Doug Pederson is a very good coach and he knows how to motivate. He did it masterfully last season.
His postgame comment, after the Eagles blew a 17-0 lead against the Carolina Panthers and surpassed their loss total from all of last season, presumably had a message attached.
“I think sometimes we force issues,” Pederson said according to NJ.com. “We try to press just a little bit instead of just — we don’t have to go searching for plays that come to us, and right now we’re not doing that. I think that’s the pressure that’s off of us, and we just have to get back to playing and executing better.”
The pressure is off? Let’s get this out of the way: Saying there’s no pressure on the Eagles is pure absurdity. Pederson knows that. Everyone does. The Eagles are defending Super Bowl champions, one of the most memorable champs in history given their championship drought and the adversity they overcame. They brought practically everyone back, and a 3-4 start is shocking. They went 16-3 including playoffs last season.
But let’s go back to Pederson as a motivator. Why would you float a ridiculous notion that there’s no more pressure on your defending championship team? Probably because you’re worried they’re feeling the pressure.
Last season was entirely different for the Eagles. They came into the season without championship expectations. When that started to build, they lost Carson Wentz and they famously became underdogs through the playoffs. You can’t say a team that deep in the playoffs had no pressure on it, but the Eagles were playing with a lot of house money.
The vibe has been different all this season. Their first two wins were tense, comeback home wins against the Falcons and Colts, who both started 1-4. The third win was great, a blowout a couple Thursday nights ago against the Giants. It really looked like the Eagles were back. It’s not like the talent isn’t there, even with some injuries. But the good vibes only lasted a little more than a week.
Carolina is a very good team and Cam Newton is capable of tipping the field. That’s what he did in the fourth quarter. Still, it was a pretty shocking breakdown from the Eagles.
The Eagles suddenly couldn’t move the ball in the fourth quarter to kill the clock. That’s where they missed Jay Ajayi, who is out for the season with an ACL injury. They don’t seem to have a ton of faith in running backs Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood or Josh Adams. And it’s not like those three did much to earn any more trust. They had 55 yards on 21 carries. The Eagles have been rumored to be shopping around for running backs like Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy in a trade, and maybe that needs to happen. A trade would help the running game, and it also might spark a team that needs it.
While the offense couldn’t grind out the clock, the defense couldn’t get a stop. Newton was 16 of 22 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter. One of those passes was for 35 yards to Torrey Smith on a fourth-and-10, a play that extended the game-winning drive. The Eagles mostly made those plays last season.
Then Wentz couldn’t answer when he had the shot. After Carolina took a 21-17 lead, a long pass-interference penalty gave the Eagles hope. But on Philadelphia’s final set of downs Wentz threw an incompletion that looked like it was intercepted by Panthers safety Eric Reid, threw incomplete on third down and was sacked and fumbled on fourth down. Wentz was efficient on Sunday but he couldn’t make the play Philadelphia needed in the fourth quarter.
“We’re going to find out what we’re made of now going forward,” Wentz said, according to the Eagles’ team site. “I feel like we said that two weeks ago and we’re saying it again. We’re at make-or-break time almost, so to speak, but it’s hard to say exactly what it’s going to take. Again, we know what we can do, we do it here and there some weeks, but we’ve just got to put it all together.”
It’s not time for the Eagles to panic, but as Wentz alluded to, it’s not early in the season anymore either. The Rams are still undefeated, the Saints are playing very well, the Vikings are coming on strong and the Redskins lead the Eagles in the NFC East by a game-and-a-half. A team with five or six losses probably isn’t getting a bye in the NFC and more losses than that might put a playoff spot in jeopardy. The Eagles never were in that kind of a spot last season.
The good news is next week in London the Eagles get a Jacksonville Jaguars team that’s way more dysfunctional and awful right now. Then comes a bye, which the Eagles might need. One reason the Super Bowl hangover is real is the mental grind attached to it. You’re getting everyone’s best every week, with the expectation you’ll go right back and win another title. It’s not easy.
