Wentz coming up short when it counts
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. >> Even if football fortune didn’t plant the Eagles 34 yards from a game-deciding touchdown Sunday, Jordan Matthews would have had the same thought. It was the one he had the last time the Birds played, and two other times before that. It was the one he will have again, but louder the next time.
“We’ve got to win,” he said. “We’ve got to win. We’ve been in these situations a couple games now, and it is time for us to start winning these ballgames.”
The Eagles have lost four times this season, including Sunday, 28-23, to the New York Giants. Each time they had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie, to win or to al-
ter their season. And they didn’t. In Detroit, there was a late interception. In Washington, there were a couple of sacks. In Dallas last week, they took the ball with 1:13 left, lost nine yards and fell in overtime.
Then, there was Sunday, when, on cue, Eli Manning gave them a chance for the annual Miracle of the Meadowlands, floating a pass deep in his own territory that was intercepted by Jordan Hicks. With that, onto the field rolled one Carson Wentz, the appointed one, the player the Eagles so had to hire that they surrendered years of draft picks and eventually moved Sam Bradford to free the No. 1 quarterback spot. Yet Wentz would end that possession with four consecutive incomplete passes.
With that, the Birds, who once were 3-0, were at .500 halfway through their season, winless in their division and losers of four of their last five. With that, there was a suspicion: There just might not be a Black Friday stampede for No. 11 Eagles jerseys as Christmas gifts.
It was not that the Eagles didn’t do enough to lose before Wentz failed to concoct the winning drive. They dropped passes, had a field goal snuffed and clenched their teeth as their head coach elected not to attempt two short first-half threepointers. But Wentz continues to go from impressive to ordinary the closer it gets to dark.
Because it’s the trending coaching and sportsmarketing ploy to treat every disappointment with the trust-the-process miracle salve, Doug Pederson stressed afterward that the Eagles would learn from such struggles. But they didn’t learn after their first, or their second, or their third. And even if Wentz is a rookie, the truth is that if he were 4-for-4 in two-minute drills, the sculptor already would have been commissioned for his statue.
So when does it change?
“You’ve got to know Carson Wentz, and you’ve got to know his makeup and his chemistry, and how he’s built, and how he’s wired,” Pederson said. “These things, we are going to learn from, as a team.”
That’s the Eagles’ story, the one they rammed themselves into, that Wentz is different from most quarterbacks, better, smarter. All the inhouse chatter is that he is a relentless worker, willing to study early in the day and late. There is a value to that. And Wentz likely will be better late in games after eight seasons than he’s been after eight games.
But does anybody truly know how Wentz, as the man said, is wired? Is it certain that he will be a clutch player, able to win in the Meadowlands, on a breezy day, in front of 80,309? Or is that just a guess? Or, worse, is it just a wish, given how many pieces the Eagles moved to make him their No. 1 quarterback?
“We haven’t gotten it done,” Wentz said. “You guys can call it what you want. We’ve just got to find a way to finish these ballgames.”
The Eagles have not surrounded Wentz with Pro Bowl talent. The line is experienced. Darren Sproles can be a handful. But the pass-catchers too often don’t. With some more gifted receivers, Wentz might be 2-and-2 in fourth-quarter-rally attempts, acceptable for any quarterback, robust production for a rookie.
The Eagles are 4-4 because they deserve to be 4-4, their quarterback included. Had Pederson ordered two field goals Sunday instead of pushing allin on fourth downs, the Eagles would have had six more points in a game they would lose by five. And that will be the topic this week, give or take traffic on the Walt Whitman Bridge.
Yet it’s not every team or quarterback that has so many at-bats late in close games with runners on base. In that, Wentz has been blessed by those opportunities. They’ve given him a chance to have paid already for legend status … in full. It would have been better for him had the chances been spread out, one early in the season, a couple in the middle, one late. But oddly enough, sports don’t provide challenges on a convenient schedule.
“We just have to do a better job,” Pederson said, channeling somebody he once worked for, adding, “We didn’t execute as well as we needed to.”
The Eagles didn’t do that Sunday, or the week before, or those other two times, either. They will learn from it, their quarterback included. That’s what they keep saying, anyway.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz begins to leave the field, head bowed, shortly after an incomplete pass ensured the Eagles would bow for a fourth time this season, losing to the Giants 28-23 Sunday at MetLife Stadium.