PHILADELPHIA – For Philadelphia Eagles fans, it looked like a dramatic reenactment of Super Bowl XXXIX. The New England Patriots had the lead in the fourth quarter, and their opponent was deliberately moving downfield, burning time as effectively as moving the football.
In this case, it was an AFC divisional playoff game on Jan. 16 and the Patriots were leading the Kansas City Chiefs 27-13 with 7 minutes, 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs got the ball at their own 20-yard line and drove 80 yards for a touchdown.
The drive took 5 minutes, 16 seconds. The Chiefs, like the Eagles back in 2005, appeared to be moving with no urgency at all. They got one score, but they left themselves little time to get the second one they needed. Kansas City tried an onside kick with 1:13 left on the clock. New England recovered and ran out the clock.
The common element, of course, was Andy Reid. He was head coach of the Eagles in that perplexing Super Bowl and he was on the sideline as the Chiefs did their Eagles imitation. Only later did it become known that Reid wasn’t calling plays during that fourth quarter in New England. His offensive coordinator, Doug Pederson, was.
It turned out that Pederson had begun calling plays in the second half of Chiefs games back on Oct. 25. Reid called the first half; Pederson took over in the second half. The Chiefs won 11 games in a row that way, including a playoff game against the Houston Texans.
“Coach Reid and I had a great understanding and a great feel for the game,” Pederson said last month. “He allowed me to call the second half of every football game from that Steeler game on. The second half of our playoff game the other night, I had the second half.”
Pederson’s role in the playoff loss at New England became a bit of a story after he was hired as head coach of the Eagles last month.
“It took us time because, No. 1, we did not want to give Tom Brady the ball back,” Pederson explained at his introductory news conference. “We knew we were going to score. We knew we had timeouts and time. … We still had timeouts and time, even with the onside kick, to put ourselves in a position to tie the football game.”
The rest of Pederson’s tenure as a playcaller is worth examining. After all, he said he plans to call plays as head coach of the Eagles, so what exactly are fans going to see?
The Chiefs were leading the Pittsburgh Steelers 9-3 at halftime of that Oct. 25 game. In the second half, with Pederson calling plays, the Chiefs scored a third-quarter touchdown with a nine-play, 52-yard drive. Pederson called three pass plays and six runs on the drive.
In the fourth quarter, Pederson called plays on an 84-yard touchdown drive that burned 5:04 off the clock. The Chiefs won the game 23-13.
A week later, against Detroit, Pederson took over with a 24-3 lead. The Chiefs added three touchdowns as Pederson remained aggressive. Kansas City won that game 45-10.
Pederson inherited halftime leads in the next two games. At Denver, he padded a 19-0 lead to 29-0 early in the fourth quarter. At San Diego, a 12-3 Kansas City lead became a 33-3 victory with the help of a defensive touchdown.
On Nov. 29 against Buffalo, the Chiefs were losing 16-14 at halftime. Pederson took over and directed four scoring drives: three field goals and one 64-yard touchdown drive. Kansas City won 30-22.
The next week, the Chiefs were down to Oakland 14-7 at the half. They won 34-20, with three touchdown drives. The Chiefs drove 80 yards for one score. The other two were shorter drives set up by Kansas City interceptions.
The Chiefs had a 10-0 halftime lead in a game they won 10-3 against San Diego. Pederson was not calling plays for any scores in the second half. The Chiefs did miss a field goal. Otherwise, they were content to burn four-to-five minutes of clock before punting and letting their defense protect the lead.
At Baltimore the following week, the Chiefs led 24-14 at halftime. They added a touchdown on a 90-yard interception return by Marcus Peters in the third quarter. Pederson did call plays for a 14-play, 81-yard field goal drive that took up 8 minutes, 41 seconds.
During the last two regular-season games, Pederson was protecting leads built in the first half. The Chiefs had only three second-half possessions in a 17-13 victory over Cleveland. They killed 8:50 of the fourth quarter in a 23-17 win over Oakland.
In the playoff victory at Houston, the Chiefs took a 13-0 halftime lead. They added 17 points in the second half, scoring touchdowns on 94- and 71-yard drives in the third quarter and held the ball for 9:46 of the fourth quarter.
Throughout those games, Pederson’s play calling helped minimize turnovers and other mistakes that could have turned the game around. The Chiefs were able to strike quickly – and 80-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to running back Charcandrick West in Denver – or drive into the red zone and convert.
They did that in the fourth quarter against the Patriots. They just took a very long time to get there. The only thing missing was a touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Greg Lewis to complete the picture.