Doug Pederson Explains Benching Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld: ‘I Was Coaching to Win’

In Monday’s Hot Clicks: Doug Pederson’s explanation for throwing in the towel, Stephen Curry’s career night and more.
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Everyone knows this isn’t true

The 256th game of the NFL season, played in prime time on NBC, is usually a great appetizer for the playoffs. Last year, the 49ers beat the Seahawks in the Sunday Night Football showcase to win the NFC West and clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs. This year, it left everyone watching with a sour taste in their mouths

The Giants, having beaten the Cowboys earlier in the day, just needed the Eagles to beat Washington to be crowned NFC East champions. Washington played like a team that knew it was on the brink of the postseason. The Eagles players played hard, too, but their coach didn’t. 

Early in the fourth quarter, Doug Pederson gave Jalen Hurts the hook and put career third-stringer Nate Sudfeld in the game at quarterback. Sudfeld was terrible, and the Eagles lost without putting up a fight.

After the game, Pederson explained his decision. 

“Yes, I was coaching to win,” Pederson said. “Yes, that was my decision solely. Nate has obviously been here for four years, and I felt that he deserved an opportunity to get some snaps. 

“Listen, if there’s anything out there that thinks that I was not trying to win the game, [Zach] Ertz is out there, Brandon Graham is out there, Darius Slay is out there. All our top guys are still on the field at the end. We were going to win the game.”

The charitable interpretation of that quote is that Pederson thought he could give Sudfeld a chance to play while also trying to win the game. Everything the national TV audience saw from Sudfeld should make it clear that there was no way that could be true. The game was over the moment Sudfeld stepped on the field. Pederson is right: The couple of star players who weren’t inactive did stay in the game, but at the most important position on the field, the Eagles were playing a guy who looked as ineffective and outmatched as Cowboys QB Ben DiNucci was against Philadelphia earlier this season. 

The uncharitable interpretation is that Pederson was lying his ass off when he claimed the Eagles were trying to win the game. Pederson can point to the presence of Ertz, Graham and Slay as evidence that he hadn’t fully given up on the game, but there’s simply no way to square that with his decision to put Sudfeld in charge of the offense. Even though Hurts played easily his worst game of the season, it’s ludicrous to suggest that the Eagles had a better chance of winning with him on the bench. 

Pederson added on Monday morning that he was also trying to evaluate some of the players further down the depth chart. 

If evaluating the future of the Eagles’ quarterbacks was the goal, then Hurts should have played the whole game. The biggest decision the team will have to make this offseason is whether Hurts will remain the starter and turn Carson Wentz into the league’s most expensive backup. Every additional snap Hurts takes—especially in a game where he struggled against an elite defensive line—helps make that decision easier. 

This isn’t college, either, where a benchwarmer gets some action in the season’s final game as a reward for putting in the work over the years. Unless you’re a playoff team incapable of improving your seeding, players want to win every regular-season game. The only other time Sudfeld saw extended game action was in the final game of the 2017 season, when the 13–2 Eagles rested Nick Foles against the Cowboys after having already clinched home-field advantage. 

Giants players and fans (myself included) are understandably upset that the Eagles’ lack of effort ended up deciding the division race. (The Giants could have also taken their fate out of the Eagles’ hands by winning more than six games.) Fans of the 30 other non-Washington NFL teams should also be upset that the Eagles turned the game into a mockery, and that Pederson had the gall to claim it wasn’t a sham. 

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