Doug Pederson's message resonating with Eagles as strong as ever

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Doug Pederson's message resonating with Eagles as strong as ever

I guess it was inevitable that after the Eagles lost 48-7 to the Saints and fell to 4-6, the popular thing for football analysts to declare was that Doug Pederson had lost the team.

That his voice was no longer being heard. His message no longer getting through.

It was an understandable assumption. That was an ugly loss, and it was the Eagles' fourth loss in their last six games.

The reality is that sometimes blowout losses are just that. Nothing more. Just one team playing really, really well and the other team playing really, really poorly. They’re not always a referendum on the job the head coach is doing or a statement on the state of the franchise.

But you do learn a lot from how teams respond to adversity. And if there’s one thing these wins over the Giants and Redskins have shown us, it’s that Pederson hasn’t lost the locker room and hasn’t lost his team.

Whether the Eagles at 6-6 and coming off wins over two lowly teams are really ready to contend for a playoff berth we won’t know until Sunday evening, after the Dallas game.

But the Eagles team we saw beat the Giants and the Redskins coming off that embarrassment in New Orleans was a team that never stopped fighting, never stopped showing pride, never stopped believing in itself or its coach.

You don't bounce back from that kind of a nightmare if your coach's message isn't getting through.

Think about it. 

After Saquon Barkley’s 51-yard touchdown run four minutes before halftime two weeks ago, the Eagles trailed the Giants 19-3 in their own stadium and were facing their fourth straight home loss, fifth loss in seven games and essentially the end of their season.

We all heard the boos raining down at the Linc, and the Eagles deserved every one of them.

If this were a team that had quit on its coach, we would have seen it right there. The Eagles would have quit. It would have been easy.

But something happened.

Josh Adams ran five yards, Carson Wentz hit Zach Ertz for 24 yards and Alshon Jeffery for nine yards and all of a sudden the Eagles were driving. Then Wentz threw a TD pass to Ertz and Malcolm Jenkins picked off Eli Manning and those boos turned to cheers as the Eagles ran into the locker room at halftime.

The Eagles then outscored the Giants 14-3 in the second half and beat the Redskins 28-13, which means since Barkley’s TD, they’ve scored 49 points and allowed 16.

Does that sound like a team that quit on its coach?

Of course not.

One of the special things about the 2017 Super Bowl season was the way Pederson connected with his players. He listened to them and responded to them and treated them like adults. They paid him back by playing hard every minute of those 19 games.

Without that bond, without that connection between coach and player, there is no Super Bowl LII. There is no parade.

And that doesn’t just disappear. That sort of relationship doesn’t just evaporate because of a few losses. If anything, that’s when that mutual respect is needed the most.

Pederson hasn’t had a particularly good year as a play caller, but his voice still resonates as strong as ever with his guys. 

The dynamic changes a little every year as players come and go, but anybody who’s really paying attention knows that Pederson’s relationship with the players is really the glue that holds this team together.

When things are going well and when they’re not going so well.

Seasons come and go, players come and go, but the elements that made Pederson such an outstanding coach last year haven’t gone anywhere.

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40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

The Eagles entered Monday night’s game with just three healthy wide receivers and after Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside got hurt, they were down to just one. 

So who would have been the next guy in? 

Well, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was getting ready. 

“I was ready to go,” McCown told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark. “We had the helmet ready to go. The equipment guys were all over it. Had the radio-less helmet because you can’t have two green dots on the field at the same time.” 

McCown didn’t end up playing in Monday’s 23-17 overtime win. The Eagles got by with what they had, which meant playing third tight end Josh Perkins in several different spots. 

But the oldest player on the roster was ready. 

“We were ready to roll,” he said. “Shoot, I’d get in there and go. Obviously, as a quarterback, you know the offense. I guess it was like 12 years ago in Foxboro I had to go in and do it.”

That game McCown was talking about was on Dec. 3, 2006. That was the last time he caught a pass in an NFL game. 

In that game, McCown caught two passes for 15 yards from Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. He also caught a 31-yard pass but it was brought back on an offensive pass interference call that he claimed was “a little suspect.” 

“Hopefully, I don’t get retroactively fined,” McCown said late Monday night, 13 years after the call. 

Is there a statute of limitations on that? 

Anyway, the fact that a 40-year-old McCown was even preparing to enter a game as a receiver is telling. First, about the injuries at that position. And, second, about the poor decision to go into a game with just three healthy receivers. 

Doug Pederson said the Eagles were hoping to have Nelson Agholor for the game, but he came in questionable and was inactive. 

At least they had McCown. 

“I’m not quite the option that J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) is or Greg (Ward), obviously, but again, we were kind of up against it a little bit,” McCown said. “Just being able to have a contingency plan was the main thing. I was ready to roll.”

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Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

It was Carson Wentz’s best stretch of football this year and it occurred under some of the most unusual circumstances you can imagine.

Tight ends playing receiver. Slot receivers playing outside. Practice squad guys in key roles.

A week after the Eagles blew a 14-point second-half lead to one two-win team, they rallied back from a 14-point second-half deficit against another two-win team.

And Wentz, after another slow start, finally looked like his old self.

Wentz not only rallied the Eagles back after they trailed by 14 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, he did it while throwing to Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Josh Perkins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – none of whom were even playing a month ago – as well as Zach Ertz.

It is not easy,” Ertz said. “As a quarterback, chemistry, trust and timing is the No. 1 thing, and he’s putting a lot of trust in guys that he does not have a lot of reps with, and I think that speaks volumes of him. Being able to go out there, and it doesn’t really matter who is out there, NFC East opponent, down 17-3, and play his best football in that second half all year? I am extremely proud of him tonight with the way he led us.

Wentz threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ critical 23-17 overtime win over the Giants at the Linc.

But look at his numbers on the Eagles’ five drives during their late comeback: 21-for-28 for 226 yards with two TD passes to Ertz, including the game-winner in overtime.

You go into the game with three receivers and now you’ve got Greg Ward usually in the slot and he’s out there playing (outside)," Wentz said. "You’ve got guys moving around. For me, I’ve got no choice but to trust these guys. Some of these routes I’ve never even repped before in those situations, but they stepped up and made plays. They did a great job.

This was vintage Wentz. But it couldn’t have happened without guys making plays around him.

And it's been a while since we've seen that.

With Nelson Agholor out, Alshon Jeffery leaving with an early injury and Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews long gone, Wentz had to rally the Eagles back from 17-3 with guys he’s barely practiced with.

With a shot at the playoffs at stake.

Just keep believing,” Wentz said. “Keep believing and it’s time to make a decision how this is going to define us. Obviously, we knew it was not our first half. That was a rough one and that was an ugly one. We just said, ‘Keep believing and keep staying together.’ Defense was going to take care of their piece, which they did. And we were able to do enough offensively to get this win.

Wentz has had his issues this year, and he had his issues in the first half Monday night.

But it’s amazing how much better he looks when guys are actually catching footballs for him.

This was the first time the Eagles have come back from a 14-point halftime deficit since the 2014 opener, when they beat the Jaguars 34-17 after trailing 17-0.

Before that? Giants in 2010 at the Meadowlands. You might remember a DeSean Jackson punt return as time expired?

In all, the Eagles were 2-45 in their last 47 games when they trailed by at least 14 points at halftime.

Wentz was asked how big it was for him to win his first overtime game and engineer a rally from 14 down at halftime for the first time in his career.

This is huge for this whole team,” he said. “To come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line-type of thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game … and get the win and drive down to score right away? It’s huge for me personally and for this entire team.

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