Wentz com­ing up short when it counts

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

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.

FRANK FRANKLIN II — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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