EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The guy whom nobody wants to see this postseason was wearing a hat that said “Division Champs” and a shirt that said, “The East is Not Enough.” He was also wearing a smile.
As Carson Wentz stood in front of a packed conference room in MetLife Stadium, there was a palpable lightness to his being, the pressure and frustration leaving his body like steam from a sidewalk on a late-July day.
“I’m just grateful,” he said. “Extremely grateful — to be healthy, and to be playing in meaningful games.”
He had spent much of the previous three hours slogging through a steady rain, the other 10 players on the Eagles’ offense in tow, dragging an injury-ravaged roster down the final stretch with the sort of performance that numbers can not possibly do justice. In a 34-17 win that completed the Eagles’ resuscitation of their once clinically dead season, Wentz was the exact sort of difference-maker who can count for a lot this time of year. The last time the Eagles played a game at this stadium was in their preseason finale, the annual Nothingburger Bowl against the Jets where the only lingering drama was whether the developmental quarterback will make the practice squad (he did not). And if you were just judging by Sunday’s box score, you would have sworn that’s what this was. Greg Ward, Boston Scott, Josh Perkins, Deontay Burnett. Guys whose first names you still have to Google.
R. Davis? Which one’s R. Davis, again?
Not since Jim Redmond in Barcelona had we seen one human being carry his fellow man across the finish line the way Wentz has carried the Eagles the past couple of weeks. All but 64 of Wentz’s 289 passing yards went to players who had spent time on the practice squad this season, including a 24-yard cross-field touchdown strike to Perkins that gave the Eagles a 10-3 lead in the second quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, he hooked up with Burnett on a 41-yard pass that put the Eagles in position for a 50-yard field goal. Twice, he hit tight end Dallas Goedert — the only skill-position player who took the field with more than one season of NFL experience — with the sorts of throws that can render a football field indefensible.
“We’ve seen some just unbelievable throws,” center Jason Kelce said. “The touch that he put on the one late in the second half [to Burnett]. … He’s playing unbelievable right now. He’s been throwing the ball really well, he’s running the offense altogether really well, I think the coaches are doing a phenomenal job. This whole thing’s clicking pretty good.”
There are plenty of reasons why, in different circumstances, the Eagles would be the one team the rest of the NFC playoff field would be salivating to face. Against the Giants, they suffered another devastating injury when starting right guard Brandon Brooks was carted off the field with what was announced as a shoulder injury. Their patchwork group of cornerbacks has shown a near-total inability to play four quarters of football at a level that doesn’t persistently threaten to blow open a game. The pass rush from their front four has been disconcertingly lackluster, prompting defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to lean heavily on his blitz packages.
Yet for all of the reasons why one might consider the Eagles to be the least dangerous team in the playoff field, there is one big reason why they aren’t. The version of Carson Wentz that we saw on the field on Sunday, and the one we’ve seen throughout the majority of the Eagles’ current four-game winning streak, is a guy who looks closer to the 2017 version of himself than he has at any point since a shredded knee derailed him that season. Over the last four games, he has completed 67.1% of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions while averaging 300 yards per game. On the season, he has thrown for 4,039 yards, with 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 63.9% completion rate, one of only five quarterbacks in NFL history to equal or better those numbers in each category. Tellingly, he is also the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards without a 500-yard receiver.
“Man, that dude is lights out,” Goedert said. “Any time you’ve got him on your side, I feel like you’ve got a pretty good shot."
That hasn’t always appeared to be the case this season, as Wentz himself has readily acknowledged. But if there was any ever doubt whether that MVP-level quarterback still existed within him, these past four games should tamp it down. It has been two years since he helped the Eagles secure home-field advantage with a virtuoso late-season performance against the Rams, a showing that his detractors always seem to conveniently forget when they wonder what big games he has ever one. Wentz might not be operating at exactly that level right now. But he is in the vicinity. And you can bet that 100% of playoff defensive coordinators will wish they were in the vicinity of someone else.