Eagles running back Miles Sanders had bolstered reports of dissension by telling a Philadelphia sports-radio station Tuesday, “If I’m being honest, nobody liked the decision. Nobody.”
“I don’t know who was the main person behind that decision,” Sanders, who didn’t play because of an injured knee, told WIP. “All I know is that a lot of people on the team was confused.”
Immediately after the 20-14 loss that denied the Giants a division title, Pederson addressed speculation that changing quarterbacks was meant to tank the game and help ensure Philadelphia a better draft slot. The fifth-year coach, who led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win three years ago, also denied that a directive to bench Hurts came from higher up in the organization.
“Yes, I was coaching to win and, yes, that was my decision solely,” Pederson said. He added that Sudfeld, a 2016 sixth-round draft pick by Washington who quickly committed a pair of turnovers, “deserved an opportunity to get some snaps.”
Pederson doubled down on those assertions in a news conference the next day and suggested he felt Sudfeld might move the offense better than Hurts. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday that, during the game, two unidentified Eagles players “had to be held back” from confronting Pederson over his decision.
Although Kelce, who spoke out at length last month against the idea of tanking, was identified by the newspaper and ESPN as an Eagles player who questioned his coach directly, the center disputed that Wednesday on Instagram, writing that neither he nor his teammates were confrontational.
Kelce wrote that at the end of the third quarter he was told that Sudfeld was coming in for Hurts. “I went up to Doug and asked him if he was taking Hurts out and he said, ‘Yes, I think Nate’s earned the right to play.’” Kelce said he asked if “everyone else is staying in” and, after Pederson said yes, Kelce said he went in search of Sudfeld. They began to take snaps and work with other linemen and Sudfeld to sync the snap count.
“At no point was anything from me or anyone else confrontational. We all knew leading into the game that Sudfeld was told to be ready to play and that Doug wanted to see what he could do in a game situation. All of us during the week leading up [to the game] were excited for Nate, a guy that has been with us for four years, to get an opportunity in a real game to show the world what he can do.
“We all have complete confidence in Nate as a player, there’s a reason he’s been here this long and a reason the team brought him back. And that’s because we feel like Nate is a guy we can win with.”
Kelce admitted “the optics of how it looked” were poor, adding, “I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little surprised, given the circumstances, that the move happened when it did, but every one of us did our best and all of us believe we can win with Nate Sudfeld.
“It was a difficult situation to be put into, especially when you have a 10-year veteran center who doesn’t snap the ball to you accurately on your second drive of the game. I know we can win games with Nate because I know Suddy can play. It didn’t work out Sunday, but, as always, that’s not just on him.”
The Inquirer described Hurts as being “distraught” about the benching. The rookie quarterback, a second-round pick who last month replaced Carson Wentz as the starter, was shown by NBC cameras while on the bench appearing to say, “It’s not right.”
Pederson, though, has insisted that getting Sudfeld on the field was one of his previously established objectives for the Eagles’ season finale.
“I had a plan all week, and my plan was to go into this football game, number one, to win the football game — bottom line, hands down,” he told WIP on Monday. “But also, we had a number of young players that were playing in this football game and I wanted to see these guys. And Nate, having been here since 2017, [deserved] the opportunity to play, and so I felt at that time to give him the opportunity to play.”
Giants players expressed confusion and disgust with the decision during the game, and their coach, Joe Judge, offered impassioned comments to reporters Monday.
“To disrespect the effort that everyone put forward to make this season a success for the National Football League, to disrespect the game by going out there and not competing for 60 minutes and doing everything you can to help those players win,” Judge declared, “we will never do that as long as I’m the head coach of the New York Giants.”
Another Eagles player, rookie safety K’Von Wallace, appeared to share Judge’s mind-set.
“If that ain’t your mentality to win them all,” Wallace tweeted Tuesday, “then what you playing for?”