PHILADELPHIA — A bronze statue of Coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Nick Foles stands outside the Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium — commemorating the Philly Special, a fourth-down play that helped the 2017 team win the franchise’s first Super Bowl title after over a half-century of shortcomings.
Pederson, the starting quarterback for the Eagles in 1999, was beloved in Philadelphia after that win: Fans were enamored with his gutsy play-calling and embrace of the city’s underdog mentality. (Some fans got “Philly Special” tattooed somewhere on their bodies.) But Pederson’s grace in Philadelphia quickly evaporated, and he was fired three years later, after a four-win season in 2020.
On Sunday, Pederson headed back to Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since 2020, this time as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was greeted by deafening cheers as the 2017 Super Bowl banner was shown on the stadium’s video screen. The applause was surprising, considering it came from a fan base that rarely celebrates anyone not wearing the Eagles’ midnight green.
Roars from the Eagles’ white-knuckled fans donning green ponchos and sweatshirts because of pouring rain continued throughout the game, but they were for the Eagles, who beat the Jaguars, 29-21. The win moved the Eagles to 4-0, keeping them as the lone undefeated team in the N.F.L.
The Eagles have been one of the most surprising teams in the N.F.L. this season, mainly because of how they have beat opponents. Philadelphia has been buoyed by Jalen Hurts, who last year seemed to lack the discernment and throwing power needed from a long-term starting quarterback but this year has been among the best in the league.
Hurts was the N.F.C.’s offensive player of the month in September. He made throws he did not seem capable of until this season and led the league in multiple passing categories while also thrashing teams with his running.
But on Sunday, when the rain and nearly 20-mile-per-hour winds broke many umbrellas and the wet field made creating space arduous, passing was hard to come by. On the Eagles’ first drive, Hurts threw a pass behind receiver DeVonta Smith that was tipped, intercepted and returned for a touchdown. So the Eagles relied on the running game first with Hurts, who bulldozed a defender in the second quarter on the way to a score, and then with running back Miles Sanders, who had the best rushing game of his career: 134 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.
“I know half the league is people from the South,” said Sanders, who grew up in Pittsburgh. “But I know when it gets cold, Southern players don’t like to tackle, so I like these games.”
The most successful teams in the N.F.L. are typically those that can thrive no matter the elements: the heat in Arizona, the altitude in Denver, the snow in Green Bay. What the Eagles accomplished Sunday makes them seem like a team that is doing much more than experiencing a lucky stretch.
While the Eagles’ offense chugged along, the Jaguars’ offense stalled, and seemed to be much more affected by the weather. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence turned the ball over five times, including four fumbles. And the Jaguars’ offensive stars dropped passes and couldn’t seem to find their footing on the wet field. Hurts’s interception was the Eagles’ lone turnover, and their players made cuts much more effectively than the Jaguars (2-2) did.
“He knows how important it is to take care of the football,” Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni said of Hurts. “You know because that’s such a key. It’s such a key to winning and losing games, and I think that even elevates without it when it’s messy outside.”
Lawrence was frustrated after the game, saying he knew he let the team down, and Pederson said it was clear the weather had an impact on him.
“We can’t turn the ball over five times like we did and expect good things to happen,” Pederson said. “We’re going to be in games like this where the conditions aren’t going to be favorable. We just have to do our part to hang on to the ball.”
And though the weather affected Lawrence and the Jaguars had turnover issues, the Eagles’ defensive line swarmed Lawrence in ways the Jaguars defense could not reciprocate. The Philadelphia defense was led by defensive end Haason Reddick, who sacked Lawrence two times, forcing him to fumble on each occasion, including one to seal the game. And Reddick took offense to the idea that weather had a significant impact on the Eagles’ defensive performance.
“Why would we sit here and make weather an excuse for anybody?” Reddick asked, adding: “We came out here and played in the same exact weather they did. Nobody was talking about whether they went up, 14-0, on us, was they?”
Reddick added: “We know where we can be, you know, we know what we can do. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it. It doesn’t really matter if we don’t execute.”
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