Carson Wentz turned 27 on this cold and rainy Monday.
As he petted his dog by his fireplace and reflected on the 12 months that passed, let’s hope he regarded his fourth NFL season as his best. It was.
Not just because the Eagles reached the playoffs with a four-game winning streak behind Wentz’s arm and inspired play from a herd of strays. He might have made a silk purse from these sows’ ears, but Wentz did not turn it on in Game 13, since that implies he never turned up for the first 12 games. It is a false narrative, and it ignores basic facts.
In fact, Wentz played superbly for almost all of 2019. He slumped in Games 10 and 11. He pressed against Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. He then played well in the first half of Game 12 at Miami, but hibernated until the second half of Game 13, against the Giants. That’s OK. Everybody presses. Everybody slumps. That’s sports.
Wentz might have had 12 bad quarters out of 64, but on the whole, his 2019 has been superb. Better than his 2017, when he’d have won the MVP if he didn’t blow out his knee in Game 13. Better than 2018, when his passer rating, at 102.2, was actually slightly better than his rating in 2017.
He finished this season with a 93.1 rating, but set the franchise record with 4,039 passing yards — an incredible feat considering he finished Game 16 without 11 of his top 12 pass catchers: his top five receivers, his top five running backs, and his No. 1 target, tight end Zach Ertz. In the last 18 minutes of the season, Wentz had backup tight end Dallas Goedert, a converted college quarterback named Greg Ward, a tight end playing out of position named Josh Perkins, and a ferocious, 5-foot-6 Gimli delightfully named Boston Scott. He scored 24 points in those 18 minutes.
After four seasons and 56 games, Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, is worth every penny of the 4-year, $128 million contract extension he signed in June.
Wentz has made good decisions and delivered accurate throws all season. He protected himself in the pocket by taking sacks and throwing the ball away, and he was judicious when he escaped the pocket — diving, sliding, running out of bounds. He’s healthy for the Seahawks’ visit because of it.
The low point
It’s important to note these realities in this moment because the worst part of Wentz’s season coincided with the Seahawks’ visit in Game 11. He set a career high with four turnovers: two fumbles, two picks. He was nearly as bad the week before, against New England, when he took five sacks.
In both games Wentz was gun-shy and panicky. The team scored 10 points against the Patriots, who have the league’s best defense, then 9 against the Seahawks, who do not have the league’s best defense. If he plays like that Sunday, the Eagles’ season will end.
If he plays like he played in Games 1-9, it will not.
Wentz’s passer rating in the first nine games was 93.7, with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions and a 62.7% completion rate despite his team ranking among the top three in dropped passes almost every week. He won in Green Bay, whose defense ranks ninth in points allowed, and at Buffalo, whose defense is No. 2; both are playoff teams. Wentz also beat the Bears at home — a Bears team that finished 8-8 and whose defense ranked fourth in points allowed, eighth in total yards allowed, and was in the playoff mix until losses to the Packers and Chiefs in Games 14 and 15 ended those chances.
Wentz’s passer rating in the last four games is 100.8, but those numbers came against the other three NFC East teams. The Giants and Washington rank in the bottom six among points allowed. All three teams are changing head coaches.
So yes, Wentz has been very good with second-tier weapons against pretty bad teams lately, but he also was very good against pretty good teams early, though with superior weapons. Then again, just how superior were those weapons?
Always missing pieces
Alshon Jeffery played hurt after Game 2, and Nelson Agholor first hurt his knee in Game 6, and DeSean Jackson wasn’t a factor after Game 1, so maybe his top receivers weren’t tip-top this season. His star tackles were in and out: Jason Peters missed Games 7, 8 and 9, and Lane Johnson missed Game 11. The running backs have been a constant mess, beginning with third-down weapon Darren Sproles after Game 5 and No. 1 back Jordan Howard since Game 9.
It’s understandable that, as Wentz’s teammates fell to injury, his ability to win with their understudies in the last four games makes it seem as if Wentz experienced some sort of epiphany. But Wentz was excellent long before the second half of the Giants’ Monday Night Football visit Dec. 9, and, upon further review, he excelled without a full complement of talent all season.
Further, it’s understandable that Wentz seems better now than ever because not only did he win with so much on the line and with so little surrounding him, but he also delivered the three signature throws of the season. Pick your favorite:
His 24-yard touchdown to Josh Perkins on Sunday, a bullet across his body designed as a rollout right, thrown back left, that traveled (Pythagorean theorem) 47 yards in the air?
His 41-yard rollout dart to Deontay Burnett (who was unemployed three weeks ago) that set up the go-ahead field goal Sunday?
His 15-yard touchdown laser to running back Miles Sanders at Washington two weeks ago?
Wentz progressed, absolutely, but the progression lies less in mechanics than intangibles. He led two fourth-quarter comebacks. He won twice on the road.
Wentz still hasn’t won a playoff game, and that might not change Sunday. He will never shake the shadow of Nick Foles if he doesn’t win a Super Bowl.
But for a 27-year-old coming out of an FCS college who spent the last two playoff runs getting MRIs, this has been a splendid season, start to finish.
Not just the last four weeks.