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Doug Pederson’s return to Philadelphia a subplot to larger picture of Jaguars’ revival | Opinion

  • September 29, 2022

With his status as the only coach ever to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl crown, it’s safe to suggest that Doug Pederson will never have to pay for a beer in the City of Brotherly Love.

Sure, Pederson’s five-year tenure didn’t end well. You know, hired-to-be-fired.

Yet there’s no doubt that Pederson can return to The Linc this weekend with his head held high.

I mean, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a winning record! We’re not out of September yet, and there’s no way that Pederson has emptied out his playbook, but with their new coach, the Jaguars (2-1) are just one victory shy of matching their win total for the entire 2021 season.

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No, it’s not time to erect a statue for Pederson in Duval County. But that’s already been done at Lincoln Financial Field, where Pederson and his former quarterback, Nick Foles, are immortalized to commemorate the “Philly Special” that highlighted the Super Bowl 52 triumph.

Perhaps Pederson will finally take a few minutes on this trip to check out the statue that he’s never seen in person. Not his idea.

“Maybe one day after I retire or something like that,” Pederson said this week. “But I have no plans to anytime soon.”

Pederson is downplaying all of the personal stuff that might be associated with his return and the chance to knock the Eagles (3-0), now guided by Nick Sirianni, from the undefeated ranks. Some might tell you the Eagles gave him a raw deal, that the Super Bowl victory and then-quarterback Carson Wentz’s major injury setback and plummet should have allowed him the chance to rebuild with Jalen Hurts (drafted in the second round in 2020, Pederson’s final season).

Instead, Pederson is tasked to groom quarterback Trevor Lawrence and put Jacksonville on the NFL relevance map. After last year’s mess under the disgraced Urban Meyer, Pederson and staff have restored some of the basics – like professionalism and respect – while upgrading the football product ASAP.

After all of the misses over the years by Jags owner Shad Khan in hiring a coach, the vibe on his latest hire is so promising. Already, some of Pederson’s new players, bolstered by an impressive two-game winning streak – the Jags blasted the Colts and Chargers by a combined tally of 62-10 – are connected enough to the coach that there’s talk of winning one on Sunday for Pederson.

You never heard that from the Jaguars when it came to Meyer. Then again, I’m guessing that win or lose on Sunday, Pederson will be flying back from Philly with his team.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of emotions going back to that place for him, a lot of good … maybe some bad,” Lawrence told reporters this week. “I don’t know all his experiences there, but I know that’s got to mean something to him.”

Which reminds me. When Andy Reid, ousted after 14 years as Eagles coach, returned to Philadelphia with his Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, he spent the week downplaying the personal factors. The typically boisterous crowd saluted Reid with a standing ovation before the game, then again after the Chiefs posted a 26-16 win.

In the crowded visitor’s locker room, Reid went from stall to stall, shaking hands with players he congratulated on the win. Then he stopped and admonished me.

“I saw your pick,” Reid said, referring to the weekly slate of picks by the USA TODAY staff that until that moment I had no clue that the coach would bother reading.

He added, “You thought I would come back here and lose?”

Reid shot me a bewildered look, then shook his head.

Going back to Philly meant more than he had let on. It’s no wonder that someone asked Pederson if this week’s matchup serves as a test of his emotions, especially with the win-one-for-coach chatter.

“That’s great and everything, and I appreciate that from the team,” Pederson said. “Look, this is a good football team and it’s still Week 4 and there’s a lot of football ahead. We’ve just got to prepare and do the right things during the week, and that includes me.”

As juicy of a subplot that exists with Pederson’s return to Philadelphia, it is merely part of a much larger picture. The Jaguars are arguably the NFL’s biggest surprise (and if they’re not, it’s Miami) as they lead the AFC South. Consider the finishes of the past four seasons – 3-14, 1-15, 6-10, 5-11 – and it might be natural to wonder whether the fast start is a fluke.

Several indicators suggest that it’s real enough. Consider:

–Lawrence, expected to make strides in his second season after leading the league in interceptions as a rookie, just became the first Jaguar to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors since David Garrard in 2010.

–The much-maligned O-line has gone back-to-back games without allowing a sack for the first time since 2007. And during that same span, the unit has committed just one penalty. (How it measures up against a deep Philadelphia front that keyed a nine-sack assault at Washington in Week 3 will be telling).

–The sixth-ranked offense, with running back James Robinson back in a flow, dominated with three long TD drives (75 yards, 60, 68) against the Chargers.

–The defense, now coordinated by Mike Caldwell (formerly on Bruce Arians’ staff with the Bucs), ranks seventh for yards allowed and is No. 1 against the run. And first-round rookies Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd are hits.

–The Jaguars lead the NFL with a +7 turnover margin. Last year? They ranked dead-last in that category with a -20 number.

Early returns. Small sample size. Perhaps. But it is rather apparent already that these are not the same Jaguars. Do it again? That’s the way of the NFL world. Another week, another litmus test.

It’s just that this time the test comes with some extra sauce for Pederson.  

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