The Eagles beat the Giants 24-19, spoiling New York’s hopes at qualifying for the playoffs on Thursday night. Hooray. While the team should celebrate a tough division win, they should remember what they’re playing for at this point in the year. Pride…and the future.
Eagles rookie Carson Wentz was taken out of the game late in the third quarter when Giants’ defensive end Olivier Vernon threw him to the ground on a busted screen pass. Vernon was flagged for a late hit, but Wentz was shaken up and evaluated by team doctors.
Chase Daniel came in to replace Wentz on that drive, one that ended with the Eagles being stuffed on fourth down at the goal line, but the bigger story was Wentz being sent into the locker room for the NFL’s mandated concussion protocol testing.
Wentz was almost immediately cleared by independent doctors and was able to return to the game, but the question with five quarters left in the season was…should he have?
The Eagles were beating the Giants 21-16 when Wentz had to leave the game. With nothing to play for after officially being knocked out of playoff contention weeks ago, Pederson opted to try to score a touchdown to go up 12 points rather than kick a field goal to go up eight, forcing the Giants to score and get a two-point conversion just to tie the game.
The logic was simple: Pederson challenged the mettle of his team three weeks ago when it looked like some of his players had quit on the locker room. Going for it on fourth down shows his players there’s a bigger game at play. Winning this year no longer matters, but Pederson is concerned more with showing his team that he’ll never give up on them, asking his offense to fight for that one yard to show him what they’ve got.
Sure, the Eagles weren’t able to score a touchdown, but again, the result of this game doesn’t matter for anything other than pride. Which is exactly why Wentz never should have gone back into the game.
Let’s be clear, Wentz does not have a concussion. He passed the protocol as quickly as humanly possible. And yet, two plays after coming back into the game, Wentz was running for his life after the Giants defensive line nearly decapitated him.
A handful of plays after that, Wentz was out in the open field, blocking on a double reverse. This game meant nothing to the Eagles, as every man on the roster is just playing for pride, but yeah let’s have the future of the franchise out in the open field blocking for a wide receiver on a reverse.
This is fine.
Only, it’s not fine. It’s not fine at all.
Mike Tirico, calling the game for NBC, pointed out when news broke of Wentz being in the concussion protocol that the Eagles’ star rookie had a concussion in college. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that once a player gets one concussion he’s at a much greater risk for another, and another and another after that. Why was Wentz still in after even the specter of a concussion? To get a meaningless win? They already had the lead, and Daniel drove the Eagles right down the field when he came into the game.
Moreover, even if Pederson was okay with putting Wentz back into the game — again, he passed the protocol, so he was by all intents and purposes totally healthy and fine — why was he tasked with being the lead blocker on a flipping reverse?!?
Perhaps we’ve all been watching the Sixers handle their injured superstars too closely, but most of the city is still living in a world where the best athlete to come to Philly in 10 years is on a minutes restriction after missing two full seasons, waiting for the number one pick in this past draft to step foot on the floor after, himself, getting injured before the year began.
The only thing that matters to the Eagles right now is finding out what they have on the roster for next year. A case can be made that playing Chase Daniel for five quarters — one this week and next week’s season finale against Dallas — would give Pederson a chance to see what he has in his backup in case he’s needed in the future for games that actually matter.
Yes, Pederson has been clear that he’s trying to win games this year, and absolutely seeing the smiles on the faces of the players after the win showed how important morale can be for a team, but going for a touchdown on fourth-and-one when a field goal would have put his team up eight points — and a subsequent field goal they did attempt on a short fourth down would have made it 11 — doesn’t jibe with the logic that Pederson was actually trying to manage this game to win. (He did the same thing last week in going for the win on the final play, a call he probably doesn’t make if winning that game actually mattered.)
Pederson is trying to finish the season on a high note, and this win helps that. But nothing would be lower than his franchise quarterback ending the year with a concussion.
If Pederson wants to Trust the Process, as he’s often borrowed the phrase made famous by Sam Hinkie and the Sixers, he needs to understand it better. Winning on Thursday was great. Winning next year, with Wentz on the field, is what actually matters.
The decision to sit Wentz after he was checked for a concussion wouldn’t have been easy, but that’s the kind of tough decision a good head coach needs to make. That’s why Pederson telling the media for the last two weeks he’s trying to win games this season as he sees what he has for the future is a faulty tactic that could only come back to bite him in situations like this. Sitting Wentz there tells the team he doesn’t care about now, but what it should tell his team is that he cares about the future, which is what actually matters.
Wentz, again, is fine. In all likelihood, he will play a full game next week against the Cowboys and he’ll be healthy heading into the off-season after a record-setting rookie year. But if you’re a first-year head coach who has faced all the injury issues Pederson has dealt with this year — heck, in this game — the prudent decision would have been to sit Wentz, play Daniel, and worry about the future.