Another difference: Bieniemy hasn’t been fired recently. The belief here, though, is that Pederson’s ouster was more because of personalities, and the clashing thereof, than of a slippage in expertise. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie wasn’t thrilled that his team went 4-11-1 this season and that Pederson seemed to have had enough of Carson Wentz, the designated franchise quarterback who signed a four-year contract extension for $128 million in 2019.
Students of history will recall that the Eagles won the Super Bowl — beating the Falcons en route as a rare home underdog — with Nick Foles filling in for the injured Wentz. (They also beat the Falcons in the 2018 season opener, again with Foles again at QB.) The worth of Wentz, drafted No. 2 overall in 2016, is a matter of great debate. He was ranked No. 8, one spot behind Tom Brady, in ESPN’s preseason quarterback ratings last summer. (Matt Ryan was No. 11, FYI.) Wentz finished 28th among 33 qualifiers in passer rating in 2020.
By year’s end, Pederson decided to try the rookie Jalen Hurts as his starting quarterback. The Eagles won one of Hurts’ four starts. Then again, they’d won only three of Wentz’s 12. In the season finale, Pederson benched Hurts in the fourth quarter — Wentz was inactive — to take a look at the legendary Nate Sudfeld in what was still a winnable game against Washington. That Philadelphia lost wasn’t the worst thing in the world; it had already been eliminated from playoff contention, and by losing it secured the No. 6 pick, as opposed to the No. 9, in the 2021 draft.
Still, there was much consternation. NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth accused the Eagles of tanking. Several Eagles said they were shocked/dismayed at Pederson’s choice. Coach Joe Judge, whose Giants needed Philly to win so they could make the playoffs, deemed it a show of “disrespect.” Eight days later, Pederson got the gate.
ESPN had reported that the relationship between Pederson and Wentz was “fractured beyond repair.” The Eagles’ firing of the latter prompted NFL watchers to conclude — quoting Dan Orlovsky, also of ESPN — that the team “just chose Wentz over Pederson, and Pederson’s got a statue outside their stadium.”
I once typed a sentence suggesting the Falcons of Dan Quinn were the sort of misdirected team that a team of lesser talent but of better coaching “loved to see coming.” Full disclosure: The team of lesser talent I was envisioning was Pederson’s Eagles. The only time the men of Quinn beat Pederson’s Philly was when Julio Jones turned a fourth-down slip screen into a game-winning touchdown. (Oh, and Nelson Agholor then dropped what would have become the winning touchdown.)
The Eagles’ Super Bowl run will stand forever as a triumph of coaching. It concluded with a stunning victory over Belichick’s Patriots. One year earlier, the Falcons had been in position to beat those Pats and failed to hold a 25-point lead. I’ve spent much of the past few years asking myself, “What might those Falcons have done with Pederson as head coach?”
The opportunity exists for the Falcons to give the man himself a call. I can’t imagine they wouldn’t, but I’ve been wrong about this team before.