The division rested on Nate Sudfeld’s well-rested shoulder. The Eagles’ third-string QB, who hadn’t taken a snap in three years, entered Sunday Night’s game with Philly down three to Washington and the NFC East crown in the balance—a WFT win would put them in, while a loss would send the Giants to the playoffs. Sudfeld turned the ball over on two of his first five snaps. That was more or less that. So let’s see how the various East teams and cities handled the Eagles’ announcement that, if they weren’t quite trying to lose, they were actively not trying to win.
(Here comes the “to be sure” paragraph where I more or less negate this blog’s reason for existing. Feel free to skip it.) To be sure, the Giants have themselves to blame. No 6-10 team deserves to make the postseason. If they didn’t like their destiny being controlled by a Philly team with nothing to play for, they should have won more than one game against a non-divisional, non-Bengals team. And Doug Pederson and the Eagles certainly don’t owe the Giants anything.
All that being said: Man, that game sucked ass. Some sizable portion of the anger this morning is due to the fact that this was a primetime game. It was flexed to Sunday night because it was the only win-and-they’re-in game on the slate, the only game with inherent stakes that didn’t rely on another result, and I supposed it lived up to that billing, anyway. But it’s extremely irritating when a national game is a shit factory, because there’s nothing else to flip over to. As an entertainment product—and please never forget that that’s all the NFL is—this was brutal to watch. You’d want your money and your time back. Especially if you’re on the East Coast, and made the decision to stick with it through halftime and stay up for the whole thing, only to see Pederson promptly throw in the towel (Sudfeld is the towel).
For his part, Pederson maintained he wasn’t giving up when he benched Jalen Hurts, who had been responsible for Philly’s only scoring. “Yes, I was coaching to win,” he said. “That was my decision solely [to bring in Sudfeld]. Nate has been here for four years and I felt he deserved an opportunity to get some snaps.” Never mind, I suppose, that Pederson contradicted himself here in the span of three sentences, first claiming that he was trying to win, then admitting that Sudfeld was getting playing time as some sort of heartwarming Senior Day moment. And never mind that there’s no earthly reason why the jury should still be out on Sudfeld; if a coach wants to know if his backup is capable of throwing a football more than eight yards downfield (he’s not), he probably should have figured that out at some point in the last four seasons. But Pederson’s job for next year is safe, and he knew it, so why not give his best employees a half-day off, and move up three draft spots in the process?
The Eagles shitting their pants—or more accurately, deciding to change into pre-shitted pants—wasn’t enjoyable for just about anyone. Not for the team who needed them to put up a fight, not for their own fans who wanted to see their team avoid embarrassment for just one single week, and not for any of the tens of millions of TV viewers who were hoping for something entertaining to send off the regular season. In that, this was the perfect ending for the NFC East.
The NFC East was historically bad this season, and in a way that rewarded close viewing. These four teams weren’t merely poorly constructed, shoddily coached, injury-prone, and bereft of talent, though they were all those things. More than just being statistically awful, these four teams had a preternatural knack for stepping on their own dicks in the biggest moments; for losing, yes, but for losing painfully and hilariously. One of these teams had to bumblefuck its way to the division title, and it would have been a betrayal of everything the NFC East has come to stand for had it not come down to something that only by the merest of technicalities could be called football.
To put this in more specific terms, what would have been more NFC East than the Giants throwing away their chance at the division with a non-contact fumble? Answer: Re-securing the win when that same fumbler downed the ball with his own butthole. And what would be more NFC East than even that? Answer: None of the butthole sequence ultimately mattering because of Nate Sudfeld.
The division promised us exquisite garbage and it delivered to the very end. The only fitting ending was not, it turned out, a 6-10 team making the playoffs for the first time ever. It was that 6-10 team getting screwed because an even worse team mailed it in. It’s an ending that left everyone involved dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and covered in a grimy film of unpleasantness. It’s the only ending the NFC East deserved.