Controversy Over Alleged ‘Tanking’ Seems A Fitting End To Eagles’ Sorry Year

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In a season in which the Philadelphia Eagles and coach Doug Pederson seemed to either disappoint or rile people at every turn, Sunday night’s conclusion before a national TV audience might be only fitting.

The Eagles trailed the Washington Football Team 17-14 early in the fourth quarter when Pederson replaced starting quarterback Jalen Hurts with third-stringer Nate Sudfeld, who had not thrown a pass in an NFL game in two years.

The switch occurred in a game that meant nothing in terms of 2020 to the Eagles, who had already been eliminated from playoff contention, but everything to Washington and the New York Giants in competition for the NFC East title. The only thing at stake for Philadelphia was its final record (soon to become 4-11-1) and 2021 draft position.

When the QB switch occurred without Hurts having been hurt in any way, there’s a good chance you were dumbfounded — and then outraged — whether you were a New York Giants player or fan, or someone who had bet the Giants at long odds during the season to win the NFC East, or a bettor wagering on the Eagles days before the game, or simply someone who believes in the integrity of professional sports.

No one seemed impressed with the fact that Sudfeld had once received the Trans Valley League Outstanding Offensive Player Award, least of all a former Giant who knows something about quarterbacking.

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After Sudfeld’s interception, fumble, seven incompletions, and two sacks marred what was left of the fourth quarter, Washington won, 20-14. Its 7-9 record ignominiously put it atop the NFC East and preparing to host a first-round playoff game next weekend.

The Giants, whose tiebreaker advantage would have given them the division title despite their 6-10 record if Washington lost, will be watching playoff games on TV, if at all.

Can you spell T-A-N-K?

By losing, the Eagles — who had activated Sudfeld for the game in place of disenchanted one-time starter Carson Wentz — moved up from the ninth spot to sixth in April’s NFL Draft.

That is what led to widespread circulation of “tanking” allegations during and after the game, with media representatives from ESPN and the Philadelphia Inquirer both labeling the quarterback switch a “disgrace.”

Pederson, for his part, afterward denied any intent to lose, or any direction from the Eagles front office to do so.

“Yes, I was coaching to win,” he told the media. “Yes, that was my decision solely. Nate has been here four years and I felt he deserved an opportunity to get some snaps.”

It was not as though Hurts had excelled in the contest. He was 7-of-20 for only 72 passing yards with an interception. But the all-but-named Eagles’ quarterback of the future had also led two long touchdown drives capped by his own rushing scores.

Hurts said himself after the game that Pederson had indicated during the week that Sudfield was likely to get some game action.

Pederson had one other dismaying-to-some decision that affected the game’s outcome: With the Eagles trailing 17-14 late in the third quarter, he elected to to go for it on fourth down from the Washington 4-yard line instead of kicking a game-tying field goal. Hurts was still in the game at that point and threw incomplete in the end zone.

Some bettors on Eagles still won

It’s very possible the sportsbooks saw this Eagles fiasco playing out ahead of time.

The Pennsylvania online sportbooks initially had made Philadelphia a small favorite early in the week, then a slight underdog of 1.5 to 2.5 points by midweek. By Sunday afternoon, after the number of announced inactive players for the Eagles mounted, the point spread had reached more than 6 points.

That meant anyone who made a late bet on the Eagles covered with the points in the 20-14 loss. But those who bet early in the week, or took them on the moneyline, were losers.

Even bigger losers were those during the season who might have gotten odds anywhere from 5/1 to 9/1 on the Giants to take a division that no one seemed to want to win. Washington itself had odds just as long at times, while for many weeks the Eagles were the divisional favorite.

The downside for Washington is that, as just the fifth team to make the NFL playoffs with a losing record, is it now an early-line underdog by more than a touchdown for its game hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday.

The upside is that the last team of similar (lack of) stature, the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers of 2015, upset the Arizona Cardinals in the first round. The other thing in its favor, of course, is that Washington will be trying to win the game.

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at gary@usbets.com.

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