While the New York Jets fought hard down the stretch, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reminded everybody what tanking really is.
It’s funny how this game works out sometimes. Expect the unexpected.
Expect a grocery manager named Kurt Warner to come out of nowhere by winning the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in a single season. Expect a quarterback who could barely beat out Drew Henson to be called the G.O.A.T. at every turn. Expect a Garfield, NJ native named Wayne Chrebet to sacrifice his body on a weekly basis while stealing the hearts of New York Jets fans.
This is the NFL; it deserves your expectations for the unexpected. And the moment you don’t expect the unexpected, you’ll come across a head coach who crystalizes tanking. You’ll familiarize yourself with a coach who spits in the face of the narrative that’s been following the Jets and the tired Trevor Lawrence tank race all season.
Doug Pederson, you sly and wicked individual, you. Just when the Jets organization had unfairly been used as the face of the 2020 tank season, an NFL head coach raised the ante.
Pederson pulled starting quarterback Jalen Hurts after three quarters in the final NFL regular-season game of the season. If Earl Morrall was the backup, no problem. But Nate Sudfeld entered and hilarity ensued in more ways than one. The Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth broadcast combo sent the NFL into tournament play on an all-time hilarious low, and appropriately so, courtesy of the “tank” monster that’s grown to an unprecedented size.
Who would have thought? Just when the Jets were the poster boys, the Philadelphia Eagles swoop in to save the tank day.
Narrative is the problem. It rules today’s media roost. The ESPNs, the FOX Sports, and even the Barstool Sports of the world, help set an initial and generic preset narrative that’s either added to or combatted over time.
The 0-13 Jets couldn’t possibly lose 13-straight games without at least trying to lose a couple. Not when a guy like Lawrence is the grand prize at the end of the tunnel. Not when Gregg Williams is calling a Cover 0 in a Hail Mary situation.
According to that very generic preset narrative, of course the Jets are in on the Mr. Burns-type medieval plan. According to reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth, and a guy like Pederson is needed for the masses to key in on the hypocrisy.
What were the Jets’ tank charges this season? We already know about Williams’s ill-advised Cover 0 call that led to the Henry Ruggs III miracle at MetLife Stadium. Naturally, mainstream media pundits hopped all over the story without a slight hesitation to think things through.
The Jets were trying to lose and you can’t tell me otherwise.
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) December 6, 2020
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but watch this and tell me the #Jets weren’t trying to lose this game.
Cover 0, with 13 seconds left & you spy Derek Carr like he’s Mike Vick in his prime?? pic.twitter.com/FR53RF1sxU
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) December 6, 2020
It didn’t stop at Emmanuel Acho, but he’ll serve as the centerpiece of the hypocrisy. A bad defensive call from a defensive mind who brings pressure in nut-crunching time—something he’s done routinely over his four-decade NFL career—was enough to crucify an entire organization. It was enough to bring integrity-damaging charges to the table—something that should never be taken lightly.
New York didn’t suspiciously send anybody to IR, mix up the lineup or remove players during games this season. The Jacksonville Jaguars did do that with the likes of Gardner Minshew, DJ Chark and James Robinson. Although injury was the reason for those moves, an eyebrow—not official tank charges—must be raised, nonetheless.
The Jets, though, remained true to Joe Douglas‘s vision: attempt to win every game no matter the situation. Douglas, a man who helped the Eagles win their only Super Bowl, is obviously no longer in Philadelphia. He’d be tossing and turning every night after what the world just witnessed on Sunday Night Football.
Even owner Christopher Johnson discussed the topic on a Monday conference call that put a bow on the ugly 2-14 season.
“Look, I understand that viewpoint and after so much disappointment, people were looking for, fans were looking for something to say, ‘This is our reward,'” Jonhson said when asked about the Lawrence miss. “But in this building, we play to win. I wouldn’t want anybody in this building who doesn’t want to win every damn game and the will to win is the heartbeat of the players that will take us back to the playoffs. You don’t want people, you don’t want anybody in this building, who wants to lose. I think in the long run people are going to be happy that we always want to do our best.”
He’s right. Over the long-haul, the “win every game no matter the scenario” mindset is the only correct one in football. No one man can change the fortunes of an entire organization, and the moment a team thinks that way is the instant it falls into an irreversible trap that allows tried and tested team-building principles to become secondary.
For those Jets fans mourning the likely loss of Trevor Lawrence, remember this one thing: Doing the right thing, and conducting your business the right way, trying to win every game no matter the situation, usually works out the in the grand scheme of things. #TakeFlight
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) December 27, 2020
The Jets don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt from a winning point of view. Until they finally put an end to the decade of horrid football fans have witnessed, nobody should expect anything from a success standpoint. At the same time, every franchise deserves the benefit of the doubt from a tanking perspective, as integrity-driven accusations should never come lightly.
