In the locker room afterward, Brandon Graham said he hadn’t seen any replays. He said he wasn’t watching, on the Eagles’ second offensive series, when Jadeveon Clowney’s helmet and right shoulder bounced Carson Wentz’s head off the turf.
“All I know is, we don’t have our quarterback,” Graham said as he contemplated the abrupt ending of his 10th NFL season, a 17-9 wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks that pretty much perfectly summed up the Eagles’ 2019 season.
A team that would finish the final game with only three of its opening-day offensive starters in place lost its franchise quarterback to a concussion, eight snaps into the first playoff game of the quarterback’s career.
That team nonetheless came close to scoring the game-tying touchdown twice in the final minutes. It was led by 40-year-old backup quarterback Josh McCown, who, by the way, was making his playoff debut. And who was on the field for the first time since Oct. 13.
“We fought through so much that didn’t go our way,” Graham said, after leaving the game with knee tendinitis and coming back to finish. He said when he thinks of this season, he will think of winning the NFC East, and not about the ending.
The final game and the season were as hard to parse as referee Shawn Smith’s declaration, through a pool reporter, that on the Clowney hit, the officials “saw incidental helmet contact, and in our judgment, we didn’t rule that to be a foul. … From what we saw on the field, it was incidental.”
Wentz put the Eagles on his back to take them from 5-7 to 9-7 and the NFC East title. He finished a regular season healthy for the first time since his rookie year of 2016, only to see all his work dissolve into nothing in the first quarter, on a hit that seemed at best unnecessary.
Wentz, scrambling, tried to dive forward after being tripped up by safety Bradley McDougald. Instead of tagging him down, Clowney lowered his shoulder and launched, with Wentz stretched forward, inches off the Lincoln Financial Field turf.
“I didn’t see anything. I was just playing fast and he turned like he was running the ball, so I was trying to get him down,” Clowney said afterward. “It was a bang-bang play. I don’t intend to hurt anybody in this league, let me just put that out there. I’ve been down the injury road; it’s not fun. My intention was not to hurt him. I was just playing fast.”
In 2018, Clowney took a 15-yard roughing penalty and was fined $40,110 for a hit on then-Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, in an Eagles victory over the Houston Texans.
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. Pederson said he didn’t see the hit. “It’s out of my hands. It’s got to be called on the field. They didn’t call it, so obviously, they didn’t think it was a penalty.”
Eagles left tackle Jason Peters, 37, who said afterward he plans to play next season, here or elsewhere, saw the play and didn’t like it.
“I checked Clowney about it. … He was mouthing, I was mouthing back at him. I told him, ‘That’s a dirty play.’ He’s like, you know, ‘My bad.’ … We just kept playing.”
Wentz did not leave the game right away, playing four more snaps before the Eagles punted and Wentz went to the sideline, where he entered the blue injury tent.
Pederson said associate head athletic trainer Joe O’Pella told him Wentz would be evaluated, then told him Wentz was being taken to the locker room.
Seattle drove down the field and kicked a 49-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead, but as that happened, many Eagles fans were watching Wentz trudge to the tunnel, head down. He did not re-emerge.
“I wanted this for him, obviously, and I think a lot of his teammates did, too,” Pederson said.
McCown was fine, given that he hadn’t thrown a pass in a game since Sept. 15. He was gutsy, running five times for 23 yards while completing 18 of 24 passes for 174 yards.
But McCown, having sat for so long, clearly wasn’t processing the game at playoff speed. He held the ball far too long, took a delay penalty at the Seahawks’ 5, and was sacked half a dozen times. That included the fatal sack by Clowney — who else? — on the Eagles’ last-gasp fourth-and-7 play from the Seahawks’ 10, the first snap after the two-minute warning.
Pederson said the Eagles had two plays called there, and went to the second call. But some players apparently didn’t get the message, “so we had a couple of busted assignments.”
McCown, who isn’t sure what his future holds, was emotional.
“A lot of people put a lot of time and energy into this game, and it just hurts when you don’t get it done,” he said.
Pederson said he tried to simplify things for McCown, eliminating some of the motions and shifts, hoping to “get him into a flow, into a rhythm.”
“He gave us a chance,” rookie running back Miles Sanders said of McCown. “That’s all I can say.”
Going 0-for-3 in the red zone with McCown was a huge key to the game, but just as big was the inability of the Eagles defense to get off the field on third down. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, sacked only once, effortlessly bought time and always had someone open, sooner or later.
The Seahawks will move on to the divisional round and a date at the Packers next Sunday.
“They made some big plays. We just couldn’t get off the field,” Graham said.
Wilson completed 18 of 30 passes for 325 yards and the 53-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf that set the final score, with 2 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside instead of Metcalf (seven catches, 160 yards) in the second round last spring.
Sunday’s score was the same as in the first meeting, Nov. 24 at the Linc, when Seattle definitely was the better team. This time, Seattle definitely was the more fortunate team.
Pederson said Seattle’s 8-for-15 third-down efficiency was “probably the story of the game.”
“Obviously, this team embodies this city,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who came back from cracked ribs and a kidney injury to catch two passes for 44 yards. “It’s a resilient city, a tough city, and I feel like the character of this team the last couple of years has been a reflection of this city.
“We do everything we can to try and win on Sundays, and sometimes we just come up a little short. Today we had our chances to make plays, and we just didn’t make enough of them.”