The fourth-down touchdown pass to his quarterback or the fourth-down gamble with 9 1/2 minutes left on his own half of the field — take your pick as to which took the greatest courage from Eagles coach Doug Pederson.
Just brace yourself for more of it.
In a copycat league, there can be no greater incentive than that sterling silver Lombardi trophy or those solid gold rings, both of which belong to Philly because Pederson was bold enough to go snatch it.
“We just wanted to stay aggressive,” Pederson said after the Super Bowl. “My mentality coming into the game was to stay aggressive until the end and let playmakers make plays. I trust my instincts.”
At this point, if you’re sitting back and wondering why the Dolphins don’t play this way, brace yourself.
Or at least they try to.
Only the Eagles and Packers went for it on fourth down more than Miami’s 24 tries this season, so you can’t fault Adam Gase for playing it too close to the vest. You can, however, fault the players for not making the most of it, because the Dolphins converted just seven of those opportunities, a rate of 29 percent that ranked 29th in the league.
It signaled a huge change from Gase’s first season, when the Dolphins were last in the NFL in attempts (four) and successes (zero).
“What do we have to lose?” Gase said in October, after two second-half gambles were critical to the Dolphins breaking a team record by overcoming a 17-0 halftime deficit to win in Atlanta 20-17.
Damien Williams caught a 3-yard pass on a fourth-and-1 and Landry went airborne for a 9-yard catch to convert a fourth-and-2. The Dolphins parlayed them into 10 points.
That’s the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. Joe Philbin was roasted for admitting he felt “queasy” when he played it close to the vest and lost a 2014 game against the Packers, but in each of his final two seasons, the Dolphins had the third-most fourth-down attempts in the league. Now, one could argue that losing teams and teams that fall behind early are often put in position where they have to gamble. Both are classic characteristics of the Dolphins, but that only goes so far in explaining the numbers.
The exasperating part is how little those Dolphins rewarded Philbin’s trust, finishing in the bottom third in conversions. To find the last time the Dolphins were any good on fourth down, you have to go back to 2009 when they were 13 of 18, 72 percent. Only the Jets (75 percent) were better.
After the Super Bowl, the Eagles were complaining that Pederson should have been coach of the year. If votes were counted after the playoffs, he certainly would have been, but what’s the use in that, since it would just reaffirm whoever won the Super Bowl?
Trend-setter of the year, that’s Pederson, jettisoning his punter to no-man’s land while telling his offense to move the chains on fourth down 26 times this season. The Eagles succeeded 17 times times (65 percent), giving new meaning to the term Philly stakes. It’s the kind of take-what-we-want attitude of the Patriots’ Bill Belichick (remember that fake punt against the Dolphins?) and the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin (who never met a two-point conversion he didn’t like).
The Eagles calling a razzle-dazzle pass to quarterback Nick Foles in a Super Bowl — that was stunning enough. Then, when Pederson went for it on the negative side of the 50, when failure could have clinched defeat — that’s when we began to realize Pederson hadn’t lost his marbles, he was proving he had some, uh, serious stones. The previous Super Bowl had taught him what happens to Patriots opponents who play scared.
“In games like this against a great opponent, you have to make those tough decisions and keep yourself aggressive,” Pederson said.
As tight end Zach Ertz said to Sports Illustrated, “Doug balled. He called an unbelievable game.”
Believe it. And next season, get ready for a little more of it.