Carson Wentz spent what might have been his last game as an Eagle pacing the dank, chilly Lincoln Financial Field sideline, peering at a tablet device, watching the team he captained bumble into the offseason. Watching the rookie quarterback who has usurped him compile a 25.4 passer rating — lower than any Wentz has compiled in 68 career starts.
How did we get here?
The exploration of that topic will consume the rest of the week, with no Eagles playoff game to talk or write about. But it seems safe to say after a 20-14 season-ending loss that gave the NFC East title to a remarkably unimpressive 7-9 Washington team, the Eagles organization heads into a more uncertain offseason than it has seen since the firing of Chip Kelly five years ago.
This is a bad team that somehow is farther over the 2021 NFL salary cap than any other group, and will absorb the largest dead cap charge in NFL history — $34 million — if it accedes to Wentz’s reported request to be traded, because of his alleged unsalvageable relationship with Eagles coach Doug Pederson.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for [Wentz] and I feel like we can together get these things corrected and get back on track,” Pederson said afterward. He said he had not asked Wentz or anyone connected with Wentz about the report.
“That’s my mindset going into the offseason. That’s where I’m at. ... I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I still have total faith, total trust in Carson Wentz and myself to get the job done.”
Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman are coming back, it seems, while defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is not. Schwartz’s decimated group played its heart out for him Sunday night, played well enough to win, had the offense been at least competent in the second half. But it wasn’t.
“Jim and I will obviously sit down and talk, and just see where he’s at,” Pederson said, when asked about a report that Schwartz, whose contract is expiring, will sit out a year from coaching and might retire at 54. “If that’s the case, I can tell you this: I truly appreciate Jim Schwartz and the five years that we’ve worked together. He helped the Philadelphia Eagles win a championship in 2017 and he’s really done an outstanding job for us, for me and obviously, the organization. Whatever he decides, moving forward, I will support that.”
Linebacker Alex Singleton, who finished the game with 14 tackles and a sack, said the players hadn’t been told anything by Schwartz. They were aware of the report of his pending departure.
Singleton said Schwartz told his players to “leave it all out there” in their final outing together.
“That’s the smartest football mind I’ve ever been around,” Singleton said. “The stuff that he knows, I take notes. The stuff that he says all the time, the little nuances of the game that I’ve learned just from him talking. ... You just learn to respect him so much as time goes on. I respect him more than anything in the world, and couldn’t be happier to play for him.”
This joyless Eagles season ended as it began, with a loss to Washington. The 27-17 setback on Sept. 13 was a shock, especially since the Eagles blew a 17-0 late second-quarter lead. This outcome, nearly four months later, was a tad less surprising. The biggest surprise was the amount of trouble the visitors had putting away the 4-11-1 Eagles, who compiled their worst record since Andy Reid’s farewell 4-12 in 2012.
Sunday night’s nationally televised eyesore was a more-or-less intentional loss, which must have really made the NFL office and the Giants happy — the Giants’ victory over Dallas would have earned them the division title and the trip to the playoffs, had the Eagles won. Which the Eagles had many opportunities to do, while playing much of their practice squad, and giving the final 12 minutes, 55 seconds to third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who played for the first time since Week 17 of the 2018 season.
Pederson insisted he did not try to lose, that he was struck by the need to suddenly get Sudfeld into a game, after feeling no similar urge for 24 months.
“Nate has been here four years, and I thought he deserved to get some snaps,” Pederson said. Sudfeld completed five of 12 passes for 32 yards, as the Eagles failed to score in the second half.
As the game began, the question was whether the Eagles could really keep Washington from winning the division, without Miles Sanders, Fletcher Cox, Dallas Goedert, Derek Barnett, and several other regulars. With special teams guy and occasional safety Rudy Ford starting at cornerback opposite Darius Slay. With Grayland Arnold as the nickel corner, Matt Pryor as the left tackle, and Brett Toth making his first NFL start at right tackle. (Toth’s last previous start of any kind was the 2017 Army-Navy game.)
If the point of Sunday night for the Eagles was to get a better reading on Jalen Hurts, with Wentz allegedly not wanting to go through an offseason retooling and subsequent QB competition, the lineup they fielded didn’t help them do that. Hurts left the game 7-for-20 for 72 yards, an interception, and two rushing touchdowns.
Seeing Eagles fans on social media rooting for their team not to score was entertaining, even if the difference between drafting sixth overall with a loss and drafting ninth with a win wasn’t necessarily earth-shattering.
For a while, playing out this narrative caused fans to have to half-heartedly root against Hurts, as he gamely brought the shorthanded home team back from a 10-0 deficit to a 14-10 second-quarter lead. Both touchdowns were scored on 6-yard Hurts runs; his makeshift offensive line was a little spotty on the protection, but the rookie wasn’t flustered. The second TD was set up by a franchise-QB-type pass, Hurts stepping up against pressure and firing into a tight window, where J.J. Arcega-Whiteside — yes, really — made the catch for a 30-yard gain to the Washington 6. It was the first catch since Oct. 22 for the 2019 second-round draft pick. It also was the Eagles’ longest gain of the day.
Hurts, who looked a little better than his 5-for-12, one interception, 65-yard first-half passing performance, shook off the loss of first-round rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor to a concussion; Eagles coaches probably would have liked a longer last look at Reagor, who caught the only pass he was thrown, for 15 yards, before going to the medical tent and then to the locker room.
Reagor concluded his 11-game rookie season with 31 catches for 396 yards — just a tad less impressive than the 88 catches for 1,400 yards tallied by Justin Jefferson, the receiver most people thought the Eagles would take 21st overall, who went 22nd to the Vikings.
Hurts had a tremendous chance to put the Eagles ahead late in the third quarter, after a Marcus Epps interception of Alex Smith at the Washington 15. The Eagles ran Boston Scott three times and got a first down at the 5. But after a 1-yard Corey Clement run, Hurts rolled out and threw the ball away. Then he rolled right again and threw wide of Zach Ertz in the end zone. On fourth-and-goal, Hurts scrambled left, had Quez Watkins wide open, and threw the ball well short of his receiver.
“Without a doubt” Hurts could have made a better throw there, he said. “Didn’t really get the ‘oomph’ on it like I wanted to.” He said it was “a throw I make often ... it’s tough [to miss on it].”
That was it for the presumptive future franchise QB.
“As a competitor, I play to win. I have to trust ‘coach’ with that,” Hurts said. He said Pederson “stuck with his plan” to use Sudfeld. “Nate’s worked really hard all year.”
Sudfeld also benefited from an interception and good field position, courtesy of linebacker T.J. Edwards, as Schwartz pumped his fist on the sideline, but Sudfeld couldn’t field a low snap and gave the ball right back.
“This will sit on my chest all offseason,” Hurts said. He was 1-3 as a starter after taking over for Wentz during a Dec. 13 loss to Green Bay. “Failing to get to the postseason, all the hard work we put in, it’s going to sit on our chests. It’s going to sit on all of our chests.”
Hurts said the Wentz/Pederson trade/fractured relationship report is “something you’ll have to ask those two individuals.”
Asked if he had shown enough to be the starter in 2021, Hurts said that also was a question for Pederson.
“I’ll tell you where I’m coming from, from a mentality standpoint. I want to get better as a quarterback every day,” Hurts said. “As a competitor, I want to dominate, and take advantage of every opportunity I have. I have some things that I’m gonna learn from, this entire team’s gonna learn from.”
Twice during his postgame session, Hurts made the same prediction:
“The sun will shine real soon.”