Eagles coach Doug Pederson sends a message by punting in overtime, and it's not a good one
PHILADELPHIA – Remember the good old days when Doug Pederson would go for it on fourth down, when he would take chances and show confidence in his players to get the job done?
That version of Pederson seems long gone. The "Philly Special" has left the station.
The 2017 Pederson certainly would not have punted the ball with 19 seconds left in overtime with the Eagles facing a 4th-and-12 from the Cincinnati Bengals' 46-yard-line.
That decision, instead of either trying a 64-yard field goal or going for the first down, ended any chance the Eagles had to win the game. They settled for a 23-23 tie. They're 0-2-1 with road games upcoming at San Francisco and Pittsburgh, followed by a home game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Good luck with that.
It hardly mattered that Pederson changed his mind Monday, saying after further review, he should have had his team go for the first down instead of punting.
"My decision, looking back, I probably would have elected to maybe go for it in that situation, and try a ball down the field," he said.
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Pederson had already sent his message, and it was received loud and clear: He doesn't believe in the players to get the job done.
Why should he?
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz threw two more interceptions and has six for the season. The Eagles committed 11 penalties for 93 yards. And while the offense has turned the ball over eight times in three games, the defense has not forced a single turnover. The only Eagles forced turnover came on special teams.
Then the injuries keep piling up.
Against the Bengals, the Eagles lost wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle) to injuries in the first half, and cornerback Avonte Maddox (ankle) in the third quarter.
"I told them in the locker room after the game that we weren't a very smart football team (Sunday)," Pederson said. "I think 11 penalties, (they) came at crucial times. We couldn't get off the field on defense. Offensively, we didn't execute well enough.
"Just not a smart football team right now. That's on me. We'll get that fixed as we get ready for this next week."
But really, Pederson has pretty much punted on the season.
Let's start with that fateful punt in overtime. The Eagles had lined up for a 59-yard attempt from the Bengals' 41 with those 19 seconds remaining.
A false start by offensive lineman Matt Pryor moved the Eagles back five yards.
Jake Elliott's career long was a 61-yarder in 2017 to beat the Giants. So Pederson evidently decided a 59-yarder was makeable, but a 64-yarder wasn't.
Either way, both distances are long shots. Had Elliott missed, the Bengals would have taken over at the spot of the hold – the Bengals' 49-yard line before the penalty, or the Eagles' 46 after the penalty.
Cincinnati would have had about 12 seconds and no timeouts – enough time for one play – to get into field-goal range.
Pederson would have had to trust his defense to not give up a pass play to the sideline of 10 yards or more, against a rookie quarterback in Joe Burrow playing in his third NFL game.
Why should he trust his defense?
In the fourth quarter, the Bengals had a 3rd-and-15 from their 40. The Eagles had six defensive backs lined up across the field at the first-down marker, the so-called "sticks defense." Burrow simply completed a short pass to Giovani Bernard, who sliced through the defense for 42 yards, setting up a field goal.
The Eagles could have also gone for the first down. If they failed, the Bengals would have taken over wherever the Eagles had fallen short of the first down. Or the Eagles would have made it, and definitely would have been in field-goal range.
Pederson obviously didn't trust his players there, either.
Why should he?
Wentz had already overthrown Miles Sanders deep down the sideline after he had gotten behind his defender on a third-down play. It would have gone for a touchdown. The Eagles had to punt instead.
In addition, first-round draft pick Jalen Reagor is out for about a month. Alshon Jeffery has yet to return. And then Jackson and Goedert left.
That left the Eagles with rookie John Hightower and Deontay Burnett, just promoted from the practice squad, along with Greg Ward, at wide receiver.
Meanwhile, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, the Eagles' second-round pick in 2019, couldn't get on the field in the fourth quarter, playing just 18 out of 91 snaps on offense. Arcega-Whiteside, who had just 10 receptions last season, wasn't even targeted Sunday. He has no catches through three games this season.
On Monday, Pederson said Arcega-Whiteside suffered a minor lower body injury before the game, and he had to limit Arcega-Whiteside's snaps.
Still, the decision to draft Arcega-Whiteside over D.K. Metcalf, who went seven picks later to Seattle will haunt general manager Howie Roseman for years.
The players, to a man, said they understood Pederson's decision. At least, that was true of the four who spoke on a Zoom videoconference after the game.
"I know that (Pederson) hasn’t lost the team," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. "Nobody is worried. We know we just have to get a 'W,' and things will definitely take care of themselves.
"Us giving up on each other? Nah, we work too hard for that.”
Tell that to the head coach.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.