that’s what’s going to carry us these next four weeks.”
The Eagles’ next four games include matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, who have a combined record of 6-1. To have success, the Eagles will need Wentz to continue to play like a franchise quarterback. Pederson was asked if Sunday night’s performance makes him believe his signal caller is headed in the right direction.
“I think it’s huge for Carson,” he said. “I think it’s huge for our football team to be able to pull out a win against a team that was in the Super Bowl a year ago on the road, cross-country. It’s just great for our football team to be able to do this. But for Carson Wentz, specifically, to play better, and to really play physical in his play yesterday and efficient in the passing game. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of yardage but the thing was he was efficient. There are a couple throws he would definitely like to have back and all of that, but this is big for him, just to get that taste of winning again, for everybody, me included, just to get that taste back, it gives you a little bit of motivation. Something to build on as we move forward to this week.”
The team had to be down after the 0-2-1 start. Traveling across country, in a pandemic, and coming away with a win on national television had to be uplifting. The coach was asked about what the mood was like in the locker room and on the flight home.
“The mood was exciting. I mean, it was electric.” Pederson said. “The guys were excited in the locker room, high-fiving, jumping around, hugging each other, what you would expect after a win. I think these guys have been obviously beaten down the last few weeks, not only by our opponents, but by what they are seeing and reading and being talked about outside of the building. I think you can just see the relief, right, or just kind of getting that win.
“Again, going into a place where, you know, against a good team and the way we pulled it out, I think defensively stepping up with the three takeaways. We had the pick-six by Alex (Singleton), and just the way our specialists, the way (punter) Cam Johnston punted the football and Jake (Elliott) kicked the ball. I just think it was a great team effort, and so that’s why all that hard work and preparation that the guys put into the week paid off and that was the excitement after the game.”
Eagles fans hope that excitement continues. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii.