Carson Wentz didn’t lose the game at Miami.
He didn’t win it, either.
Good quarterbacks give their teams a chance to win. Wentz does this. Great quarterbacks — franchise quarterbacks — win, period. The game slows down. They find a way. They win without the best weapons, and they win when their defense melts down, and more than anything, they win late.
Wentz played fine Sunday: 28-for-46, 310 yards, three touchdowns, and a 93.6 passer rating that would have been more than 100 if not for a Hail Mary interception.
But for the fifth time this season, and for the third week in a row, the Eagles entered the fourth quarter with a realistic chance to win the game. And for the fifth time this season, and for the third week in a row, they failed. He failed.
Which means that Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, has a 4-14 mark when he has had a chance to bring his team back in the fourth quarter during his 52 career starts. If he’d done it just once this season, the Eagles would be in first place in the NFC East.
Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson have eight apiece in their careers. Jared Goff has a half-dozen, for Pete’s sake. With some quarterbacks, you fear giving them the ball with too much time at the end of the game. With Wentz? Meh.
Nobody is aware of this Carson Wentz shortcoming than Carson James Wentz.
“We’re not making enough plays in critical situations to win games. Collectively, as a team, we are coming up short,” Wentz said after the game. “And it starts with me.”
The point, of course, is that it should end better with him, more often.
You’d expect more for the money, for the nearly $40 million he’s already earned. By the time he cashes his last check in 2024, you’d hope to have gotten a lot more for your nearly $180 million.
After all, Prescott gave Jerry Jones twice as many comebacks for less than $3 million; Prescott led eight Cowboys comebacks in his first three seasons. His eight fourth-quarter comebacks have come in 60 career games, 22 of which were losses. But, significantly, he has no comebacks this season, which is why the 5-7 Eagles remain relevant in an NFC East that is led by Prescott’s 6-6 Cowboys.
Goff, the No. 1 pick in 2016, has six comebacks in 50 games, which helped propel him to two Pro Bowls, but he’s lost only 19 times. Deshaun Watson, a first-rounder in 2017, has eight comebacks in just 34 games, which is amazing no matter how you qualify it.
Does that mean the Eagles would prefer Prescott, Goff, or Watson? Probably not. I wouldn’t.
Does it mean any of them, or all of them, are, in this moment, more “clutch” than Carson? Probably so.
When you look at the all-time leaders — Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, John Elway — you recognize that they have a “clutch gene” in common.
Wentz’s local comparables? Donovan McNabb had five comebacks after 52 starts. Super Bowl hero Nick Foles has eight comebacks in 47 starts, plus two rather significant comebacks in his six playoff games. But Foles is streaky, and he just got benched again — this time by Jacksonville — so don’t start with that nonsense.
Dolphins journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick lacks it. He entered Sunday’s game with 10 comebacks in 134 starts. Now, thanks to Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, Fitz-Magic has 11.
The site pro-football-reference.com defines a successful fourth-quarter comeback as a drive within one score that leads to a win or tie, but we broadened that, we believe fairly, to include the loss to Seattle two weeks ago. Trailing by one score throughout the third quarter, Wentz put up no points on two drives. Then, down two scores in the fourth quarter, Wentz put up no points on the first three drives.
Five drives. No points. Must win. At home.
It’s not surprising that Manning and Brady clutched up from the start, but winning late can be learned behavior. Brees, for instance, had just five fourth-quarter comebacks in his first 58 games in San Diego, 28 of which were losses — and those teams boasted LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, and Justin Peelle.
In the last two games, against the potent Patriots and Seahawks, Wentz played pretty lousy all game but still had a chance to win. That was not the case Sunday afternoon. Wentz played well for 2½ quarters, then fizzled.
Leading by eight midway through the third, Wentz followed a dropped pass with a bad sack on a delayed blitz he didn’t diagnose, which turned a 39-yard field goal into a 49-yarder, which Jake Elliott missed.
Leading by two entering the fourth quarter, Wentz badly missed Alshon Jeffery down the sideline, then threw to Jeffery in double coverage on third-and-10, ignoring single coverage on the left side of the field.
Trailing by six a few minutes later, the Eagles went three-and-out when, during a play botched on several levels, Wentz overthrew Jeffery again. That was their last real chance, since the Dolphins took a nine-point lead with 3 minutes, 37 seconds to play.
So no, Wentz didn’t lose the game, as he’d done with his poor play the previous two weeks. But Wentz isn’t paid to manage games, or to secure leads, or to stand by, impotent, as the defense self-destructs.
He’s paid to hit Alshon Jeffery, twice, in the fourth quarter Sunday. He’s paid to make the best decisions in the biggest moments. And yes, because he’s paid so much, he might look around and find himself undermanned, because there’s only so much available cash.
Great quarterbacks win in the fourth quarter, and when they don’t, don’t make excuses.
To his credit, Wentz isn’t making any excuses.
Neither should you.