Until they do what the Eagles did against the Washington Football Team, however.
Not so strangely enough, the poster boy of the day disagrees. Acho, who once played two seasons in Philly, doesn’t think much of Pederson’s actions on the grandest of regular-season stages. The ESPN employee continues to bang the drum for Pederson and the franchise he once played for, while never backing off the outrageous Gregg Williams charges.
3 points on the #Eagles “tanking”.
1: Hurts completion % is worst in NFL. After going 7/20 with 1 int, you could justify his benching.
2: Nate Sudfeld is a quality QB. He‘s been on the Eagles roster 4 years for a reason.
3: When games are “meaningless” coaches get guys reps.
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) January 4, 2021
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) January 4, 2021
It doesn’t matter that the loss catapulted the Eagles into the No. 6 spot in the 2021 NFL draft (from No. 9). It doesn’t matter that Sudfeld couldn’t lead a varsity team down the field on this particular night. It doesn’t matter Hurts was the kid who Pederson really needed to evaluate heading into the offseason.
It doesn’t even matter an NFL head coach didn’t allow his players to compete on the final day of their season.
Trevor Lawrence isn’t involved. It’s not the No. 1 pick. It doesn’t matter.
Emmanuel Acho on the Henry Ruggs miracle: “Gregg Williams intentionally tanked the Jets.”
Emmanuel Acho on Doug Pederson quite literally tanking: “Nothing to see here.”
That’s the mainstream media, folks. Consume it. Enjoy it. Just understand that it’s “business for clicks.” https://t.co/tEsUWbJMBi
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) January 4, 2021
Or, perhaps more appropriately, it’s not the Jets. It doesn’t matter.
See, with the Jets’ rabid fan base, clicks and traffic are up for grabs. The way everything in mainstream sports media is presented these days looks to capitalize on emotion. The angrier or happier any one mega fan base can become, the better the result.
It’s why you never saw those “Lawrence should spurn the Jags for the Jets” articles in the ether—and still don’t. (Don’t pay any attention to the idea that owner Shad Khan is the personnel king in Jacksonville. That’s a story better left for the Jets if it ever happened.) The eight fans in Jacksonville won’t provide that traffic-determined reward.
In Philadelphia’s very genuine case of tanking, the angle would work from an emotional point of view. It doesn’t get any better than folks from Philly. (Just ask Santa Claus after he took several snowballs to the face.) But the NFL wants none of it, and in the event of real tanking, the quieter, the better. It’ll always come to pass as a “let’s move onto the next topic as quickly as possible” endeavor—even if it were the Jets, and understandably so when thinking about the integrity of the game.
That doesn’t mean guys like Acho get to spew dishonest takes without a counter.
Forget the idea that Pederson will never live this one down. A coach simply cannot alienate his own players and own city to this degree and think it’ll never come back to haunt him. Forget the idea that players needed to be restrained after the game. Forget the idea that this situation is much different than a playoff team resting players with a tournament game ready to be played the following week. Considering it’s not the No. 1 pick and can fly a bit under the radar, it’s business as usual.
It has nothing to do with the big business that is the very top of the NFL draft. A tank for No. 6 is small potatoes compared to No. 1. And besides, the Eagles are a “model franchise,” one that’s tasted Super Bowl bliss recently with Douglas heavily involved.
It’s a charade that cannot last much longer. Thanks to independent media closing the walls a bit with each passing day, the big boys continue quick segments littered with hot takes that don’t add up in the long run. Emmanuel Acho is just one example. Plenty of hypocrites are crawling all over your Twitter timeline.
NFL draft expertise has become big business. Learning of collegiate names early and running through mock draft simulators is just another way of capitalizing on one’s specific emotion that is “hope.” Therefore, tanking must be involved. It has to be, for the NFL’s NBA brethren use the loaded word as routinely as an alarm clock.
A team must move towards a fan base’s overwhelming hope. The moment they don’t, they’re no longer doing right by the fans.
It’s the incorrect narrative the New York Jets dealt with over 17 weeks this past season. For that, give Douglas and even the recently-dismissed Adam Gase a pat on the back. They won games when it wasn’t fashionable to do so. They continued fighting no matter the public frustration spewed. And they continued to do the right thing all the way to the bitter end.
Fortunately for the Jets and unfortunately for the league, it took a real tank job on the final night of the regular season to allow some factual light to shine down on the subject. In a league of the expected, tired narrative, always expect the unexpected on the field.
The New York Jets fought the entire way, in spite of a too-good-to-be-true prize waiting for them on the other side. Then, suddenly, the Philadelphia Eagles caved when the football world was hoping they’d send the sport to the playoffs on a high note.
Thank you, Doug Pederson, for showing the NFL world what a real tank job is. If only the world can remember this moment when the next Trevor Lawrence presents himself to the masses. Perhaps, one day, real evidence will be required to point the vitriolic tank finger.