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Doug Pederson Had an Ace in the Hole

Super Bowl LII had everything. Great players, spectacular plays, excitement, suspense, and even a fairy tale ending for those who like to root for the underdog. Well, the game had almost everything – if you care about stout defenses.

The key play of the game happened with 38 seconds remaining in the first half. The Patriots had just scored on a seven-play 90-yard drive, cutting the Eagles lead to three points.

The Eagles took over at their own 30 with 1:59 left in the half. QB Nick Foles continued his pinpoint passing with a finesse toss to Corey Clement, who rambled for 55 yards, down to the 8-yard line. Two runs by Clement gained seven yards, but a pass to Alshon Jeffery on third down failed to connect. With 38 seconds left, the Eagles faced a fourth down midway between the 1- and 2-yard lines. Coach Pederson called a timeout.

To the astonishment of the TV broadcasters, the Eagles came out without their field goal unit. Foles lined up in the shotgun position, with running back Clement behind him. Prior to the snap, Foles walked over and parked himself just behind his right tackle. The snap went to Clement, who swung to the left, then lateraled back to Trey Burton, who was running a reverse. Foles meanwhile drifted to the right into the end zone. Burton lobbed a pass to the quarterback, who had been left completely undefended.

Here’s how the broadcasters described it. Cris Collinsworth: Here we go, this could decide the game… Al Michaels: Trey Burton throws, caught, Foles, touchdown. How do you figure? They go to the very, very back of the playbook for the touchdown… Collinsworth: What a play call by Doug Pederson. This play call has a chance to be remembered as one of the all-time greats – just going for it… wow, what a call… Michaels: Doug Pederson, he’s going to be aggressive – that’s as aggressive as you can possibly be. Collingworth: One of the all-time gutsy calls right there… That’s breathtaking – in a Super Bowl, that’s a breathtaking call.

Yes, it was exciting, unexpected, and well executed. But was it really all that risky, aggressive, and gutsy? I don’t think so. With two weeks to prepare for the game, the Eagles planned well. The play had obviously been saved for just such an occasion. They had undoubtedly been practicing the play. Burton was a college recruit of the University of Florida and coach Urban Meyer – as a quarterback.

What was there to go wrong? Burton handled a routine lateral, and threw the pass well before the defense got near him. There was no chance of a knockdown by a lineman, as all he had to do was throw a lob. Receiver Foles had plenty of room to make the easy catch – he was left completely undefended and was nowhere near the sideline or back line. It was a simple play to execute. The only thing that could have gone wrong was if a defender had shadowed Foles – but no one did.

Because Doug Pederson had a play ready-made for the situation, his decision to pass up the field goal in retrospect seems pretty easy. It wasn’t a risky play at all – coach Pederson had an ace in the hole.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Howard February 5, 2018

    I think Pederson owes credit to Nate Scarborough (2005 edition) for the play concept. Hell, guys, there Eagles they always go for it all.

  2. Kato February 5, 2018

    If they didn’t convert that playcall and lose, he would have been ridiculed by the media.

  3. PF4L February 5, 2018

    I forgot at what point in the game this happened and i’m not going to go find it. But it took some big balls for the Eagles to go for it on 4th down from their own 45 yard line.

    Happy for the Eagles win, although i had no horse in the race, entertaining game.

    Maybe the best part was that after the queens got their asses handed to them, the Eagles came into Minnesota to 1) Play in the Super Bowl instead of the queens. 2) Then win it…lmao.

    As i’ve stated in the past, every team in the league is important, even the losing teams. Because without the losing teams and their loser fans, we wouldn’t know who the winners are. The queens know their role in this league and they know it well.

  4. Capt. Fritter February 5, 2018

    Just remember, the Patriots tried almost the same play earlier and Brady dropped the pass. Kudos to Pederson who never took his foot off the gas nor the throat of the Patriots. If only McCarthy was nearly as aggressive with his play calling.

  5. CZ Stevens February 5, 2018

    Great story. Great writing.
    I will always prefer a team that has not won in a long time, win over a team that wins regulaely … with 3 exceptions:
    1) the underdog is playing against Green Bay
    2) the underdog is the Vikes (without Favre of course)
    3) the underdog is another division rival with fur and 4 legs

  6. Cheese February 5, 2018

    Pederson said multiple times his plan was to play aggressive. That’s the opposite of McCarthy. As soon as the Packers get a lead he throws the offense into neutral and the defense plays prevent the rest of the game hoping to coast to a win until they lose the lead to a team that wants it more.

  7. Howard February 5, 2018

    Almost every time the Eagles were within striking distance they went for the end zone shot. It worked at least three times. The Eagles were not going to let the Patriots and the Patriots red zone defense hold them to field goals if they could avoid it.

  8. Cheesemaker February 6, 2018

    I don’t care how much time you have to prepare that play, using it on 4th in a SB took huge stones. LOTS of things can go wrong. Foles can drop a gimme (ala Brady on nearly identical play; or James Jones in SB XLV ). Burton could overthrow; a rogue defender could bust through and blow it up in the backfield. Hats off to Pederson for the call and to his guys for executing.