Doug Pederson says the Eagles can’t ask Carson Wentz to do it all.
The Eagles aren’t paying Carson Wentz $128 million to be one of the guys. They are paying him $128 million to do it all, if necessary. Last winter they chose Wentz over the most beloved athlete in the city’s history because they believed Wentz would take them back to where Nick Foles carried them the past two seasons: to the playoffs, and to wins beyond.
That door all but closed Sunday when Dallas won and Minnesota won and the Eagles lost. When Nelson Agholor’s contorted catch attempt at the back of the end zone failed, to no one’s surprise, and cemented a 17-10 loss to a vastly overrated, one-loss Patriots team.
Now 5-5, the Eagles and Carson Wentz know a thing or two about being overrated. They were supposed to win the NFC East. Wentz, fleet of foot and strong of arm and sound of mind and body, was supposed to make Foles and the Philly Special look like the unsustainable gimmickry they are.
Neither of those things will happen. Not after Wentz’s regression to -- to what? His junior season at North Dakota State?
“There were opportunities to make some plays,” Pederson admitted Monday of Wentz. Yes. Lots of opportunities, for the most significant player in the history of the franchise.
He just failed.
In a referendum game, when his depleted team and his dominant defense needed him to be his best, he was nothing close.
The Eagles simply cannot win without Wentz becoming the superstar he seemed destined to be in 2016 and 2017. Not with the offense muted by injuries to Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Howard, and Lane Johnson, whose ankle, shoulder, and head cost them part or all of Sunday’s loss, with no guarantee they’ll be fit in a week. Certainly, not with the Seahawks landing next Sunday, coming off a bye and, at 8-2, headed to the postseason.
Six games remain, but, honestly, they feel irrelevant. The defense played better, sure, but it still doesn’t force turnovers, and that’s the mark of dynamic defenses: playmakers. Somebody has to make plays, somewhere, to win games.
If you employ a $128 million man, he has to make plays, no matter what the coach says.
“He doesn’t have to feel like he has to make all the plays,” Pederson said Monday. “Let the offense work and let the guys around you make the plays.”
What guys? Boston Scott, the practice-squad running back? Jordan Matthews, the three-tread receiver just signed off the street? Halapoulivaati bleepin’ Vaitai? There’s a reason the Eagles used their first-round draft choice this year to groom Andre Dillard after watching Vaitai start 20 games since 2016 -- the same Vaitai who was shunted to right guard and tackle in training camp. Scott replaced Howard. Matthews replaced Jeffery. Vaitai replaced Johnson.
The Eagles scored 10 points.
Still, it could have been more. It could have been enough to win, and to keep the season alive, and to make the cold days of fall and early winter warmer with excitement.
Carson Wentz could have made it so. He did not.
To be precise here: He didn’t lose the game. Not exactly. He just didn’t win it.
For $128 million, you win it.
So exquisitely insufficiently did Wentz perform that the performance merits more than a perfunctory panning. It demands specificity.
Wentz overthrew running back Miles Sanders, his most dangerous ally, on the first series. He airmailed MIA receiver Mack Hollins on the second series. He threw behind tight end Zach Ertz on the third series, a ball that Ertz caught, then threw low to Agholor, then had to burn a timeout after a 21-yard gain.
He didn’t recognize the blitz that sacked him in the middle of the second quarter. He held the ball and tried to escape on the next series, was sacked, and fumbled the ball away. He took another sack just before halftime for the same reason -- he tried to channel Randall Cunningham’s talent with Rodney Peete’s legs. A bad snap got past him on the next play, and again, instead of throwing the ball away -- or simply flinging it deep, in effect a punt -- he took the sack, which is another hit, which is what turns 15-year careers into 8-year careers.
A few plays before that he nearly threw in an interception, which Agholor, of all people, saved by winning that battle.
In the second half, after the Patriots took that 17-10 lead on their first possession, Wentz squeezed harder and harder. He threw low to Matthews, then, later, high. In the middle of the third quarter he didn’t lead Ertz enough on a 1-yard completion that could have netted 5 -- normally, no big deal, but at first-and-10 from your 19, every inch matters.
He spiked a ball at Sanders’ feet to end their third possession of the third quarter.
A deflected pass intended for Agholor wasn’t thrown to the proper spot. It would have cost Agholor a step to catch it, and that would have limited a 25-yard chunk to a 10-yard gain.
And then, in his Russell Wilson moment -- late in the game, down by one score, destiny at the doorstep while the G.O.A.T. looked on -- he channeled Wade Wilson. High to Ertz. Low to Ertz. He refused to check down to Sanders for, what, the sixth time? The seventh?
“We all felt like there was a little bit of pressing going on,” Pederson said.
Pressing? Or choking?
The locker room Sunday night held a battalion of tight-lipped, bitter men who well knew that if their leader had produced better, they would have upset Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They’d have done so with an even better team on deck.
Pederson knew it, too. He’s got four eminently winnable games after next weekend, but even they are winnable only if Wentz realizes the potential of his talents.
The way Nick Foles did.
Pederson just doesn’t know if that will ever happen for Wentz. And, so, he was terse after the game, and abrupt Monday.
That mood won’t change till spring.