For the third straight season, Carson Wentz wasn’t on the field when the Eagles’ season ended in the playoffs. The quarterback finally took his first snaps in the postseason. He finally felt the tension, the atmosphere, and the electricity of the moment.
But Wentz lasted all of four plays before Jadeveon Clowney speared him from behind, and all of eight plays before a head injury ended his day really before it had even started.
The irony was particularly cruel.
After suffering season-ending injuries the previous two seasons. After watching his backup lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl title, and again rally the squad to another playoff run. After answering criticism about his durability and performance in clutch situations by playing in all 16 games this regular season, the final four in remarkable fashion as he carried the Eagles into January, Wentz would finally — finally — fulfill his destiny in the playoffs.
But it would be another injury that ended his season, and most likely, the Eagles’ late charge as they would eventually fall to the Seahawks, 17-9, Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Obviously, I’ll let him speak for it,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said afterward, even though Wentz was unable to speak for himself because of his concussion. “But I’m disappointed for him. I wanted this for him, obviously, and I think a lot of his teammates did, too. The team, the organization did.
“He’s battled through a lot, but we’ll learn from it and move on.”
Whereas Wentz’s previous injuries could have been attributed to his aggressive nature, it’s hard to fault the quarterback for his latest setback. Many viewed Clowney’s hit as dirty, or at the least a personal foul. The officials on the field saw it differently.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Wentz has now suffered four injuries in four NFL seasons. He proved a lot in 2019, despite inconsistencies, inside unrest and outside denigration. But fittingly, if that’s the right word, in a year when mass injury derailed the team, it was Wentz’s latest that curbed the Eagles.
The hit occurred on the Eagles’ first play on their second drive. A busted screen forced Wentz to scramble. Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald had him by the ankles, but the quarterback slipped out and lunged forward for extra yards.
Wentz was clearly falling to the ground when Clowney began the process of tackling him. The Seattle defensive end led with his shoulder or helmet, depending upon the viewpoint, and hit the quarterback in the back with the former and the back of his helmet with the latter.
There was a slight pause before Wentz rose, but he was clearly shaken, and Eagles tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai held him up for a moment. But he stayed in for the next four plays. According to Josh McCown, who took over at quarterback, it was Wentz who went to the Eagles’ medical staff.
“He is sitting there not feeling right and, obviously, knew he needed to get checked,” McCown said. “I think for the state of our game and the questions that come around those types of injuries, I think it’s a step forward. It’s progress because it’s the right thing.
“He was smart by getting checked and doing those things and making sure he was all right.”
Wentz was initially checked in the pop-up medical tent on the sideline, went indoors shortly after and never returned. Pederson said he was too busy to see the hit or the replay. NFL referee Shawn Smith, when asked by a pool reporter, stood by the call on the field.
“He was a runner, and he did not give himself up,” Smith said. “We saw incidental helmet contact, and in our judgment, we didn’t rule that to be a foul.”
It’s difficult to argue intent without being inside Clowney’s head. Was the hit legal? Maybe. Was it dirty? Probably. He disagreed.
“I was just playing fast, and he turned like he was running the ball, so I was trying to get him down,” Clowney said. “It was a bang-bang play. I don’t intend to hurt anybody in this league, let me just put that out there. I’ve been down the injury road. It’s not fun.”
Several Eagles players, like tight end Zach Ertz and tackle Jason Peters, said that they thought the hit was either dirty, late or should have drawn a flag. Peters said he spoke to Clowney on the field.
“I just told him, ‘Man, that’s a dirty play,’ ” Peters said. “And he’s like, ‘My bad,’ and we kept playing.”
The Eagles punted on their first series with McCown, but the offense was able to move effectively thereafter. Pederson said that he went with more “core plays” that his backup was comfortable with and eliminated some of pre-snap motions.
McCown still completed 75 percent of his passes and didn’t have a turnover. But the Eagles offense stalled inside the red zone, going 0-for-3 inside the 20. Some of that was on McCown, who held the ball too long and didn’t pull the trigger. Some of that was on Pederson, who called a questionable run on third-and-three that led to a loss.
Some of that was on running back Miles Sanders, who dropped a fourth-and-four pass that clearly would have picked up a first down. And some credit, obviously, goes to Seattle.
But the Eagles’ inability to reach the end zone was mostly due to Wentz’s absence.
“I don’t know. Hard to say,” Pederson said when asked if he thought the outcome would have been different with his starter. “I would say yes if he’s healthy with the game plan that we had.”
That’s a testament to Wentz, his talent, and the way he elevated those around him over the last month. The Eagles struggled for months with veteran receivers who were either injured or failed to play up to expectations.
Wentz will return next season. But the Eagles need to bring in skill position players who can grow with the 27-year-old quarterback. They already have a few pieces in place. That they can control. As for Wentz’s health, only the gods seem to know.