Eagles fans once threw batteries and beer at Doug Pederson, who was the sacrificial lamb as Philadelphia’s starting quarterback in 1999 until rookie Donovan McNabb was ready to take over in his rookie season.
Now Pederson is one of the most popular sports figures in the city’s history.
A consolation prize as the Eagles’ head coach in 2016 — they couldn’t land Ben McAdoo, of all people — Pederson put on a coaching performance for the ages against the NFL’s coach and quarterback for the ages in Super Bowl LII on Sunday.
He got the best of the great Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the grand stage of the Super Bowl as his Eagles upset the five-time championship coach and quarterback, 41-33, in one of the most remarkable games ever.
Pederson beat the Belichick-Brady conglomerate — the greatest coach/quarterback duo in the game’s history — and he did it with a backup quarterback who nearly retired in 2015 because he questioned whether he had enough enthusiasm left to continue playing.
Nick Foles did an absolutely remarkable job in joining Doug Williams and Jeff Hostetler as backup QB-turned-champion, and he can thank Pederson for putting him in that position.
Were it not for Pederson’s go-for-broke play-calling, there’s no way the Eagles would have won their first Super Bowl championship. When you go against Belichick-Brady, there is only one way to win, and that is to make sure you don’t play not to lose. The Falcons lost that gambit last year in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, as the Patriots rallied from a 28-3 third-quarter deficit to win it, 34-28, in overtime.
And with the Eagles’ defense simply unable to stop Brady — at least not until the final stages of the fourth quarter — the only way Pederson was going to win this game was to have Foles attack, attack, attack. To beat the Patriots, you have to go for it, because they will beat you at any other style that you play.
“We just wanted to stay aggressive,” Pederson said afterward.
Only the Giants after the 2007 and 2011 seasons were able to stop the Patriots before this, and they did it with a defense that punished Brady with a relentless pass rush and gave Eli Manning the chance to win it at the end with two remarkable fourth-quarter performances.
The formula was different on this night, because Brady’s shredding of the Eagles’ defense was relentless, especially as the game wore on. He rallied the Patriots from deficits of 22-12 and 29-19 and went ahead 33-32 with 9:22 to play, New England’s first lead of the game. But Pederson never flinched, staying aggressive with Foles the entire game.
The 29-year-old Foles was a deserving winner of the game’s Most Valuable Player award, as he went 28-for-43 for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Even the one blemish on that impressive stat line wasn’t his fault; his pick was a result of a perfectly thrown pass that caromed off Alshon Jeffery.
Pederson has been aggressive through his brief yet remarkably successful tenure with the Eagles. He has gone for it more often on fourth down than any other coach in the NFL this year — he was 2-for-2 Sunday night — and he had Foles pressure the Patriots’ defense from start to finish. On the game-winning drive, he went for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 45.
Pederson’s play-calling was never better than at the end. After the Eagles took over on what turned out to be the game-winning drive, he called a magnificent set of plays that took 7:01 off the clock and ended with Foles’ 11-yard pass over the middle to tight end Zach Ertz with 2:21 left, giving Philadelphia a 38-33 lead.
Philly’s defense finally produced its most important big play of the night, forcing a fumble by Brady that led to Jake Elliott’s 46-yard field goal to make it an eight-point game.
“My mentality coming into the game was to stay aggressive until the end and let [Foles’] playmakers make plays,” Pederson said. “I trust my instincts. In games like this against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions and keep yourself aggressive.”
It made all the difference. Pederson, who started coaching 11 years ago at Calvary Baptist High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft because he had the guts to make it work. Foles executed the game plan perfectly — a game plan that even included a touchdown pass to Foles on one of the great trick plays in Super Bowl history.
The straight-talking Pederson, a man who never thought twice about coming back to a city that had repudiated him nearly 20 years ago as a player, now is the toast of Broad Street as the first coach to finally deliver a Super Bowl.
Bravo to a spectacular job of conquering the legend of Belichick and Brady.