So no matter what Pederson says, the pressure isn’t off and it won’t be all season. There’s even more pressure now that the Eagles have dug a hole for themselves. The Eagles seem to be feeling that heat, especially during a really bad fourth quarter on Sunday.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 7 of the NFL season:
Deshaun Watson: When you’re so banged up you have to take a 12-hour bus ride rather than board a plane to Jacksonville, you shouldn’t play as well as Watson played. You probably shouldn’t play at all, but Watson is a tough guy.
Watson didn’t put up enormous numbers but his 139 yards and a touchdown helped the Texans get a huge AFC South win, 20-7 over a wilting Jaguars team. Watson couldn’t fly on the team plane because of a bruised lung and injured ribs. He took some huge hits against the Cowboys a couple weeks ago, and has been playing behind a terrible offensive line all season, but he keeps coming back.
“Whatever it took to get me down here with my teammates and be able to play and help this team win,” Watson said, according to the AP. “This is bigger than me. I’m a competitor. I love this team so much. And what I’ve been through previously and what we’ve been through leading up to this point, I want to be out there on the field with them and try to win.”
Texans coach Bill O’Brien said: “Great teammate. Loves to win. Loves to play. And I think the world of the guy.”
The Texans started 0-3 but have won four in a row to take first place in the AFC South, even though some of those wins weren’t pretty. A lot of credit goes to Watson, who might not be feeling great but is still making plays.
New Orleans Saints: What happened in Baltimore on Sunday night will be remembered for automatic Ravens kicker Justin Tucker somehow missing a potential game-tying extra point in the last minute. That overshadows a remarkable win by the Saints.
The Saints trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter and were facing the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL on a miserable and windy day. The Saints have never really been known for being at their best outdoors. But they pulled off an impressive win.
Drew Brees hit some huge passes, including a go-ahead touchdown to star wideout Michael Thomas. The defense got a few stops, and then the Saints got really lucky when Tucker missed. Good teams also need luck sometimes.
The Saints are 5-1, on a five-game winning streak after a weird opening-week loss to the Buccaneers. They’re not necessarily on the Rams’ level yet, but they’re playing as well as anyone else in the NFL. Sunday’s comeback win showed they’re capable of winning in all kinds of ways.
Bill Belichick: The problem for Belichick that is that he’s been so great for so long, greatness is just expected.
What the Patriots pulled off on Sunday was not easy, but we’ll react to it like it’s just another Patriots win. This is what they’ve done for well over a decade, after all. New England didn’t have all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was out with a back injury. They lost running back Sony Michel to an ugly-looking injury, and that could have long-term ramifications. And still the Patriots got a 38-31 win against a pretty good Bears team.
A blocked punt for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson were the biggest plays. That’s not just luck; Belichick famously loves the details of special teams. And the shorthanded Patriots offense did enough against a very good Bears defense, with Tom Brady throwing three touchdowns.
The Patriots started this season slow and haven’t lost since mid-September. They have won four in a row, got a quality road win on Sunday, and Belichick deserves a lot of credit for all of that. You just won’t hear a lot of praise for him because he has set the bar so high.
Adam Thielen, again: Thielen might have to start paying rent for a spot in the “winners” segment, because he’s here every week.
What Thielen is doing for the Minnesota Vikings needs to be fully appreciated. He had nine more catches for 110 yards and a nice touchdown in an impressive 37-17 win over the New York Jets. He extended his NFL record of 100-yard games to start a season. He has 67 catches for 822 yards and five touchdowns. That’s a pace for 153 catches, 1,879 yards and 11 touchdowns. The catches would be a record. The yardage isn’t far off the pace to beat Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964. At some point we’ll have to talk about Thielen as a potential MVP candidate. He has been that good.
More importantly, he has helped the Vikings take back first place in the NFC North at 4-2-1. And the Vikings should continue to get even better.
Derek Anderson and the LeSean McCoy-less Buffalo Bills: It makes sense if the Bills trade McCoy, and there have been rumors they might. They’re 2-5 and not going anywhere. But we got a chance to see what life would be like without McCoy, and it was ugly.
