GREEN BAY, Wis. – There were moments Thursday night, just a few, when it appeared Carson Wentz’s head would end up here, his torso there, and his legs somewhere else. Take a play in the third quarter of the Eagles’ 34-27 victory over the Packers, of the win that restored the stability and equilibrium to their season. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams came in from the left side on a blitz, free and unblocked. Wentz shifted just enough to shed Williams, who raked his arm across Wentz’s chest instead of leveling him. Then, Wentz slid to his right to avoid another Packers pass-rusher and threw the ball low toward Dallas Goedert, just to get rid of it.
In the box score, that sequence would be denoted in two words – WENTZ INCOMPLETION – that could never capture the lengths to which he went to save the Eagles from a drive-killing sack or turnover. It was the sort of small, subtle play that can’t be quantified, can’t be packaged into passer rating, or QBR, or any of the other metrics by which a quarterback is measured but that helps a team win a game. It was the sort of play that Wentz has generally been making through these four games. This time, his teammates lent him some support.
For these previous four days, since the Eagles’ three-point loss to the Lions on Sunday, it’s been a laugh to listen to some national media outlets debate a silly proposition: that Wentz was somehow responsible for the Eagles’ sluggish and sloppy start, that it was a reflection primarily on him. The Eagles’ defensive line couldn’t get close to an opposing quarterback, and the receivers were playing as though they were paid by the dropped pass, and the offensive line was laboring both to pass-protect and run-block. But, sure, Wentz must have been the real problem. He was never near the top of that long list, and Thursday night only reaffirmed that the rest of the team needed to raise its level of play.
At last, it did. Hard as it was to see amid a slew of bad penalties, the secondary’s poor coverage, and Aaron Rodgers’ genius, the Eagles did enough that Wentz didn’t have to be the superman that Rodgers was. All he had to do was play a crisp game. All he had to do was be who he usually is.
The offensive line had its best performance of the season, opening wide holes to allow Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders to slash away at the Packers’ defense. Rodgers torched the Eagles for 422 yards and more breathtaking plays than you could count, but the defense pulled off three game-turning moments: a Derek Barnett strip-sack and Brandon Graham fumble recovery that led to a Howard touchdown run, a fourth-and-goal stand, and Nigel Bradham’s late interception. And to counteract the blitz-happy tendencies of Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Doug Pederson designed a game plan that demanded Wentz make quick, smart reads and throw short, accurate passes. “Up front, they like to mix it up and do some things,” Wentz said. “We came in really wanting a balanced attack, get rid of the ball early and just play fast – and on third down, as well.” It worked. Wentz had just 160 passing yards, but he threw three touchdowns, and the Eagles were again excellent on third down, converting five times in nine attempts.
“I really think he’s playing fast,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters Tuesday. “He’s seeing it. He’s starting at the line of scrimmage, and he’s getting us in and out of calls, and the ball is coming out. Thinking about his third down right now, he’s close to 65 percent on third down – something like five touchdowns. I mean, he’s playing at an extremely high level. That’s a money down for quarterbacks in the NFL, and he’s doing it as good as anybody right now.”
No, Wentz didn’t match Rodgers’ pyrotechnics Thursday night. But then, for once, he didn’t have to. It was enough that he make the plays a franchise quarterback is supposed to make, the kind of plays that keep a team calm and poised when its season is teetering on the ledge. The Eagles were down 10: Wentz hit Alshon Jeffery for a 6-yard touchdown. The Eagles were down 6: On three third downs, Wentz sneaked twice and found Zach Ertz for 12 yards, each netting a first down, each extending a drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Dallas Goedert and the Eagles’ first lead. This is the comfort that a franchise quarterback provides, that the Eagles have believed Wentz would provide from the instant he arrived.
“I think we’re happy to have our quarterback now,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the Eagles’ final game of the 2016 season, Wentz’s rookie year. “That whole situation is settled.”
On Thursday night, for the first time in three weeks, it looked that way again for the Eagles. Carson Wentz was settled, and so, at last, were they.
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