LANDOVER, Md. — Now we can call him the Comeback Kid.
This was always the next step for Carson Wentz. This is why the Eagles moved heaven, Earth, and Sam Bradford in 2016 to make him their franchise quarterback. This is why they signed him to a $128 million extension in July, before he’d ever played a playoff game.
To lead comeback wins in the biggest of moments. To carry rookies and backups on his back, over the goal line. To compensate for a bad defense and a questionable coaching staff.
To be what Jason Peters called him: “The Man.”
Apologies, Chase Utley.
Wentz hadn’t been The Man. He’d been the opposite of the Comeback Kid. Playing in the shadow of departed Super Bowl hero Nick Foles, and playing under the weight of the most expensive contract in Eagles history, Wentz had converted none of his first five fourth-quarter comeback chances in 2019. He was 4-for-18 in his career through Game 11 this season. The Eagles were 5-7 because of it.
Then, in prime time, with an anonymous supporting cast, Wentz brought the Eagles back Monday night over the Giants.
Then, in crunch time, he did it again Sunday afternoon over the Redskins. He did it twice, in fact. Wentz gave the Eagles a lead early in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard pass to Zach Ertz. He then fumbled on his next possession with the game tied, which let Washington take the lead, but that only heightened the drama. Wentz rebounded with a 75-yard drive that climaxed with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward, a late-season practice-squad hero, in the Eagles’ 37-27 win.
He completed all 11 fourth-quarter passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
“It means a lot to me,” said Wentz, who finished 30-for-43 for 266 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. “To come from behind. ... Backs against the wall. A lot at stake. To have an opportunity to finish it off and get it done, obviously, it means a lot to me.”
It means the depleted Eagles, now 7-7, are equipped to break their first-place tie in the NFC East when the Cowboys visit Sunday.
More importantly, it means Carson Wentz has arrived. It means he belongs in every conversation concerning the best young quarterbacks, along with Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and, deliciously, Cowboys alpha dog Dak Prescott.
Wentz, whose fashion can skew toward foppery, dressed like an alpha dog Sunday. He wore a dark blue, double-breasted suit with a powder-blue pinstripe and tapered trousers, a paisley tie, and a smart pocket square. He looked like a CEO. He spoke directly; without the cliched, defensive timbre that, until recently, haunted his words. He sounded like a man in command.
Recently, he’s played that way, too, even when he stumbles. With the game tied late in the fourth quarter, Wentz fumbled at the Eagles’ 34, which led to Washington’s 43-yard field goal that gave it a 27-24 lead. As the defense stiffened on the field, Wentz prowled the sideline like an angry lion, pounding his chest and telling his teammates, “That’s on me!" And so it was.
“I just wanted one more chance,” Wentz said afterward.
He got it: just under 5 minutes, three-quarters of the gridiron between him and victory. With alarming alacrity, he engineered the sort of drive that turns corners in careers.
A third-down conversion to Ward for 13 yards, a 20-yard dart to Dallas Goedert, then 13 more to Ward, then 10 more to the same guy, and, finally, with 26 ticks remaining, the TD to Ward. The Birds added a defensive score on the last play of the game, a bright spot on an otherwise cloudy day for that unit, but it was Wentz who put them in position to win.
“Those are the things those special guys do,” said his backup, Josh McCown, who should know. He entered the NFL in 2002 and is a contemporary of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, and both of Archie Manning’s sons.
Can Wentz do it again if necessary? The Cowboys demolished the Eagles in October, and they broke a three-game losing streak when they destroyed the Rams on Sunday. If you have a feeling the Eagles at least now have a chance, you’re not alone.
“It’s good to see Carson, back-to-back, show up and drive the offense down there,” safety Rodney McLeod said.
The comebacks both this week and last resound all the more for the weapons Wentz lacks. Starting receivers Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and DeSean Jackson all were injured, as were frontline running backs Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles, as well as right tackle Lane Johnson, the offense’s best player. Wentz somehow thrived in their absence. He wasn’t alone.
Miles Sanders, a second-round rookie out of Penn State, delivered a career-best 122 rushing yards on 19 carries, caught six passes for 50 yards, ran for one touchdown, and caught a pass for another. Sanders’ 56-yard run early in the fourth quarter set up a second go-ahead touchdown in the second half to Ertz, and he scored the first go-ahead touchdown of the second half himself.
Ward, a running quarterback in college, snagged seven passes for 61 yards. Boston Scott, a running back who also spent time on the practice squad this season, added 65 yards on 13 total touches.
“It’s really great to see, at this point, that nothing really bothers him,” said head coach Doug Pederson. He played with Brett Favre and Dan Marino, who have gold jackets and bronze busts. “In Carson’s case, that’s exactly who he is. That’s what we know he is.”
Well, it’s what we know he is now. We certainly didn’t know it’s what he was two weeks ago, when he was 4-for-18 in fourth-quarter comebacks. But now, he’s 6-for-20. Now, he’s become the unquestioned leader of a fractious and fractured locker room.