Carson Wentz took the final snap, took a knee, and turned around to hug the nearest teammate he could find, wide receiver Greg Ward, as fireworks white as Christmas lights shot into the black sky and sparkled above Lincoln Financial Field. He appeared so confident and in control Sunday, throughout the 17-9 victory that lifted the Eagles into first place in the NFC East and moved them closer to clinching a playoff berth, that it wouldn’t have been surprising to learn that he himself had given the signal to set them off, as if he wielded all the power of an ancient emperor. The Dallas Cowboys have ceased to amuse me. You may now commence with your celestial celebration.
Wentz had been brilliant late each of the previous two games, leading comebacks against the Giants and the Redskins just to make Sunday’s game meaningful, but what he did against the Cowboys was something different. This was a command performance from beginning to end, and the Eagles’ modest point total could never reflect how good Wentz was — and how good he had to be. Thirty completions in 41 passes, 319 yards, a touchdown, no turnovers, everything crisp and smooth and decisive: After he was at his best last week and the week before, Wentz was better Sunday, in the most important game of his career.
Understand what Wentz has accomplished this month: He has taken the prevailing narrative about his four seasons with the Eagles — that he’s not quite clutch enough, at least compared to Nick Foles — and wadded it up into a ball and chucked it into the trash can. If you want to argue that the NFC East is awful, that the Giants and Redskins are terrible, that Jason Garrett can’t coach and Dak Prescott was playing through a bum shoulder Sunday, go ahead. Just ask yourself: What would you be saying about Wentz if he didn’t lead the Eagles to these three straight victories? He has done this with a motley group of skill-position players, rookies and castoffs and John Does and guys who hadn’t quite blossomed yet: Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Rob Davis. Go ahead. Find an NFL quarterback doing more with less.
"It’s like, ‘He doesn’t have this many yards. He doesn’t have this many touchdowns.’ You get tired of the nitpicking of this ----,” guard Brandon Brooks said. “He’s been playing well. I mean, damn, when is he gonna get his just deserts? As a player, you get frustrated with that. I don’t know if there’s a more scrutinized quarterback in the league than Carson Wentz. It’s unbelievable.”
Brooks grew so frustrated by the catty gossip and backbiting and anonymous shot-taking at Wentz coming from the Eagles’ locker room this year, he said, that he felt an obligation to stand up publicly for him: “We’re supposed to be a family, man, a brotherhood, and we got ---- like this coming out? It didn’t just come out of nowhere. Somebody said something. But at the same time, you don’t know who said it. It could be speculation. But you know you’re in the room with somebody who probably said something. And then it’s just like, you’re going to come to work every day and just smile and laugh and, at the same time, trash us.”
None of Wentz’s teammates has been as forceful in supporting him or condemning that unattributed criticism, and maybe there’s something to the fact that Wentz elevated his play as soon as each of those young players, hungry for a shot to prove himself, got one. They’re like Wentz in one significant way: They have no memory of playing in Super Bowl LII, either. They’re all blank slates, eager to make their own history here, the quarterback most of all. “The last couple of years, where I was, on the sideline,” Wentz said, “that’s not where I wanted to be.”
On Sunday, he was at the center of everything for the Eagles. He made an exquisite throw to Goedert for the game’s first touchdown, faking a screen pass to Ward, then lobbing the ball over the Cowboys’ linebackers to a place where only Goedert could catch it. On his 38-yard completion to Ward late in the third quarter, which set up a 1-yard Sanders touchdown run, Wentz noticed that linebacker Malcolm Smith had lined up across from Ward in the slot. He knew then where he would go with the football — but not before offering a play-action fake and looking to the middle of the field to freeze Smith and give Ward time to free himself. “It was sweet to be able to do it at the line of scrimmage,” Wentz said. “Caught that linebacker out there in space. Played with his eyes a little bit.” He lost Zach Ertz for a spell with a rib injury and Arcega-Whiteside late with a foot injury, but he never lost control of the offense.
“That’s the idea,” backup quarterback Josh McCown said. “Guys who play at a high level at this position, you always feel that. You tune in to watch them because you want to see them operate. We’ve talked about that: to take what they give you, to complete passes, to manage the game — and not in a bad way. Guys like him manage a game, and they’re in control. They dictate the pace of play. They dictate where the ball goes. Down the stretch, he’s been very good with that.”
He has been better than good. The Eagles have been shorthanded, and they were outmanned Sunday against a deeper, more talented team, and because of Wentz, those weaknesses haven’t mattered. “You can just feel that belief among the guys: ‘Hey, we’re going to get this done,’” he said. One more game now, one more win next week over the Giants in East Rutherford, and the questions and criticisms stop for a while for a quarterback who is finally where he wants to be.