Even if the Eagles don’t win the Super Bowl this season – that pending playoff berth aside, let’s climb way out on a limb and deem SB LIV unlikely, still – there could be long-term benefits to this late-season surge that has taken the team from 5-7 to 8-7 and the cusp of the NFC East title.
Carson Wentz ought to be able to move into this offseason with full confidence in his status with his teammates and with Eagles fans. He is who we thought he was.
For some fans, the degree of ongoing confidence in Wentz might hinge upon what happens this Sunday at the New York Giants, as the Eagles try to nail down that divisional title and their third successive winning season. But inside the locker room, and among members of the fan base and media who aren’t still stubbornly worshipping at the altar of St. Nick, Wentz has showed he is a guy the Eagles can win with.
He’s going to need more weapons going forward, and a defense that doesn’t rely so much on opposition misfires and drops, but you’d have to be an Olympic-level picker of nits to not appreciate the fourth quarter and overtime stats for the past three weeks: 34-for-42 (81.0%) passing for 352 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs and a 133.3 passer rating.
Wentz started the season amid questions about his ability to play 16 games, after knee and back injuries ended his 2017 and ’18 seasons well before the playoffs. He has started all 15 games and has played 99 percent of the snaps, 1,094 all told, heading into the final week. If Wentz plays 33 snaps at the Giants, he will surpass his rookie year total.
“I think it shows that he can get through a season, [for one thing], relatively healthy at this point,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday, when asked what Wentz’s late-season play can do for him long term.
“At the same time, it shows that he can carry this football team and be the leader of this football team,” Pederson said. “And that is who Carson Wentz is, and that is what we are excited about as we move forward, not only in the remainder of this season, but in the future.”
The night before, on NBC’s Game Day Final show, Pederson said something similar: “Now we’re starting to see just who Carson is. It’s taken us a little while to get to this point. Some of that’s on me, as a play caller, understanding Carson and his strengths. He put the team on his back.”
Wentz has thrown a touchdown pass in 18 successive games, the longest current NFL streak, through all the changes in his receiving corps. Four of the players he targeted Sunday weren’t on NFL rosters when the season began.
Wentz was asked Sunday night whether this run of success has affirmed his belief in himself as a leader and a QB. He turned his answer into a testimonial to the young players who have helped him revive the season.
“It’s hard to say. It’s just been – I use the word fun. Just because it has been fun, seeing some of these guys just grow up right before our eyes,” Wentz said. “In practice, we’ve seen guys do it – some of these guys [have done] it for a while, and some of these guys, we haven’t really seen them much at all. It’s almost something new every time that we’re working with them, and just seeing them grow up and make plays.
“The moment’s not too big for any of these guys. I just love seeing that, and it’s encouraging, and guys – on defense and on offense – everyone is just rallying together with a sense of belief and that’s what we’re going to need.”
Left tackle Jason Peters said Sunday that Wentz, who turns 27 on Dec. 30, is “a star. As long as he’s back there doing what he’s doing, the sky’s the limit.”
Brandon Brooks said after Sunday’s game that he didn’t think Wentz was playing any differently than he has all season, it’s just that the results are different, because the players around him are doing better.
“The biggest thing for me is, I’m happy to see that everyone is seeing the type of player he is and the success he’s having,” Brooks said. “The type of player he will continue to be.”
Greg Ward, the wide receiver who waited so long on the practice squad but now has 22 catches for 211 yards in the last five games, was asked about Wentz’s composure.
“It seems like nothing bothers him. He’s a great leader and a great quarterback. He’s one of the best in the NFL,” Ward said. “When you have a player like that on your team, you can go a long way.”
And whatever critics remain?
“We don’t really worry about those people. … We all have his back, and that’s all that matters,” Ward said.
Both of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s catches, for 29 yards, came on the first series. Arcega-Whiteside, who played 45-of-72 offensive snaps, is battling a foot injury. It would be interesting to see what he could do with six or eight targets in a game.
Dallas, with the NFL’s No. 1 offense on third down, converted three-of-14 third downs on Sunday.
Josh Sweat threw Dallas tight end Blake Jarwin aside to tackle Ezekiel Elliott for a loss in the second quarter.
The fumble that Fletcher Cox and T.J. Edwards forced, recovered by Malcolm Jenkins, was huge for momentum. The Cowboys had gotten a field goal to close the first half, then had taken the second-half kickoff and put together four first downs, their best drive of the day. Fox’s broadcast did a good job of answering the question many Dallas fans had – Elliott wasn’t in the game, leaving Tony Pollard to get stuffed and fumble on third-and-1, because Elliott had taken himself out following his first-down run, which ended with Bruce Hector landing hard on No. 21.
The Giants’ second-leading rusher is rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, with 42 carries for 253 yards – 6 yards per carry. Saquon Barkley has 911 rushing yards on an even 200 carries.
Boston Scott returned two Dallas kickoffs for 63 yards. He is starting to get the knack of that job.
That Halapoulivaati Vaitai could keep DeMarcus Lawrence off the sack list as well as starting right tackle Lane Johnson usually does? Big V had some shaky moments, but he was a solid cog in an offensive line that powered the Eagles to 431 total yards – their best figure since the opener against Washington, when they compiled 436.
Dallas, now 0-8 when trailing at the half, was held to its lowest point total of the season.
The best day of Dallas Goedert’s career (nine catches for 91 yards and a touchdown), included a late second-quarter stretch in which Carson Wentz targeted his second-year tight end on six plays in a row. A catch for 18 yards was negated by a Jason Peters block-in-the-back penalty. Goedert caught four-of-five passes on the remaining snaps, for 41 yards, but the drive died when Goedert turned inside and Wentz threw outside on third-and-6 from the Dallas 35. Then Jake Elliott missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.
“It was fun. My number was getting called and I was able to make plays,” Goedert said.
This was while Zach Ertz was getting his rib injury checked out.
“He was able to fight through pain and come back and make some big plays for us," Goedert said. "I was on the sideline when he jogged back out. I dapped him up, asked him how he was, and I said: ‘Let’s go win this game.’ ”