LANDOVER, Md. — At different junctures in a strange, silent afternoon, Carson Wentz was the key player for both teams.
There was no reasonable explanation for the way Wentz turned what might have been the best first 25 minutes or so of his career into what might have been the worst last 35 minutes of his career. The result was a 27-17 season-opening loss Sunday to lightly regarded Washington.
The Eagles led 17-0 and were encountering little resistance from a team with no nickname and a scattershot offense, before Wentz’s first interception in 191 throws seemingly flipped a switch for both teams.
Wentz went from completing 14 of his first 18 passes, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, to completing 10 of his final 24, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
There were contributing factors, including an injury-ravaged offensive line that dissolved into panic in the second half, making any sort of scoring effort almost impossible. But the Eagles should have been way ahead and running to eat up the clock by then, not dropping back and throwing downfield in desperation.
Every Washington point was scored on a drive that began in Eagles territory; seldom has a team gotten a bigger helping hand after being down and nearly out.
After the game turned, every Wentz decision seemed to just keep making everything worse, which is not what you’re looking for in your fifth-year, $128 million franchise quarterback.
“I put our defense in a bad spot on a couple of occasions,” Wentz said.
As understatements go, this was hard to top, unless someone had chosen to say “not much of a crowd today,” with FedEx Field closed to fans.
“We definitely lost some momentum. We didn’t make the plays we needed to make. I got to be better. It starts with me, I’ve got to protect the ball ...”
Both Wentz interceptions led to Washington touchdowns. He fumbled twice, losing one. The O-line and Wentz combined for eight sacks that cost the Eagles 62 yards.
One, completely Wentz’s fault, made a routine field goal attempt into a 53-yarder that Jake Elliott left a little short. Another, caused by an unblocked blitzer on fourth-and-four, gave Washington the ball at the Eagles' 46 and led to the home team’s tying field goal.
The Eagles seemed to have never heard of the concept of blitz pickup; every stunt or twist caught someone napping, which maybe can happen when you end up playing three guys who accounted for three combined NFL snaps among them coming into the game. But if offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is really as good as his reputation, it shouldn’t happen.
“Credit to Washington, for throwing full-time blitzes,” center Jason Kelce said. “We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be better up front. No excuses. I think I’ve had plenty of work with the guys who were out there today.”
Kelce said that under its previous coaching staff, Washington was a team that pressured off the edge, but new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio went with a lot of "interior pressures that obviously haven’t been their M.O. in previous years. ... They really put an emphasis on shutting down our inside runs and bringing pressure up the middle, and we didn’t handle it real well. "
Wentz and Doug Pederson, who was calling the plays, didn’t seem to understand the need for the quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly. Wentz and Pederson played into the hands of Washington’s defensive front, which is by far the team’s best unit.
Maybe running back Miles Sanders, held out with a hamstring injury, would have helped. The Eagles managed 17 runs for 57 yards, with 21 receiving yards on four receptions from the running backs.
Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) surely would have helped. When Johnson couldn’t go, fourth-round rookie Jack Driscoll started the first NFL game he’d ever attended in person. And when Driscoll limped off in the second half, Jordan Mailata was thrown into the fire at right tackle, making this the first football game Mailata had played in that counted.
A little more continuity between Wentz and his receiving corps would have helped. Jalen Reagor showed his potential with a 55-yard catch early, but that would be his only reception, on four targets. DeSean Jackson was targeted seven times and caught two passes, for 46 yards.
The only target Wentz could really count on all afternoon was third-year tight end Dallas Goedert, who caught eight passes on nine targets, for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The target Wentz is accustomed to counting on, Zach Ertz, caught an early touchdown pass but dropped a fourth-down throw over the middle with the Eagles down a touchdown in the fourth quarter. That was when the reality of the imminent loss to a team the Eagles had won six in a row against really hit home.
Ertz, who feels the organization misled him about getting a new contract, could hardly have played more into the building narrative that the team envisions Goedert’s taking the job full time and Ertz moving on, sometime in the next year or so. He caught just three passes for 18 yards, on seven targets, and was not made available to reporters.
Avoiding the loss of Vinny Curry (hamstring) and Brandon Graham (presumable concussion), with Derek Barnett (hamstring) not making the trip, might have helped the overburdened Eagles defense make a play to turn back the tide. With Josh Sweat and Genard Avery the last defensive ends left standing, that didn’t happen.
This was the first opening-day loss in Pederson’s five seasons, and one of the worst losses of his tenure, up there with Miami last year or Cincinnati in 2016.
The start was everything an Eagles fan could have wanted — Eagles won the toss, deferred, Washington lost two yards before punting, and Wentz led an effortless four-play, 62-yard touchdown drive.
The only third down the Eagles faced, a Washington neutral-zone infraction gave them a first down without a snap. Wentz hit Ertz through traffic in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead that was 10-0 after Jalen Reagor’s 55-yard catch set up an Elliott field goal.
It was 17-0 on a lovely 34-yard rainbow of a throw to Goedert in the end zone, Washington was all but dead and buried, and then the game flipped.
When the Eagles got the ball at their 28 with 1 minute, 44 seconds left in the second quarter, it would have been nice to score even more points before halftime, but the main thing they had to do was not give Washington any hope.
So of course, Wentz’s first-down pass was a jump ball between Reagor and Washington corner Fabian Moreau, which Moreau won. The home team was in business, at the Eagles' 45. Wentz wasn’t asked if the route was what he expected, and Reagor was not available to reporters.
Second-year Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was 3-for-11 for 32 yards with three minutes to go to halftime, started hitting receivers all over the field. The Eagles neglected to cover tight end Logan Thomas on third-and-3 from the 6, and it was 17-7 at halftime.
A listless Eagles three-and-out started the second half. When they got the ball back, another Wentz pick, this time to corner Jimmy Moreland, who stepped inside rookie John Hightower and ran the interception down to the Eagles' 20. Four plays later it was 17-14.
Wentz finally got another promising drive going, but it died when he took that awful third-down coverage sack and Elliott couldn’t hit from 53.
A fourth-down sack in Eagles territory turned into a tying Washington field goal. Then Haskins, confidence restored, ran his drive of the game, 13 plays to gain 48 yards, and unbelievably, when Peyton Barber bulled up the middle to the end zone from the Eagles' 4, Washington had the lead.