ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The ledger will not support the assertion that Carson Wentz performed superbly. History will credit Brandon Graham’s tackles and Miles Sanders’ runs and the offensive line’s brutish domination as chief reasons the Eagles salvaged 2019.
The ledger is insufficient. History will lie.
Carson Wentz’s leadership, and his character, and his selflessness, and his maturity — they are the reasons it was 31-13. They are the reasons his offense scored 31 points against the No. 3 defense in the NFL, at their stadium, in biblically bad weather. Recognize the sheer majesty of Wentz’s efficiency. Bask in its warmth.
You see, Hippocratically, Wentz first did no harm. Quarterbacks have the power to lose games like no other athlete. He did not. He trusted the game plan. He completed 17-of-24 passes for 172 yards, with one 5-yard touchdown, but he threw no interceptions. He lost no fumbles. He allowed his runners to amass 218 yards, the team’s most since LeSean McCoy (and Mark Sanchez) dropped 256 yards at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, 2014.
Wentz ran for 35 yards himself Sunday, most of those on 11-yard and 13-yard third-down scrambles during the clinching, signature drive in the fourth quarter.
“When your quarterback can do that,” coach Doug Pederson said, “it’s big.”
Moreover, Wentz galvanized his locker room. It had suffered overwhelming losses at Minnesota and Dallas by a combined score of 75-30. It dealt with a raft of extraneous distractions, including fresh allegations that he quarterbacked without proper scope. He met with the malcontents, he prayed, and he moved on.
Then, in a lake-effect rainstorm whose 20-mph winds and 40-mph gusts starched the flags atop New Era Field, he put on the gloves — literally — and he dragged his 3-4 team to the mathematical definition of mediocrity.
He succeeded without his No. 1 big-play weapon, DeSean Jackson, who has missed the past seven games with an abdominal strain. He lost his No. 2 big-play weapon, running back Miles Sanders, who left the game in the middle of the third quarter with the Eagles ahead, 17-14. Sanders played a large role in building that lead, but then, that has become expected. Sanders’ 65-yard touchdown run and his 25-yard screen pass-and-run gave him nine plays of at least 19 yards this season, three more than Zach Ertz and five more than both Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery, who snagged a 38-yarder Sunday.
Wentz has somehow compiled a 92.4 passer rating largely without the services of Jackson, Darren Sproles, and, lately, without left tackle Jason Peters. Still, he persists.
On Sunday he ran a little. He passed some. He played NFL football like an elite athlete who understands exactly what he needs to do.
“He did his thing!” said Agholor.
This iteration of Carson Wentz is the purest distillation. This is the best he can be. This is a winner.
Afterward, in an understated gray plaid suit, he confronted the recent travails: those staggering losses; Pederson guaranteeing a win at Dallas last week; anonymous sources who told ESPN he was throwing too many deep passes; and released cornerback Orlando Scandrick blasting the Eagles’ leadership on Friday.
As the week progressed, Wentz met with wideout Jeffery — who, for the second consecutive season, is suspected of complaining to ESPN about Wentz — among other players. It was one of several players-only meetings held in the past week.
“I thought this was going to bring us closer together,” Wentz said of the discord, both perceived and real.
He was right.
The controversies also steeled Wentz’s resolve to win and diminished his instinct to perform. Sunday wasn’t pretty until the final whistle blew. Wentz was less concerned about making a play than about managing the game. Twice, he declined to throw dangerous passes into tight coverage; first, with 9 minutes to play in the third quarter, then at the end of the period. Both times, he was sacked; so what? The Eagles led. The running game was working. The defense was staunch.
“You ask us on defense if we’d rather him take a sack or even chance turning the ball over — take the sack. All day. Let us play ball,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
Wentz looked more comfortable passing for 172 yards than he has in some of his 15 300-yard games.
“He told me it was like he was back in Fargo on the playground,” said Ertz.
New York and North Dakota aren’t exactly the same latitude, but when November arrives at the doorstep neither place is particularly pleasant. Wentz is a Bismarck native but he played at North Dakota State, in the Fargodome, so it’s not as though he has been inured to harsh conditions the way Bart Starr was. He tested the weather long before kickoff and decided he needed gloves to function.
Then, with the season at stake, and with his legacy at risk, he functioned.
“I thought he played extremely well today,” Pederson said. “He played smart. He played tough. He played aggressive.”
It was a must-win game.