December 28, 2020
Whether it was self-deprecating or not, Doug Pederson stood front and center in North Texas on Sunday night just shy of three years off a Super Bowl LII championship to take the blame.
In the 35 months since Brandon Graham stripped the football from Tom Brady in Minneapolis, the Eagles somehow have gone from the "new normal" of the Lombardi Trophy to the ignominy of being the only team eliminated from a division race where six wins might end up being the standard.
A 37-17 setback — in which the Dallas Cowboys roared back from a 14-3 deficit by gashing the Philadelphia defense for 513 total yards — dropped the Eagles to 4-10-1, their first double-digit losing season since 2012 and just the fifth one in over three decades.
"As the leader of the team, it starts with me," Pederson offered in a contrite manner.
From a personal standpoint, the loss ended Pederson's three-year postseason string and put the exclamation point on his worst season as a head coach.
These days Philadelphia is far closer to the bottom of the heap in the NFL than Pederson's mentor, Andy Reid, and the reigning Super Bowl champions in Kansas City.
Pederson, though, wasn’t running from that.
Maybe it's just easier to hold yourself accountable with money in the bank in the form of a Super Bowl ring and the comfort of understanding another job is waiting if the plug is pulled here.
"If I don't look at myself in the mirror, it's hard for me to correct anybody else," the coach explained. "That's what I mean when I say it starts with me. Because I've got to look in the mirror and make sure I'm doing everything I can — whether it be play-calls, decision-making in games, personnel in and out of the football game, whatever it might be — to help our team win."
From a realist’s perspective, Pederson can't be blamed for the attrition that has Mike Jacquet playing Andy Dalton's punching bag, the coaching staff changes Jeffrey Lurie pushed on the coach or the personnel baton Howie Roseman handed to Pederson back in the spring.
If you believe Pederson underachieved with the hand he was dealt, however, the lifetime-dispensation card some awarded him for bringing a championship home for the first time since 1960 will turn out to have the shelf life of three years in a hot-take, social- media world.
Unrealistic expectations always skew things in the NFL.
Some observers — and that includes some high-profile ones in the NovaCare Complex — thought this team had an opportunity to be special.
The more even-keeled of us thought a division championship was aspirational. And no one figured last place was in play when Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones were penciled in as starting quarterbacks for division rivals.
"We had a lot of expectations going into the year," Pederson admitted. "... and then things began to sort of slowly unravel with the injuries and different things of that nature, all things that as a sport, are out of your control."
After the loss, Graham said coaching decisions are above his pay grade, but admitted he wanted Pederson back.
“Hopefully things happen the way we want it to and he is back. I know here everyone wants to win," the Pro Bowl defensive end said. "Whatever they see fit you’ve got to buy in. I love Doug. He’s a great motivator. He’s a great coach.”
Miles Sanders, meanwhile, even offered up a guarantee.
"I promise you better days are coming," the explosive running back said. "I promise you."
There's one final stop in the 2020 season, the opportunity to play spoiler against the WFT, before we find out if those better days include Pederson.
Knowing Lurie, he has already made up his mind and the missed trip to Cleveland might be the tea leaf giving away his intent.
"What's unfortunate is where we are, and we didn't make the most of our opportunities when we had them," Pederson admitted before also pivoting to say he was part of the solution.
And the coach is moving forward like it's his job to get this team back to relevancy.
"You look at decisions, you look at opportunities to put the team in better situations," he said. "All things that I will evaluate when I look back on the year."
John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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