Birds traded op­tion for Wentz to act like a rookie

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

PHILADEL­PHIA >> The Ea­gles were about 45 yards from a rea­son­able chance to win a game Sun­day, had a minute and 28 sec­onds to ar­rive there, and had their choice of quar­ter­backs rolling onto the field.

That was the way they wanted it, how they con­cocted it, how they had in re­cent weeks turned it into a re­gion-wide celebration. They had Car­son Wentz, the cut-above tal­ent, the next-gen­er­a­tion so­lu­tion, the in-con­trol leader.

Eleven sec­onds and one in­ter­cep­tion later, they were, in ef­fect, done, doomed to a 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions.

“This is his fourth NFL start,” Doug Ped­er­son would plead, a day later, back in the News Con­trol Com­pound. “We are beat­ing him up over his fourth NFL start.”

Ped­er­son wasn’t an­gry that the first topic at his day-af­ter press brief­ing was about Wentz and the 41-yard pass he would throw into cov­er­age, the one in­ter­cepted by Dar­ius Slay. In fact, he’d al­ready dis­cussed it at length be­fore that par­tic­u­lar exhale. It was not the right play, and the Ea­gles’ coach, a for­mer quar­ter­back, knew that. Wentz, how­ever, would ar­gue oth­er­wise af­ter the game, in­sist­ing that the Lions sim­ply had made a great play. “Hat’s off,” he said, “to them.”

Typ­i­cally, any achieve­ment in an NFL game re­quires some of both, a slight mis­take by one side, an ath­letic cap­i­tal­iza­tion by the other. But there was Ped­er­son Mon­day, break­ing it down tech­ni­cally, and then re­duc­ing it to a foot­ball ba­sic: “From a quar­ter­back stand­point, ‘late down-the-mid­dle’ is ob­vi­ously not a good thing. That goes all the way back to my days in Green Bay with Brett Favre and talk­ing about that kind of stuff.”

So that’s what hap­pened as the Ea­gles fell to 3-1. Their firstyear quar­ter­back had a chance to lead a game-win­ning drive into field goal range, in a dome, on a day when their kicker, Caleb Stur­gis, had al­ready con­nected from 50, 49 and 33 yards.

into field goal range, in a dome, on a day when their kicker, Caleb Stur­gis, had al­ready con­nected from 50, 49 and 33 yards.

In­stead, he chose to throw it long, down the mid­dle, late. Ped­er­son, who is sin­gle-hand­edly re­mov­ing NFL coach­ing can­dor from the en­dan­gered species list, ac­knowl­edged that the bet­ter play would have been to find Jor­dan Matthews with a shorter pass. From there, there would have been some get-out-of-bounds ini­tia­tives, a pos­si­ble stop-the-clock spike or two, and, ul­ti­mately, the ap­pear­ance of Stur­gis.

If the Ea­gles had won, 26-24, the leg­end of Wentz would have ex­panded. In­stead, they dropped a game in which they were fa­vored be­fore en­ter­ing a more dif­fi­cult stretch on their sched­ule.

“Lis­ten,” Ped­er­son said. “It’s a teach­able mo­ment for him.”

That, though, is the con­tra­dic­tion be­tween what the Ea­gles had in­sisted and what they are re­quest­ing. They are ask­ing for time for Wentz to grow. Usu­ally, that would be a rea­son­able re­quest. And through train­ing camp, they were en­joy­ing ex­actly that. They had Sam Brad­ford as their No. 1 quar­ter­back for a year, two at the most. Then, it would be Wentz’s turn. But they’d seen enough of the rookie in camp, and they were over­whelmed by an of­fer for Brad­ford by the des­per­ate Min­nesota Vik­ings, who had just lost

Teddy Bridge­wa­ter to in­jury. So Brad­ford was out and Wentz was in and the Ea­gles would have to live with their de­ci­sion.

Once that hap­pened, though, they had com­pro­mised their right to ask for for­bear­ance. Once that hap­pened, they had for­feited their op­tion to find those teach­able mo­ments in the fi­nal two min­utes of a reg­u­lar-sea­son game of tackle foot­ball.

The Ea­gles are not a par­tic­u­larly young team. They can win this year. They were splen­did in their 3-0 start, Wentz in­cluded. Their divi­sion is bal­anced, but not over­whelm­ing. By mov­ing Brad­ford — and that haul from the Vik­ings was mas­sive — they de­cided that Wentz would play like a vet­eran. They had their first loss Sun­day be­cause late in the game he played like a rookie.

“The one thing about Car­son is that he has a short-term mentality,” Ped­er­son said. “It hap­pens once and he for­gets it and moves on. That’s what we’ve got to do in this sit­u­a­tion.”

How does Ped­er­son know that? How does any­one know that? Wentz, of course, will have an op­por­tu­nity to prove that. And ev­ery whis­per is that his film-room work ethic is le­gendary. That will help.

But the Ea­gles made a choice this sea­son to trust a rookie quar­ter­back in what looked to be a tight divi­sion race. That can’t be their ra­tion­al­iza­tion if they fall short.

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