Super Bowl 2018: 'Philly Special' epitomizes the aggressiveness of Doug Pederson
The decision to throw a pass to Nick Foles on a fourth down took some major stones
MINNEAPOLIS -- The city of Philadelphia always maintains a distinct sense of aggression and its football team, the unlikely world-champion Eagles, are no different. Imbued with the spirit of Doug Pederson, a man whose onion bag cannot be properly quantified by any traditional sort of measurement, the Eagles lived up to their weeklong promise of stomping on the gas at every available moment.
Nothing defined that approach more thana play call no one outside the Eagles saw coming and a play call everyone on the Eagles was hardly surprised to see.
With the Eagles facing a critical moment, up 15-12 in the second quarter of the Super Bowl against the greatest dynasty in NFL history, staring down a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Pederson could have taken the points. He could have kicked. He could have even run the ball up the middle with one of his big backs. Instead, he let his backup tight end throw a pass to his backup quarterback after his third-down back took a direct snap from a shotgun formation.
"Coach has got some guts, huh?" a beaming Trey Burton, the only man to ever complete a pass to Nick Foles in a professional football game, said afterwards, his two small children perched on his lap. "He's got some big ones."
We all knew this: Pederson's been aggressive all season long, routinely going for it on fourth down and taking shots down the field when no one expected it. He had a 24-7 lead in the NFC Championship Game and opened up the second half by bombing a flea flicker down the field with his backup quarterback under center.
He'd been squatting on Philly Special -- the team's name for the play that featured Foles catching a touchdown -- for more than two weeks now, waiting patiently to uncork Burton's skill-set and a play that took massive huevos to call.
"We were thinking about running it [in the NFC title game]," offensive coordinator Frank Reich explained. "Do we run it against the Vikings after the Bears ran it a year before? We were ready to run it last week but the opportunity never came up and we didn't need it. So it probably worked out the best to hold it for these guys."
Burton was briefly a college quarterback at Florida, so he can clearly throw the ball. But he hasn't attempted a pass in his NFL career, meaning his first pass attempt was coming on a game-changing play on the biggest possible stage.
"You never really know what he's thinking. You hope he's thinking to go for it," Burton said. "Bro, you're talking the Super Bowl. Super Bowl 52. Philly's never won a Super Bowl and we're on the 1-yard line, fourth down and he calls a trick play pass to the quarterback.
"Like, bro, come on. You can't be serious. He's got a lot of guts."
Lost in the maw of an absolutely insane game was the way things turned on the Patriots in the first half when they attempted a similar play. Josh McDaniels dialed up a pitch to Danny Amendola, who then threw a pass to a wide-open Tom Brady. Brady .
The Patriots went for a fourth down on the next play, got stuffed and the Eagles promptly marched down the field in a couple of plays to score a touchdown and take a 15-3 lead.
The situation is difficult to magnify any more than it already was. Super Bowl. Fourth-and-goal. Add in the failure of the Pats on a similar play, and the heat is turned up to the equivalent of the sun blasting rays right into a microscope. Pederson stared into the void and didn't blink, buoyed by a confidence from all the way up the food chain.
"The pass to Nick? I was so confident in that play call all week," an unfazed Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie said in the locker room following the win. "Trey's an ex-quarterback. I didn't think they'd cover Nick. Nick could have caught the ball one-handed. He never drops the ball. Ever."
Lurie, along with everyone else, heaped praise on a man he's "known for 20 years," for his leadership style and, most importantly, his fearlessness.
"In today's world of sports you need to be able to truly connect at all levels and be genuine," Lurie said of his coach. "You gotta be fearless. He combines fearlessness and genuineness in a way that creates a world champion."
The mentality of the Eagles comes from Pederson, but it isn't some singular attitude with the coach. The players buy in, and it shows up on gameday. Burton was nudging Pederson to remind him Philly Special was sitting there in his back pocket.
"Low key, the last couple of games we've been in the red zone and I let him know we still had that play," Burton said. "I can't believe he called it."
Pederson is not filled with some kind of je ne sais quoi -- he just has a spirit rich with tendencies that ultimately would end up being defined as NSFW.
"I can't say exactly what it is, except to say, what a gutty call. What a gutty call," Reich said coyly. "That epitomizes Doug. It really does. He said he was going to keep his foot on the gas, he was going to do what it takes. He said he was going to keep them off balance. And when you do that kind of stuff, you have to put a lot of trust in your players. There's a lot of moving parts. You've got to have poise. And that's Doug. He's not only got the guts to call it, but he trusts his players to execute it."
The aggression Pederson displays, a willingness to go for it on fourth down in big spots -- Philly went 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions in the playoffs -- bleeds into third-down situations and makes the team more comfortable. Third down doesn't become do-or-die because they know Pederson will press his luck on fourth down if need be.
Statistically it's born out, with the Eagles converting an absurd 26 of their 43 third downs (60.5 percent) in three playoffs games en route to a title.
None of those conversions was bigger than the catch by Foles. It swung the pendulum in the Eagles' favor, and even if the Pats would manage to take the lead back, the aggression Pederson showed carried over as Philly continued to push for points. The play itself was born out
"Part of having a great offensive staff is every week we look at different plays around the league and the collegiate ranks, and things that over the years that might fit what we do," Pederson explained. "We found this one that fit, and we've been working on it for the last couple of weeks and tonight was the night."
A wild city full of aggressive fans, all starved for a championship, finally found their guy in Pederson, a coach with a Philly pedigree and an attitude to match, willing to lay it all out there in the biggest of spots, letting an unheralded tight end chuck the ball to a quarterback no one believed in.
Philly Special indeed.
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