Doug Pederson stands in front of his football team each morning at the NovaCare Complex, laying out his daily message, detailing the schedule, and providing some words of wisdom. He asks his players to commit to the moment, and this moment is a special one: The Eagles are one win away (or an improbable Packers win over visiting Minnesota on Saturday) from clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
“We listen and we hear him and his message is important,” defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. “He’s handled us extremely well all season. He played in the league and he knows what it’s like to go through this day by day, how much of a grind it is. He’s pushed all the right buttons with this team.”
Pederson really has done that from the time he was named the Eagles’ head coach. He has taken the positive, upbeat approach with his players, giving them the freedom to establish a culture in the locker room but also making sure the players know that there will be no lines crossed.
A players coach? Yeah, sure. He understands what the players go through in a season – the daily pressures, the mental and physical challenges. What Pederson has done with this team – one on the verge of tying the 2004 Eagles for the most wins in a single regular season – has been remarkable and deserving of credit.
But it’s early for all of that and, besides, Pederson isn’t the kind of guy who seeks credit. He’s far from a “me, me, me” kind of head coach. Instead, Pederson has set an inclusive mentality on the football team. The Eagles are all in, all for one and one for all.
And there is no sense that the team has accomplished a thing, because the goal in the NFL is to finish No. 1.
“The way it is in this league,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said, “is that one team wins and the other 31 lose at the end of the season. The only win that is truly satisfying is the Super Bowl.”
We’re a long way from that, of course. The Eagles have a prime-time game on Christmas night against the Oakland Raiders, a dangerous 6-8 team that figures to come to Philadelphia playing with no strings attached. Oakland has nothing to lose.
The Eagles have a ton to lose.
said. “Doug knows that. We all know that. We’re going to have maximum focus and preparation for this game. It’s a one-game season for us. We’ve really played all year to get to this point, to win a game and clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs. How many players and teams are in this position? It doesn’t happen over the course of many players’ careers.”
Pederson’s approach to this week has been to back off on the rigors of high-intensity practices, shave off some time from the players’ daily schedules, and try to get the most from a team that has been on the move, with the exception of the bye week, since September. It’s an exhausting process, and every player on every team is feeling the effects of it to one degree or another.
So instead of hammering his players this week, Pederson is preparing them mentally in the classroom, making sure they get in their conditioning and using walkthroughs instead of up-tempo practices for a portion of the week.
“It makes a big difference,” Smith said. “Getting your legs back is what’s important.”
“A light day can make a huge difference,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Every little bit of rest you can get is helpful.”
We’ll see what this means when Monday night rolls around. Pederson has his finger on the pulse of his team as kickoff nears, and he’s certainly been outstanding calling the offensive plays and overseeing the sideline and gameday operations in his second season as head coach.
The Eagles are 12-2, on the verge of something truly important. An entire organization, buoyed by an incredible worldwide fan base, has taken a significant step forward in 2017. One more win remains.
“We’re right on the verge of finishing our biggest goal of the regular season and I want this football team to finish strong,” Pederson said. “You want to start fast and finish strong. The players have responded all season and I expect them to do the same on Monday night. We have a lot to play for. The atmosphere is going to be electric. I’m excited for what’s ahead.”