This is why NFL teams don’t like to risk key players in meaningless preseason games.
Nate Sudfeld, the quarterback who is slated to be Carson Wentz’s backup, left the Eagles’ preseason-opening 27-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night on a cart, with his left arm in an air cast.
Coach Doug Pederson said after the game that Sudfeld had broken his left wrist and that he would have surgery Friday morning. He said the injury was not season-ending.
The way the injury happened was especially senseless — the Eagles, down 14-10, were trying to mount a last-minute drive just before halftime. Sudfeld, chased by two Titans defenders, including undrafted rookie defensive tackle Isaiah Mack, threw the ball away on third-and-10 from his 49, and that should have been that.
Mack kept coming after the ball was released and dumped Sudfeld hard. The third-year quarterback put his arms behind him to brace his fall and his left wrist bent as he hit the turf.
Mack was penalized for a late hit. Sudfeld went into the blue medical tent, emerging when Jake Elliott’s 40-yard field goal try clanged off the right upright as time expired. Sudfeld sat in the front of the cart, his expression impassive.
Sudfeld completed 10 of 18 passes — including a beautiful 75-yard touchdown strike to Marken Michel — for 177 yards and a 107.9 passer rating, in what might be his only action in quite a while.
“It’s not season-ending, so we’re excited about that,” Pederson said. He said he hopes to be able to say more when he meets with reporters on Saturday, after Sudfeld’s surgery.
The Eagles already were being second-guessed in some quarters for not signing a bigger-name backup after Nick Foles left for Jacksonville in free agency, not that appealing candidates were plentiful. Now they have Wentz, fifth-round rookie Clayton Thorson, and journeyman Cody Kessler, 26, formerly of the Browns and the Jaguars.
“Right now, we’re just going to continue with who we’ve got,” Pederson said. He joked that he could come out of retirement, at age 51.
Kessler, who came in for Sudfeld on Thursday night and completed three of six passes for 12 yards, has a dozen career NFL starts and might be as good as anything out there, but ultimately, the Eagles seem likely to look for more help at the game’s most important position. Thorson’s debut was little more than horrendous, as he completed two of nine passes for seven yards.
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Pederson said he thought Thorson’s struggles were “just nerves … He’ll get better.”
David Chao, a former Chargers team physician who has a pretty good record analyzing NFL injuries from video, tweeted that it looked to him that Sudfeld fractured his left wrist. “Not done for the season but for a while,” Chao said, presaging Pederson’s words after the game.
Sudfeld has played in only three regular-season NFL games since the Eagles acquired him on waivers from Washington two years ago, after a rookie season in which he didn’t play. This week he said that preseason games can be “almost more nerve-wracking [than the real thing] because guys are playing so hard, because it’s for their livelihood.”
The play he was injured on might have been exactly what Sudfeld was talking about.
Kessler said when he saw how Sudfeld fell, “my stomach dropped.” Kessler said he watched as Sudfeld grabbed his wrist, got to his feet and jogged toward the sideline. “He’s kind of doing the head shake … It’s just hard to see it happen to one of your guys.”
Before Sudfeld went down, the headline was the lack of Eagles starters participating, including quarterback Carson Wentz and almost everyone else of note on offense.
The Titans, playing offensive starters, moved the ball well on their first possession, but when head coach Mike Vrabel decided to go for it on fourth-and-7 from the Eagles’ 23, safety Andrew Sendejo broke up the pass over the middle intended for Adam Humphries.
The Eagles used some defensive starters on the first series, but they vanished by the Titans’ second series, on which Ryan Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota as the Tennessee quarterback.
The Eagles took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter, when Sudfeld pieced together an eight-play, 35-yard drive, mostly on three Dallas Goedert catches for 50 yards, and Elliott rocketed a 53-yard field goal right down the middle.
Second-round Penn State rookie running back Miles Sanders’ much-anticipated Eagles preseason debut got off to a slow start, mostly because the blocking in front of him was less than optimal.
Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai was the only starter on the opening offensive line, and Vaitai won’t be a starter when Brandon Brooks comes back from his Achilles’ tear. Sanders gained three yards on three first-quarter carries, and did not see the field again. Pederson said his plan going in was to only use Sanders and Jordan Howard (three carries, eight yards) in the first quarter.
The Titans took the second-quarter lead on an 89-yard, nine-play touchdown drive. The key moment was a 37-yard Jeremy McNichols ramble on which McNichols ran away from Eagles reserve safety Tre Sullivan.
Eagles defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway stayed down on the play and was taken inside to be evaluated for a head injury.
Then Michel, older brother of Patriots running back Sony Michel, introduced himself to Eagles fans. On second-and-10 from the Eagles’ 25, Sudfeld launched a rocket to Michel, which the former Calgary Stampeder caught in stride, burning corner Adoree Jackson en route to a 75-yard touchdown.
Jackson was a first-round draft choice in 2017, from USC. Michel went undrafted in 2016 from UMass, signed with the Vikings, was waived at the end of that preseason, and went to the CFL, where he stayed until signing with the Eagles this year.