Facing the defending champions, against the greatest quarterback and coach of all-time, on the grandest stage in American sports, the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t blink once.
No, the New England Patriots didn’t lose Super Bowl LII – the Eagles went out and won it. Philadelphia outcoached and outplayed the five-time champions as Doug Pederson and Nick Foles looked like they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
After coming through as underdogs twice on their home field in the divisional round and NFC Championship Game, there was no reason for the Eagles to play scared now. And they didn’t for a single second – not in the beginning of the game when they finally got under the bright lights or at the end when the pressure was at its highest.
The Patriots’ past two Super Bowl wins were, in part, helped by coaching malfunctions on the opposite sideline. Had a play or two gone differently, Pederson could have just as easily become another cautionary tale.
But the Philadelphia head coach wasn’t worried about protecting himself from blame. Instead of playing it safe or going the conventional route – as so many Patriots’ opponents have done, only to end up buried in the graveyard of fallen foes – Pederson never took his foot off the gas pedal and went toe-to-toe with Bill Belichick.
When you’re facing New England, you can’t wait for them to beat themselves. You have to take the game to them and find ways to even the odds by stealing possessions and swinging moments in your favour. Pederson did just that by putting his trust in his players to come through in pivotal moments and they in turn rewarded that faith.
How many coaches would have had the guts for it on fourth down at their own 45-yard line with over five minutes left, trailing by a point, and risk giving a short field to a red-hot Tom Brady? Calling that decision ballsy is an understatement. If the Eagles didn’t pick up the first down, there’s a strong chance we’re talking about a sixth title for New England. If they had punted, however, we could be doing the same.
You have to judge coaching decisions like these not on their results, but the thought process behind it. And Pederson deserves credit for never changing his aggressive mindset. He remained consistent from the opening kick-off until the final seconds ticked off.
That fourth-down call may have been the most essential, but there were several moments throughout the game where Pederson simply went for it. Instead of settling for three points at the goal line in the second quarter, the coach broke out a reverse throwback to Foles, of all people, in the end zone. Despite watching the Patriots fail on that exact play just minutes earlier when Danny Amendola’s pass slipped through the hands of Brady, Pederson dialled it up anyways on fourth down and the result was a double-digit lead.
Even the decision that nearly ended up looking terrible in hindsight – going for the two-point conversion on their second touchdown to make up for the missed extra point earlier – was sound in its thinking, despite failing. Pederson figured if you’re facing Brady and the Patriots, there’s every chance you’re going to need all the points you can get. And again, he didn’t alter his approach even though his first bold move fell short.
Of course, the other side to Pederson’s brilliant play-calling was how much trust he placed in his back-up quarterback.
Foles isn’t Carson Wentz, and yet Pederson called 43 pass plays despite his running attack gashing the Patriots for 164 yards on over six yards per carry. Putting the ball in Foles’ hands kept New England’s defence off-balance and the type of passing plays called both empowered Foles and put him in position to succeed.
There’s a reason why Foles became just the ninth back-up quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. When the most important player on the field isn’t one of your best players, it takes heightened coaching and supreme team management to pull of what Philadelphia just did.
Pederson’s coaching job for the entire season, but particularly after Wentz went down with a torn ACL in Week 14, deserves to be eulogised and earn its place among some of the greatest the sport has seen.
The Eagles aren’t even done celebrating their first Super Bowl triumph, but considering how well the franchise is set up going forward with Pederson at the helm and Wentz under centre, it’s fair to wonder if this is the start of something bigger.
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