Carson Wentz touched his rib cage briefly, after a first-quarter hit from Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones Sunday night, and NBC announcers Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels immediately started speculating about bruised ribs.
The “Is Wentz injured?” meme grew from there, fueled by six snaps the Eagles quarterback missed with what turned out to be a late-second-quarter concussion check, which seemingly came out of nowhere.
The fact that Wentz nearly willed the team to victory with an amazing fourth quarter, despite having lost three of his top five receivers early in the game, didn’t quiet speculation. Nor did the fact that in his postgame news conference, Wentz looked fine and said he felt fine.
Then, on Wednesday, the team altered its normal schedule on an important prep day for Sunday’s home game against Detroit, downgrading practice to what the Eagles termed a “walk-through,” meaning reporters couldn’t watch anything, even the few minutes of stretching and individual drills normally allotted to the media.
The Eagles media and fan base DEFCON level went straight to the top, something that coach Doug Pederson clearly was not anticipating.
Asked if Wentz could have practiced Wednesday, had the normal workout occurred, Pederson seemed baffled.
“CARSON? Yeah. Yeah. [Shakes head.] Yeah. [Chuckles.] Yeah, he’s fine.”
Later, Wentz said he felt fine, and added: “Obviously a little sore and everything. That’s football. Nothing concerning. Being that it’s Wednesday, I feel pretty good.”
But Wentz knows the situation, after sitting out the stretch drive the past two seasons, with a torn ACL, then with a back injury. This is how it is now, how it will be until he completes the 2019 season upright, preferably with the Lombardi Trophy resting in his hands. Every twinge will be scrutinized, every hit he takes will be the platform for a hastily constructed tower of speculation.
“I don’t really worry what people think or say,” Wentz said. He said when he touched his rib area, “I was just trying to catch my breath.”
“It is what it is. People can speculate and do what they want. I feel good, and that was just a hit that I took.”
Wentz was asked if, when he watched the tape of Sunday night’s loss, he saw any hits he took that maybe he could have avoided.
“Not really, no. I’ve kind of put that behind me,” he said. “Obviously, I always want to come out of the game not taking hits. … We’re turning the page and we’re on to Detroit.”
Wentz said even though it was not a normal practice, he was able to work on passing timing with rookie receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and with Mack Hollins, who missed last season and much of this year’s training camp.
“We were able to get some full-speed reps, get the timing down,” Wentz said.
On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Mike Groh alluded to adjusting the offense toward plays that work for the remaining weapons. Wentz also touched on this, when asked how the offense copes with the presumed loss of DeSean Jackson (abdomen), Dallas Goedert (calf), and Alshon Jeffery (calf) for the Detroit game, and probably the game next Thursday at Green Bay as well.
“We do things that they do well – we find what they do well and cater to that,” Wentz said. “We’re not going to ask them to be those guys.”
Wentz said Arcega-Whiteside and Hollins are “both explosive and dynamic in their own right.”
Wentz said the Eagles will solve their early-game offensive struggles, even with backup weapons.
“I’m confident going forward that we’re going to get a lot of things corrected. We’re going to come out executing at a much better pace early in the game,” he said.
Right guard Brandon Brooks – whose torn Achilles tendon of eight months ago now seems like an afterthought -- was asked about the Wentz Watch, if he felt this would continue throughout the season.
“Unfortunately, I feel like, to a certain degree, the answer to your question is yes,” Brooks said. “But he’s healthy, he’s fine. No need to worry about the knee or the back.”
Do teammates worry about whether Wentz is OK, when he takes a big hit?
Brooks said no, they really don’t have time for that during a game. He said he was only vaguely aware of Goedert, Jackson, and Jeffery being out until late in the first half.
“The funny thing is, even with the receivers going down, when you’re in the middle of the game you’re not looking at every personnel shift that comes in. You’re focused on blocking the guy in front of you, what if [the defensive linemen] do movement?” he said. “Offensive line stuff.”
However, when backup QB Josh McCown appeared in the huddle suddenly, on the final drive of the first half, Brooks noticed.
“I saw Josh run in real quick. Usually Carson is the first guy out there, getting everybody lined up. I didn’t see him. I was like, ‘What is he doing? What’s taking so long?’ ” Brooks said.
He said McCown explained about the late buzz-down from the concussion spotter, on a night when Nelson Agholor, Sidney Jones and Jason Kelce also had to prove they were not concussed. Before the end of the drive, Wentz rejoined the fray.