Doug Pederson stood defiantly at the podium. His defense had just made the stop of the season against the defending NFC champs. His underdog Eagles were victorious and now just two wins away from doing something the franchise has never done. But Pederson’s tone was not one of "Gosh, golly, we did it!"
Instead, it was one of "You disrespected us. How do you like us now?"
“Listen, for about — when did Carson go down?" Pederson asked the gathered media. "Okay. Since that point, no one has given us a chance. Nobody has given us a chance. And I understand, Carson's a great player, but every week, our guys are hearing the same thing — that now we are all of a sudden not good enough. We're 13-3 and have the best record in football, we've got home-field advantage throughout. … It really doesn't matter what you guys talk about because that locker room in there is united and I'll go to bat for every one of those guys and I'll go to war with every one of those guys in that dressing room.”
The second-year coach played the disrespect card perfectly all week leading up to the game and, at that moment, he threw it down for everyone at the table to see as he victoriously reached for the pot in the middle. It was yet another example of Pederson's pushing the right button. But motivational tools don’t mean a damn thing if you don’t have your team prepared and are unable to adjust in the course of a game. Pederson pulled off the trifecta Saturday evening. And that should be no surprise because he’s done it all season.
He entered this season with more skeptics and doubters than believers. The knocks from outsiders were that he was a safe choice, he was Andy Reid-lite, he was the anti-Chip. But could he really coach? He had a rookie quarterback last year, a brutal receiving corps and a defense with many holes. Not an easy task for a first-year head coach. And while he had his rookie moments with challenges, decision-making, etc., his team won seven games and, more importantly, he planted the seeds and grew alongside his rookie quarterback. This season, we saw Carson Wentz bloom into a legitimate MVP candidate in just his second season.
Pederson’s defining quality this season has been his ability to adapt and overcome despite the type of injuries that derail most teams' seasons. Once again with feeling, an NFL MVP quarterback, a future Hall of Fame left tackle still playing at a very high level, a starting middle linebacker, the special teams MVP and the starting kicker, just to name a few, lost for the season.
League awards are based on the regular season, so the Eagles and Pederson’s performance in the playoffs should have nothing to do with whether or not he wins NFL Coach of the Year. But winning Sunday should serve as another reinforcement that’s he outperformed all of his colleagues. The on-field toll of losing a player the caliber of Wentz at that position is obvious. But the psychological hit to a team and its players can be even greater. Yet, the Eagles won the game on the road vs. a tough opponent during which they lost Wentz. And they have not dropped a single meaningful game since, including a playoff game.
Minnesota's Mike Zimmer, Los Angeles' Sean McVay, New England's Bill Belichick and Jacksonville's Doug Marrone all have done fine jobs. But Pederson’s done the best.
Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman got it right when they hired Pederson. Here’s hoping the voters do the right thing as well. You want a reason to be confident heading into Sunday’s NFC title game? Look no further than the Eagles head coach, aka the NFL's Coach of the Year.