Of all the challenges that lurk amid the competitive carnage of an NFL game, being burped by your own coach is usually not one of them.
Well, unless you’re a Philadelphia Eagle, who were asked on Sunday to fight and fight the Washington football team so that coach Doug Pederson actually led the game by shooting starter Jalen Hurts. in the fourth quarter of what was, at the time, a 17-14 game.
Hurts was replaced by Nate Sudfeld, the franchise’s longtime third quarterback, third stringer / back up / practice in what can only be described as a nationally televised farce.
Sudfeld quickly threw an interception then lost a fumble. He completed just five passes for 32 yards as the Eagles never threatened to score again. Washington earned a 20-14 win in gift wrap that won the NFC East Championship and a home playoff date on Saturday night with Tom Brady and Tampa Bay.
We can’t say for sure that the Eagles inserted Sudfeld in an attempt to start the game in order to improve their draft status (the loss means they’ll pick sixth rather than ninth with a win). However, if they were trying to pitch the game to improve their draft status… well, inserting Sudfeld would be a pretty effective way to do that.
“I was coaching to win,” Pederson said afterwards, noting that he was not receiving orders from the front office. “It was my decision only. Nate has obviously been here for four years and I felt he deserved an opportunity to get some shots.
Only Pederson knows if he is telling the truth, but even if he was, the answer makes no sense. Deserved? The competitive interests of the team – the chance to win a highly winnable game – weren’t as important as what he thought an individual player “deserved?”
What is it, Pop Warner?
“The plan this week was to give Nate some time and I thought it was time to bring him into the game,” said Pederson.
In the fourth quarter of a three-point game with playoff implications, but for the opposing team?
Sudfeld was drafted in 2016. It was his fourth regular season appearance. He’s not good enough. Certainly, it would be understandable to reward Sudfeld with playing time if the score got out of hand, one way or another. This was not the case, however.
And even if the Eagles are now distributing playing time based on sentiment, why not put Hurts back into the game, at least for the last two practices with a possible win yet? Sudfeld got his shots. Why stay with him? How was this humiliation fair to him?
“Look,” Pederson continued, “if there’s anything that thinks I wasn’t trying to win the game, I mean, [Zach] Ertz is over there, Brandon Graham is over there, Darius Slay is over there, all of our best guys are still on the pitch at the end of it.
“We were going to win the game.
Apparently, these guys didn’t “deserve” to have the best quarterback available on the field in an attempt to honor their efforts with a win. Unless you think playing training squads is top strategy now.
Hurts, meanwhile, stood on the sidelines with a look that could be qualified as disbelief. He wasn’t alone (and that doesn’t even count the bitter New York Giants watching from home who needed a Philly win to advance to the playoffs).
“As a competitor I play to win,” said Hurts. “You know, you have to trust the coach for that.”
You would think the rookie could use whatever experience he could get in close matches. You would also think that the franchise would covet the opportunity to see what it can do in such a situation. The Eagles’ offseason will be dominated by their quarterback decision – former starter Carson Wentz, who didn’t dress on Sunday, is potentially bait.
“I knew Nate had worked really hard all year,” said Hurts. “And I think he’s a great player and the coach wanted to give him an opportunity at some point in the game.… Me being a competitor, talking about winning all the time, that’s what I am. trust Coach for that, that’s all I can do.
How many Eagles trust Pederson now is a good question. Philly sat down several top players, which isn’t unusual for NFL Week 17. Yet those who dress and suffer the beatings and bruises expect an honest effort.
Pederson knows it. He played 10 seasons in the league.
He then said he didn’t think it would affect the ‘culture’ of the squad, but playing Sudfeld basically said that all the efforts of the players last week in training, let alone the game, didn’t didn’t matter much.
In the end, rival Washington celebrated on the Philly field and then slammed him in the locker room. All the Eagles players could do was fall apart, potentially for the last time for guys like Ertz, Wentz, Jason Kelce and others whose time with this once proud franchise may be over.
Maybe they “deserved” better, but hey, that sixth draft pick has been secured.
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