Spadaro: Pederson leads Eagles to the postseason

This run was for coach Doug Pederson. In his third season with the Eagles, Pederson had at times in 2018 faced intense criticism only months after delivering the first Super Bowl in the history of the franchise. His practices were shoddy, some said. He didn’t run the football enough, harped the critics. He wasn’t daring enough as he had been a season earlier, yelled sports radio.

Well, Pederson wins this one. By a knockout.

The Eagles turned a 4-6 record into a 9-7 record and a playoff berth by winning five of their final six games, and nobody is ripping Pederson now. The Eagles head to Chicago for the NFC’s Wildcard Playoff game on Sunday afternoon and if you don’t like the Eagles’ chances, then you haven’t been following the fortunes of a championship team that showed Lombardi Trophy mettle to reach the postseason for the 26th time in franchise history.

“We’re playing our best football right now,” Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz said. “That’s what you want to do. You want to peak, and we’re peaking at just the right time.”

Nick Foles has been brilliant replacing the injured Carson Wentz, throwing six touchdown passes and three interceptions in his three December starts and invigorating an offense that had trouble getting its engine started all season. Foles didn’t finish the game at Washington after suffering a chest injury, but he’s expected to be the starter on Sunday (4:40 p.m., Fox) when the Eagles play at the Chicago Bears.

How did the Eagles turn it around with the December flurry? They believed in Pederson, they didn’t point fingers and they played with an urgency that had been missing for much of the year. Foles and his play at quarterback helped, no doubt, but there is a whole lot more to the turnaround, and a strong reason to believe will give the powerful Bears a fight on Sunday. The Eagles have their swagger back, plain and simple, and they’ll carry that into Soldier Field for the playoffs.

“We’re not popping champagne bottles here,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the win at Washington. “We expected to be here. The road wasn’t a straight one and it wasn’t paved for us. We had to work hard to get here. But we’re here and we plan to do some damage. We’re a confident team. We’ve been in the playoffs before.”

How do the Eagles beat the Bears? They have to block the best front seven in football, led by pass rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack. The Bears are fast and they are physical and they have a great scheme. Foles can’t turn the ball over, the Eagles have to establish a running game and they have to be patient. On defense, the Eagles have to slow down a good Chicago running game and make life miserable for second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

If – and this is a big if – the Eagles can jump out to a lead and make the Bears, who aren’t the most explosive team in the league, play from behind and rely on Trubisky to win with his arm, then the Eagles are in a good position. That’s the way to win, plain and not so simple.

Pederson gains another notch of credibility for what he’s accomplished for this season, so why doubt him now? The Eagles are in, and they’re planning to make sure the rest of the NFC knows that champinos don’t die easily. ••