Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on Carson Wentz in the first quarter Sunday drove the quarterback’s head into the ground, and Wentz suffered a concussion that soon after removed him from the game.
Those are the only facts that aren’t disputed about the play. Everything else surrounding it is affected by one’s rooting interest. The same Eagles fans who are furious that Seattle wasn’t penalized on the play, or that Clowney wasn’t tossed or deported or something awful, would have been high-fiving in the stands if Derek Barnett had knocked Russell Wilson from the game in the same manner.
There’s nothing wrong with that, either. Fans aren’t expected to be impartial or to see the world objectively. It is all about what color laundry the players happen to be wearing, and the reaction of the Philadelphia fan base is no different from what it would be anywhere else.
“It sucks,” said Brandon Graham, who also plays defensive end, “but at the end of the day, I think it’s just part of the game.”
At the end of the day Sunday, the Eagles had lost, and maybe the Wentz concussion was the deciding factor. Putting that together is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces upside down.
Backup Josh McCown took the stripped-down offense into the red zone three times — and to Seattle’s 26- and 24-yard line on two other drives — and got only three field goals from those five opportunities. Wentz might have closed more of those deals — the Eagles were third in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage this season — but running a riskier offense might have led to turnovers before they reached the red zone, too.
Additionally, if pressed, the Seahawks would have opened up their own offense. By the fourth quarter, they were content to avoid big mistakes and let the game play out as it was. That turned out to be the right strategy.
Knowing what would have actually happened without the Wentz concussion is impossible, and only the irrational can be 100% sure the outcome would have been different. What we know, however, is that Carson Wentz was knocked from the game and the Eagles lost.
Looking at the replay, there probably should have been a penalty on Clowney. Impartial observers have seen it differently. As Wentz tried to turn the corner and make something out of a botched screen play, he was no longer a quarterback. He was a running back and, absent a slide, was no more protected by the rules than any other runner.
Clowney was the second man in on the tackle, and he clearly led with his shoulder into Wentz’s back. His momentum carried him forward and there was contact between their helmets and, ultimately, Wentz got the worst of it.
“He was a runner, and he did not give himself up,” referee Shawn Smith told a pool reporter after the game. “We saw incidental helmet contact, and in our judgment, we didn’t rule that to be a foul.”
Things happen quickly out there and the officials did their best, but no one would have complained if there had been a penalty. That decision — flag or no flag — had no bearing on the outcome, though. Fifteen yards wouldn’t have changed anything, especially considering the concussed quarterback remained in the game for the rest of that drive.
In a season replete with bad injury luck, it was just the capper.
“I don’t think he’s a dirty player, but I didn’t see the hit,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “It happens.”
As much as the league would like to keep the violence but remove the risk, that’s not really possible. We see more of it because of high-definition replays, but nothing much has really changed in 80 years.
“You’re supposed to lead with your hands, not your shoulder or your head,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “I ain’t saying I’ve never done it, but we’ve all been in that situation and the game is designed to protect us, too, in the head and neck area. I don’t think [the hit] was really necessary, but that’s just my opinion. I believe it was iffy.”
Clowney’s reputation precedes him, of course. He has a peccable history when it comes to the treatment of quarterbacks, even if that didn’t influence Sunday’s officiating staff. The other players recognize that not everyone plays the same way. And if the table had been turned on Wilson and the Seahawks, they would have accepted that good fortune as readily as they understood the bad.
“That’s how Clowney plays,” Graham said. “He’s aggressive. It might have been one of those things that just happened the wrong way. It’s touchy because we lost our quarterback, but … I play hard, too. It happens.”
It happens. That’s the alpha and omega of what took place between Wentz and Clowney in Lincoln Financial Field. It happens, and it happened right there, in an NFL game in which they were playing for money, and one of 100 violent instances during the game led to an unfortunate injury.