Carson Wentz just can’t win.
Two more interceptions. Another costly overthrow.
And a 23-23 tie against, arguably, the worst team in the NFL.
Well, maybe the co-worst. Both the Eagles and the Bengals are now 0-2-1. On merit.
Wentz, who tied the game with a fourth-quarter scramble, showed flashes of the swashbuckling player who made an MVP charge in 2017, before injuries stymied his progress. He was 29-for-47 and 225 yards with two ghastly picks and touchdown; He showed more frequent flashes of the foundering quarterback whose poor play cost the Eagles yet another win. And, incredibly, he doesn’t seem to realize how bad he is:
“The first one, I felt good about.” Really? Throwing into triple coverage?
“I got aggressive there, tried to get one in there to Ertz. Guy made a good play.” He hit the defender in the hands.
Pressed, Wentz allowed: “I’ll have to watch the tape.”
Spoiler alert: It’s another horror show.
Wentz ended the first drive of the game when he threw at DeSean Jackson, into triple coverage. The pass was batted, but it would have been picked off anyway. Later, unpressured, he threw behind Zach Ertz. Later, unpressured, he missed Miles Sanders, who had blown by linebacker Josh Bynes and would have caught the pass at the 25, and likely would have scored a touchdown.
Wentz is the highest-paid player in Eagles history. His passer rating, 63.9, is the worst in the NFL.
Yes, Jim Schwartz’s defense stinks, and yes, the injury situation is catastrophic.
But really, the Eagles can’t win when the franchise quarterback is playing incredibly poor football. Both interceptions were horrible throws, bad decisions, and completely his fault.
Wentz has thrown six interceptions in the Eagles' first three games. He has been the worst player on a team that includes 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters; converted poor-cornerback-turned-worse-safety Jalen Mills; and linebacker Nate Gerry, who made it in the NFL as a special-teamer -- for a reason.
Wentz consistently overestimates his arm strength, his mechanics have deteriorated, and he makes worse decisions than Charlie Sheen.
Is there hope? Perhaps.
After the first interception, it actually seemed that Wentz had emerged from the haze in which he has played this season.
With the ball at the Bengals' 3-yard line, he took a shotgun snap. He faked a handoff to Corey Clement, then locked his eyes on Ertz, his favorite target, slanting toward the post from the right slot. The Bengals knew this too, of course, so they double-teamed Ertz. Wentz looked left, where all three of his other targets were blanketed.
Wentz tucked to run, as he’d done five plays prior and gained 12 yards. But this time there was no lane to his left. By then Sam Hubbard arrived in the backfield, but Wentz -- both hands securely on the ball, for a change -- saw Hubbard coming, and collapsed to accept the sack.
He didn’t force a throw, as he’d done on the first series, which resulted in his fifth interception in the last eight quarters. He didn’t try to flee Hubbard with one hand on the ball, as he’s done far too frequently since 2017. He took a painless, smart sack. Jake Elliott kicked a 27-yard field goal. The Eagles took a 3-0 lead.
This was progress.
The next snap Wentz took was a screen pass that the Bengals diagnosed. Wentz immediately threw the ball into the ground. He failed to do this twice on screen passes this season. More significant, he failed to do this on a screen pass in the playoff loss to Seattle in January, a play on which Jadeveon Clowney clipped him as Wentz foolishly fled, giving Wentz a concussion and ending the Eagles' chances to advance.
This was progress.
Early in the second quarter, with the Eagles pinned at their own 19 on third-and-10, cornerback Mackenzie Alexander blitzed, which Wentz should have recognized but did not. He did, however, sense the pressure and used his magnificent arm strength to throw the ball away deep downfield. No sack. No forced pass. Just white-flag wisdom.
With 21 seconds to play in the second quarter, Wentz recognized a soft spot in the Benglas zone, looked off the defense, shifted his feet, opened his hips, and fired to Greg Ward for a 29-yard touchdown.
Wentz wasn’t perfect during his run of competence; he fumbled in a late-collapsing pocket late in the first half (the Eagles recovered), the play that preceded the TD pass.
Why is this important?
Because Wentz’s performance affects more than just the 2020 season.
Because, five years ago, the Eagles mortgaged their future to move up in the draft and select Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick, their highest pick since 1999, when they drafted franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Because, last year, the Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year, $128 million contract extension that began this year. It is the richest deal in team history.
Because, last week, the Eagles weren’t sure if Wentz could pull out of his funk. He’d turned the ball over five times in seven quarters. He’d been inaccurate. His passer rating of 64.4 was second-worst in the NFL.
Because second-round rookie Jalen Hurts is dressing as the backup. Hurts, who had no preseason. Hurts, who would be playing behind an offensive line missing three of five starters. Hurts, who would be throwing to a group of receivers missing two of three starters.
Because the payroll, the roster, and the offensive coaching staff -- the Eagles pay five different quarterback whisperers -- all were constructed to afford, complement, and tutor Carson Wentz.
Wentz ran nine times for 65 yards and scored the tying touchdown with a 7-yard run with 21 seconds to play. He’d converted third-and-6 with a 9-yard run five plays before. The payroll, roster, and staff weren’t constructed to help Wentz run.
Granted, Wentz lacks ideal support.
The Eagles entered Sunday with a gutted roster: right guard Brandon Brooks, left guard Isaac Seumalo, left tackle Andre Dillard, and receivers Jalen Reagor and Alshon Jeffery were out. By the beginning of the fourth quarter they’d lost tight end Dallas Geodert, deep threat DeSean Jackson, and cornerback Avante Maddox.
None of those absences affected Wentz’s interceptions.
None of those absences affected Wentz’s overthrow of Sanders.