We all know what happened. Down by 3 points early in the fourth quarter, the Philadelphia Eagles got the ball back on their own 11-yard line, and out trotted back up QB Nate Sudfeld to try and overturn the deficit. Not Jalen Hurts. Bear in mind that Hurts had breathed life into the previously moribund, Carson Wentz-led offense and that in this week 17 match up the Eagles had the ability to help or hinder Washington’s progress to the NFC East divisional title. And upfront here I congratulate the Washington Football Team – and in particular the efforts of Head Coach Ron Rivera and QB Alex Smith. Both have triumphed over adversity and deserve their division title win.
I should preface the article with a reminder that yes I am a New York Giants fan, so there is an element of bile surfacing about this episode. However, that is not where I am coming from as I type. I was a big fan of the Super Bowl LII-winning Eagles side, and the fairytale story for Nick Foles, Philly special and all. Yes there is divisional rivalry but I have the utmost respect from fans of all NFL teams. We pick our team and we stick with them through thick and thin. But the actions of Head Coach Doug Pederson should be scrutinised by the league as it points to a wider problem.
Tanking – doesn’t everyone do it?
This is the first argument I’ve seen to explain away what the Eagles against Washington. The Jaguars and the Jets have been doing it all season – haven’t they? It is an impossible question to answer unless you are in the heart of those organisations. I would argue against this point on a couple of fronts. Firstly, this season has been unique because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-season looked like nothing before and you can see how it impacted in particular on the weaker teams in the league. The pandemic has also played its way into player availability as the season has wore on. For the Jets, I would say that Doug Pederson is a far better head coach than Adam Gase – I’m not sure Gase could have done any better! The Jaguars were always a team in transition and unsettled at the QB position. The Jets lost four games by 1 score, the Jaguars six.
However, my main concern here is that Pederson’s decision to bench Jalen Hurts was in-game, at such a crucial point within a game. It is hard to draw a comparison with another sport but where else would you see a player who gives you the best chance of winning a game pulled for a substitute who has barely seen competitive action for years? In-game decisions of this nature, not related to injury, should be open to scrutiny.
But Hurts wasn’t playing well was he?
No, he had not had a great game to that point but QB statistics always need to be taken in context of the game. The Eagles were well and truly in the game, 3 points behind, despite his 7/20, 72 yards and 1 interception. So, sure pull him and give Sudfeld a whirl? Ask the Washington defense who they would rather close out the game against. Hurts would still have been a dual threat and was far more likely to mount a comeback than Sudfeld with his (prior to last night) 25 career pass attempts.
As for Hurts, he didn’t match the previous week’s 21/39, 342 yards, 1TD, 2INT, when he did not get benched early in the 4th quarter despite a much larger deficit – 13 points behind to the Cowboys. The argument that Pederson wanted to see Sudfeld in action to assess him just does not hold water, he has been on the books for 3 years – I’m not sure what 4 series (interception, fumble, punt, and a final spluttering 24 yards in 7 plays) will have told the Eagles organisation.
But the Giants should have taken care of business themselves.
In short, yes. Many Giants fans are pointing at Evan Engram and his drop in the week 7 loss to the Eagles by a single point. Win that one and you would have won 7 games. Yes and no. Like any time travel related movie you may have seen you cannot extract one moment out of the season and assume everything else followed as it has done. Who is to say the Giants wouldn’t have lost every single game after week 7 in that version of reality? Enough mind-bending – this is not about the Giants. I’m not writing this with the Giants in mind but in a wider context.
For the Good of the Sport
The Eagles did not owe being honest to the Giants but to every other NFL franchise. Several teams had nothing to play for in week 17 but many made every effort to win. If you watched the Falcons battle the Bucaneers, the Vikings and Lions clash, the 49ers against the Seahawks, the Texans and the Titans, the Broncos and the Raiders, the Chargers at the Chiefs – did any of these sides throw the towel in for the sake of a couple of 2021 NFL Draft positions? As a result of some of them pulling off that final W they have dropped down the draft board but their integrity is intact.
Well it goes on every year doesn’t it? That is the other point I keep hearing. When you have a draft system that effectively rewards failure in an effort to balance the league, this will always happen. I don’t think that should be acceptable to the league and is something the Competition Committee should at least air out during the offseason. It maybe that without crowds, in the majority of stadia this year, some sides have been able to get away with it more than usual. I very much doubt that Pederson would have dared bench Hurts if the Eagles faithful had filled Lincoln Financial Field.
The relationship between Pederson and the Eagles fans has been strained throughout the year. His desperate clinging to Carson Wentz until the Eagles were 3-7-1 probably cost them a shot at the laughable 2020 NFC East title. It is clearly not a happy camp at the moment and it would have been interesting to see Pederson’s decision making over the last month if there had been more pressure on him from the organisation. I applaud their stability and remember they did walk off with the Lombardi only 3 years ago. But incidents like the one against Washington and the issue of who is the starting QB in 2021 are going to plague the Eagles during the offseason.
Looking to the draft
Now that they have the sixth pick of the 2021 NFL Draft they need to hit a home run with that pick – remember they took Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson last year, before taking Hurts in the second round. I would not be surprised to see them dip back into the wide receiver pool with that first pick – but the question of who will be throwing to them is open for debate. But I bet you it won’t be Nate Sudfeld!
As for what to do as a wider point about tanking, I think this is something that should be debated. Teams should make all honest effort to be winning games. Perhaps there is nothing that can be done but maybe, for specific in-game decisions that appear to impact outcomes, there should be a level of scrutiny which comes from the league.
The fans of all teams of this great sport deserve more than what happened last night.