The Eagles played a dirty trick on the Giants. But the NFL is a squalid place

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Bryan Armen Graham
·6 min read
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<span>Photograph: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If anyone spots my eyeballs, grab them for me. I do believe they rolled out of my skull on Monday when first-year New York Giants head coach Joe Judge accused the Philadelphia Eagles of “disrespect” for the game of football for effectively tanking in their regular-season finale against Washington on Sunday night.

After banging on for several minutes about the additional sacrifices made by players and coaches during a pandemic-racked season, Judge brought it home with an oblique reference to his Philadelphia counterpart Doug Pederson, the Super Bowl-winning coach whose apparent willingness to concede a game that was meaningless to his team had the effect of eliminating the slightly-less-woeful Giants from playoff contention.

“To me, you don’t ever want to disrespect those players in our effort and disrespect the game,” said Judge, whose team has lost 22 of their past 26 meetings with the Eagles including the postseason, stripping any and all luster from a once-great NFL rivalry. “To disrespect the effort that everyone put forward to make this season a success for the National Football League, to disrespect the game by going out there and not competing for 60 minutes and doing everything you can to help those players win – we will never do that as long as I’m the head coach of the New York Giants.”

Related: 'Sickening': Giants seethe as Eagles pull QB Hurts in decider against Washington

Had Philadelphia defeated Washington, the Giants would have backed into a division title in the historically poor NFC East and assured themselves a home playoff game despite a lackluster 6-10 record. Not only did the Eagles have nothing to gain from winning, but a victory would have saddled them with a worse position in April’s draft, dropping them from the sixth to ninth pick.

With Philadelphia trailing by three points and 12:53 remaining, Pederson replaced first-year quarterback Jalen Hurts with Nate Sudfeld, a third-stringer who hadn’t thrown an NFL pass in two years. Sudfeld committed two turnovers and was sacked twice in his three possessions as Washington won 20-14, booking a trip to the playoffs at New York’s expense.

NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth spent most of the fourth quarter calling it straight, as if they weren’t allowed to openly acknowledge what plainly was unfolding before them: that the Eagles weren’t trying to win. It was a good bit. But after the two-minute warning, Collinsworth could no longer contain himself. “I couldn’t have done it. I couldn’t have done what Philadelphia did,” he said. “I just simply could not have done it. You’ve got men out there that are fighting their guts out, trying to win the game. And I’m not saying – I’m not blaming anybody. I, personally, could not have done what they did.”

Collinsworth’s aw-shucks hokum lit a fire to what had played out and it’s been the talk of the NFL in the days since. Suddenly, everyone is acting as if the Eagles were violating the sanctity of some morally sound institution and not operating within the rules of a billion-dollar sports enterprise that’s been up to its neck in dirt for years: the CTE cover-up, multiple cheating scandals, team doctors handing out painkillers like jujubees (and that’s just in the past two decades). Spare us.

Pederson could have simply admitted his intentions during the post-game news conference. Or he could have said he was treating it like a preseason game and more concerned with getting looks at reserves than the outcome. Instead, the fifth-year Eagles coach was bound to maintain the same silly fiction as the broadcasters.

The endless pearl-clutching on social media and the morning sports-shouting shows in the days since has been off the charts. Career back-up quarterback turned ESPN pundit Dan Orlovsky was beside himself. “The NFL is a league that is about respect,” he wrote. “In every aspect, Philly is a city that prides itself on having a chance when no one thinks they do, for never ever ever giving in. Not one that bows down and looks for the easy road. What happened to respecting the game and respecting the other teams in the league?”

The criticism didn’t stop outside the building. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a number of Eagles players were “shocked and outraged” with Pederson’s decision to change quarterbacks. That’s understandable. Players (and coaches) have short timeframes to build their resumes in the NFL, so any opportunity to demonstrate value is precious, even if the game is devoid of consequence.

The problem with the players’ take is that they will all be gone in a few years, but the fans will still be here. Philadelphia’s famously passionate supporters appreciate an honest effort, but they don’t want to settle for a losing team for years to come just because this particular group wanted to win an absolutely meaningless Week 17 game out of adherence to some ridiculous principle that, oh by the way, would help an archrival reach the playoffs.

Any speculation by outsiders on the pernicious effects on Philadelphia’s team culture in the long term are more wishful thinking than anything else. Tanking for an entire year or for half a season in order to secure the No 1 pick is a disgrace and a good way to engender horrible habits and a losing culture. Mailing it in for one dead rubber is fine.

Pederson has been dragged mercilessly from all corners for the past few days, but he did right by the fans. The real embarrassment unfolded a short drive up I-95. From the moment the Giants debased themselves with a tweet early Sunday night admitting they were rooting for their archenemy, you knew this had the potential to be a cringeworthy night for them. Over the next few hours, as their players underwent a collective meltdown on social media, the Philadelphia fans who suffered all year were gifted a consolation prize to remember: the demeaning spectacle of a 6-10 team blaming a hated rival for their own failure to make the playoffs. It’s almost too humiliating for words.

The Eagles have been a team in steady decline in the 36 months since they won the Super Bowl. They’ve missed badly over the past three drafts. They have a very old and expensive roster, and the front office seems to think targeting players who have been discounted because of injury histories is a sound strategy. There’s plenty of work to be done. But with milquetoast rivals like these, they can’t be down for long.