Carson Wentz survives a few wobbles to give the Eagles a big victory over the Redskins
There were frustrations, including Carson Wentz's first red zone interception since 2016, but the Eagles' quarterback did a lot of things right to help keep the season alive Monday night.
A lot went right for Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense Monday night, almost enough to make their 28-13 victory over the visiting Washington Redskins a blowout. But not quite.
Overall, hard to quibble with the result, with Wentz airing the ball out at least a little, and not locking in as tightly on tight end Zach Ertz to the exclusion of other targets. His protection seems to be getting a little better each week.
The Eagles' 436 total yards represented their highest figure this season. Five receivers amassed more than 30 receiving yards, including Golden Tate, whose long-awaited emergence resulted in seven catches for a team-high 85 yards, his first Eagles touchdown and a two-point conversion catch. Wentz’s longest throw was to Nelson Agholor, down the sideline for 39 yards. When Jake Elliott’s 44-yard field goal gave the Birds a 28-13 lead with four minutes and 48 seconds remaining, Wentz was averaging 11.75 yards per completion.
“We left some plays out there, no doubt, but we’re kinda starting to mesh a little bit,” Wentz said.
The Eagles scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game for the first time since their Oct. 11 visit with the Giants, with Tate the receiver for a 6-yard score. Tate noted afterward that the Redskins came in 6-0 when they scored first but 0-5 when the other team scored first, so getting on the board early was a priority. Somehow, though, the Eagles managed to fall behind in the second quarter, 10-7, thanks to a few offensive gaffes and one horrible defensive snap, a 90-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown run.
Questionable play-calling kept the Eagles from scoring points on a 77-yard drive that ended with Josh Adams (20 carries, 85 yards) getting stuffed behind the line by unblocked linebacker Zach Brown on fourth-and-goal from the Washington 1. (Right tackle Lane Johnson said he and right guard Brandon Brooks blocked down instead of out, and left Brown free.) Then a terrible Wentz interception, Josh Norman stepping in front of Alshon Jeffery in the end zone, on first and goal from the Washington 5, ended a 70-yard drive.
It was Wentz’s first red zone interception since Week 14 of 2016, his rookie season, also against Washington.
“I just forced it,” Wentz said. "Underneath coverage kind of got there, and I just threw it behind [Jeffery]. Norman made a great play. Definitely one I’m kicking myself about."
Two trips inside the opponent’s 5-yard line with no points is the sort of thing that can cost you, even when the opposing team’s backup quarterback goes down and they are playing their third QB, ex-Eagle Mark Sanchez, who was sitting on his couch three weeks ago, unsigned by anyone.
The 6-6 Redskins, who face the Eagles again in Week 17 at Landover, Md., now have lost Colt McCoy and Alex Smith for the season, McCoy suffering a broken fibula in the second quarter. Sanchez (13 for 21 for 100 yards and a Nate Gerry interception) said afterward he has never practiced with the first-team offense, since the priority has been getting McCoy up to speed.
Wentz and Doug Pederson eventually managed to finish a second-half touchdown drive - a crisp 4-yard slant to Jordan Matthews and a two-point conversion pass to Tate, giving the Eagles a 22-13 lead 50 seconds into the fourth quarter - and it all got easier after that.
“Obviously, some great drives. We just got to finish in the red zone,” Matthews said, after the Eagles went 3-for-5. “We can’t, because we won, look over that.”
Pederson went no-huddle early, put Wentz under center more than any time in recent memory, did a lot with rollouts and play action. The only Washington sack of the night was negated by a defensive holding penalty.
“It helps our offense settle in, our quarterback settle in,” Pederson said, when asked about quickening the pace.
Tate, acquired in an Oct. 30 trade, said he and Wentz have worked hard to build a connection. A few weeks back, offensive coordinator Mike Groh famously said it had been “challenging,” trying to work Tate into the offense.
“We’ve just been working. Working every day since I’ve been here, talking through things with the coaching staff and with [Wentz]. It just felt natural today, and I’m talking about for everybody,” Tate said.
Wentz found Ertz nine times (in 10 targets) for 83 yards. Ertz broke Brian Westbrook’s single-season franchise record for catches, which was 90. Ertz now has 93, for 978 yards and six touchdowns.
“I think this year’s definitely taken that next step,,” Ertz said, when asked about his bond with Wentz. “I thought last year we were playing at a high level, but I think this year we’ve kind of taken that next step. We see the game so similarly. We talk about football all the time. We’re fully invested in being the best players we can be for this team, this organization ... We love the fine art of route-running, and the quarterback and the tight end ... There’s been one time this year, I think, we’ve seen something different ... It’s a lot of fun playing with him. The guy’s so competitive, he’s so talented.”
When he trotted to the sideline after the Matthews touchdown, Wentz was 24 for 32 for 286 yards, two touchdowns, the interception, and a 109.6 passer rating. His final numbers were 27 for 39 for 306 yards and a 98.9 passer rating.
Did he, Pederson, and the battered Eagles defense make mistakes that a better team -- say, 7-5 Dallas, sitting and waiting since last Thursday for the Eagles’ Sunday visit -- might capitalize on a little better? Well, yeah.
“Dallas is a great team with a great defense. They make things tough for you,” Wentz said.
But 28 points was the second-highest Eagles total of the season, they’ve put together back-to-back victories for the first time this season, they were 7-for-13 on third down conversions, they got Darren Sproles back, and maybe for right now, worrying about how much better they might have to be at Dallas can wait.
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