Birds traded option for Wentz to act like a rookie
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.