In the second year of his program, Doug Pederson overcame the loss of his star left offensive tackle, his standout middle linebacker, his Pro Bowl running back/return man, an ace special teamer, his big-leg placekicker, and, late in the year, his All-Pro quarterback. And yet here is Pederson after the Eagles finished 13-3 and secured the top seed in the NFC playoffs, all kinds of fired up.
"We're one of six teams in the NFC in the playoffs and when we play there will be four teams left. It's an exciting time," Pederson says. "This team has been resilient all season. They came together and overcame losing a lot of players, very good players and key to what we've done, and we've just kept our focus and we've kept playing together and winning games.
"That's what this is all about: Playing as a team. Every player has a role and each player understands that. I'm proud of what we've done, but we also understand that we have a lot more work to do. We haven't achieved all of our goals."
Pederson has an upbeat personality that has translated well to his locker room. He understands what it's like to play in the NFL, having been in the league 13 seasons mostly as a backup quarterback. In his first season as head coach of the Eagles, Pederson put down a foundation during an up, and then down, 7-9 campaign. He and the coaching staff developed rookie quarterback Carson Wentz in 16 starts, setting the stage for Wentz to make a quantum leap in an All-Pro second year before suffering a season-ending ACL injury.
In 2017, Pederson took a team that most figured would be on the outside looking in at the playoff picture and instilled confidence, coached aggressively, and played with a selfless love on the way to an NFC East title that included a nine-game winning streak.
And despite losing all of those key players – left tackle Jason Peters, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, running back/return man Darren Sproles, special teams ace Chris Maragos, placekicker Caleb Sturgis, and, in a December win at Los Angeles, Wentz – the Eagles "kept it rolling" on the way to hosting Saturday's game.
"It starts at the top," safety Malcolm Jenkins says. "Doug has a steady hand. He knows what we're going through and we have a lot of trust in him. It's a situation where we've all come together for the common goal and that's a tribute to Doug and his message."
This is Pederson's first time as a head coach in the playoffs. He won a Super Bowl as a player in Green Bay and he's been an assistant coach in the postseason. But this is uncharted territory in this role: Win or go home.
As he has done all season, Pederson is taking the positive approach.
"It's a completely different game in the playoffs – different tempo, more pressure, and you understand what's on the line," Pederson says. "I love it. I'm excited about it. This is an opportunity that doesn't come around very often, so you want to take advantage of the situation. I know I'm having fun and our players are having fun.
"This is what we're here for, these moments. So why not go out and play loose and free and have fun? You want to be at your best right now. That's the goal."