McCoy went down early with a concussion. And the league’s worst offense sunk even further. The offense scored only a field goal in a gruesome 37-5 loss. Anderson, starting for injured Josh Allen, had 175 yards and three interceptions. Chris Ivory filled in fine for McCoy, but without McCoy there are no dangerous playmakers on the roster. And it’s worth mentioning that if McCoy’s concussion is more than a short-term issue, the Bills might lose the chance to trade him anyway.
Even with McCoy it has been a remarkably bad Bills offense; without McCoy it could get much uglier.
Hue Jackson: The Browns lost a close 26-23 game in overtime to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That happens.
But it always happens to the Browns.
Under Jackson the Browns are 2-10-1 in games decided by three points or less, the worst record in the NFL during that time, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
There were a few questionable decisions on Sunday. The Browns could have kicked a short field goal late in the first half, but went for it on fourth down. Baker Mayfield was stripped as he was fumbled and the Browns lost possession. They passed on another short field-goal opportunity on fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the fourth quarter, and Mayfield was stuffed on a run attempt. Either field goal might have changed the result, considering the game went to overtime.
Jackson said after the game he would think about getting more involved with play-calling, which has been offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s job.
“I think I have every right as a head coach to jump in and see if I can help and assist and get this thing to where I think it needs to be, because we need to be better on offense,” Jackson said, according to Cleveland.com. “And if that’s my specialty, then I need to be involved more and I will be.”
Jackson is probably feeling some heat. The Browns have won a couple games this season, but their 2-4-1 record feels disappointing given how many close losses they have. Jackson might not survive much longer if that doesn’t change.
The NFL and criticism of its officials: No matter what, people will be critical of NFL officials. Fans enjoy that. It’s why people always can find some rule to complain about.
But the call at the end of the Redskins-Cowboys game is worth some scorn. Dallas, lining up for a game-tying field goal in the final seconds, was given a 5-yard penalty when long snapper L.P. Ladouceur moved the ball and the Redskins jumped offsides. Ladouceur was called for a penalty. A 47-yard attempt became a 52-yard attempt, and kicker Brett Maher hit the upright. Washington won 20-17.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) October 21, 2018
Give credit to the Redskins for jumping offsides and forcing the officials to make some kind of a call. But it wasn’t worth a penalty on the Cowboys. NBC showed during halftime of “Sunday Night Football” that Ladouceur put the ball down to adjust before the snap on his previous snap. Nothing was called.
“That has never happened before,” Ladouceur said according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “That’s what I told the ref I do every time. I lay [the ball] down so I can snap it. I adjust it.”
The difference in that call could be dramatic. The Cowboys were robbed of a chance to win the game in overtime, had Maher made the closer field goal. The difference in a win and a loss could determine playoff berths. That could determine if the Cowboys keep coach Jason Garrett and his staff around another year.
A lot of times people complain about officials because that’s just what they do, but this time it seems justified.
Anyone who likes aggressive coaching, after the Titans’ two-point conversion didn’t work: We’re getting better about not labeling reasonable decisions as incredibly risky. Going for it at midfield on fourth-and-1 isn’t a gamble. Slowly, people are understanding that.
But because we judge results and not the decision-making process, when reasonable decisions don’t work out they get ripped, and other coaches remember that. That’s why it’s too bad Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel’s two-point conversion decision didn’t work. We might not see another coach make that decision in a long time.
The Titans should have gone for two after scoring late against the Chargers. They were underdogs, and it made sense to take one shot from the 2-yard line to win rather than be at the whim of the overtime coin flip and then stopping Philip Rivers and a good offense. And the Titans got even closer when a defensive penalty on the first attempt put them at the 1-yard line.
The problem wasn’t the decision to go for two, it was the play call. They didn’t line up a running back in the backfield, eliminating the Chargers’ need to worry about a handoff. The slant route wasn’t particularly creative, was covered well and Marcus Mariota’s pass fell incomplete. It wasn’t the Titans’ best play. But it wasn’t the decision to go for two that was wrong. It just didn’t work out.
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