As soon as they lined up to go for 2, it was impossible not to think, “Doug is back.”
Aggressive Doug. High-flying Doug. Riverboat gambler Doug.
That guy’s been missing.
Doug Pederson built his reputation as one of the league’s top head coaches by doing crazy stuff. It started in 2016 when he pretty much had to, because he didn’t have a very good team.
But those 4th-down gambles, deep balls on 3rd-and-inches, unexpected two-point conversions and trick plays were a huge part of what this team accomplished in 2017 to the point where Pederson called his book, “Fearless,” after the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
When you’re fearless you don’t punt to the Bengals in overtime. That sends the wrong message to your players and to your organization, when you throw in the towel with time on the clock and accept a tie while you still have a chance to win … and very little chance to lose.
And Doug knew it. By Monday morning he seemed to realize he goofed, not just from a competitive standpoint but from a big-picture standpoint.
It just seemed like Doug wasn’t that guy anymore. The Eagles weren’t just winless, they were boring. They were predictable. They were ordinary.
The guy who called the Philly Special on fourth down in a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, an undrafted rookie running back and a backup tight end was really punting in overtime of a winnable game?
So when they drove down the field late in the first quarter Sunday night and took a 6-0 lead on Carson Wentz’s 11-yard run, it was almost a relief to see Pederson leave the offense on the field.
This was a clear statement that what we saw last weekend was not the real Doug Pederson and that he’s going to keep his foot on the gas like the Doug Pederson of Old.
The Eagles got the two points, and that wound up being huge. Because that meant that when the 49ers scored with two minutes left, they closed to within five instead of four and they had to go for two instead of kicking a PAT to get within three. The two-point conversion failed and when the 49ers got the ball back, now they needed a touchdown and not a field goal to tie.
So it’s not just being aggressive for the sake of being aggressive. It really does put pressure on an opponent, and when your personnel isn’t maybe the best, you can make up for it with by taking some smart chances.
And players love playing for a coach that shows trust in them in those high-leverage situations.
From 2016 through 2019, the Eagles went for it on 4th down an NFL-high 100 times, converting 52 percent of the time.
This year they were 0-for-3 before Sunday night, but Wentz converted one on a keeper on a scoring drive in the third quarter and then with the Eagles down three and 8 1/2 minutes left and a 4th-and-4 on the 49ers’ 36-yard-line, Riverboat Doug showed up again.
No long field goal attempt. No punt this time.
The Eagles went for it and Wentz completed a 1st-down pass to rookie 5th-round pick John Hightower, who had four career catches at that point.
Doug kept the aggressive mentality two plays later with the game on the line when he called for a deep ball to a wide receiver who’d been called up from the practice squad about 30 hours earlier.
These are the types plays that made Doug Pederson a special coach his first few years here, and they were all critical plays in a crucial upset win that somehow catapulted the Eagles into first place in the NFC East.
If the Eagles are going to salvage anything out of this bizarre season, they’re going to need punting-to-the-Bengals Doug Pederson to stay off the sidelines and 4th-down, 2-point conversion, Philly Special Doug to stick around for a while.